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May 22, 2010

Smithsonian Loan Brings Alaska Native Treasures Home

A major new exhibition opened at the Anchorage Museum on May 22, 2010 featuring 600 Alaska Native objects loaned from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and National Museum of Natural History.

 The exhibition titled “Living Our Cultures: Sharing Our Heritage” brings back to Alaska objects which were collected from Native communities as long as 160 years by Smithsonian anthropologists and others. Since then they have been stored more than 3,000 miles away, making them inaccessible to the peoples who created them.

The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center of the Natural History museum curated the exhibition in Anchorage with Native elders from across the state. The loan will last seven years.

But if the scale of this exhibition is epic, it is also human. Some of the first visitors talked about their impressions.

Andrew Abyo, a 40-year-old Alutiiq carver who teaches Native arts in Anchorage schools, stood in front of a Sugpiaq wood mask he’d only seen in books. Fifty one centimeters tall, and three dimensional with marks left by the carver still evident, the mask was collected in1884 from a village on the Alaska Peninsula. Shaking his head, he said, “It was so flat and small in the book.”

His wife Melinda was moved to tears when she saw a century old woman’s beaded headdress which she copied from a book.

Abyo, whose work is in museums in Alaska, Japan and Ireland, is known for carving visors, but wants to make more of the tools of his ancestor’s everyday life like bows and fishing gear. But the skill that it takes to make tools that are functional as well as beautiful takes in depth study with the ancestors.

“As many accomplished artists as there are today, these are the works of the masters,” Abyo said. “They didn’t have our technologies, but we don’t know all of their technologies either. We can’t fathom how they did some of this.”

Another visitor, Darline Kygar, of San Diego, California, happened to visit the museum on the first day the exhibition was open to the public. She admired the intricate stitching in the clothing and the diversity of the many Native cultures from Alaska

Kygar said, “I really had my eyes opened.” 

Comments (11)

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This is what should be done with all the treasures that are stored away and never displayed. We are discovering more and more that our ancestors from times past were much smarter that we have given them credit.

This is a real nice museum

As for me, it's very important for people to be aware of their culture. Though, unfortunately, most of young people are ignorant in history of their native land or even of the state they live in. They don't attend museums and it seems to be absolutely not interesting for them as they would rather find all the necessary information via Internet.

It is great to see an exhibition of this magnitude based on cultural recognition. 160 years is a lengthy time to collect pieces, the vast quantity of different Alaskan cultural objects must be mesmerizing to see in person. A 7-year-loan is a long time for people to be able to experience and try to understand the deep and exciting roots of the Alaskan heritage. I hope to be able to view this exhibition soon.

This is excellent for preserving the Alaskan culture for future generations.This must be done for more cultures all over the world.

This sounds like an amazing exhibit. It's a great opportunity for Alaskans to have this kind of exhibit made available to them. Can't wait to see it next time i'm in Anchorage.

thanks for a good blog.. great that the alaska treasures are coming home!

Kids clothing can look great and make the child feel good too. Thanks and fine luck. ;)

This is an amazing museum and great culture preservation

I love fishing and it's good to see artists like Abyo wanting to recreate the fishing tools of his ancestors.


I went to the smithsonian last sping, and found it to be rather insightful. I loved it, amazing thread.

May 10, 2010

For New Yorkers, "Green Is The New Black"



Earth day 2 
Winona LaDuke, Alex Sando, Kenneth Zontek  


 For many New Yorkers, “Green is the new black,” according to Johanna Gorelick, Head of Education at the NMAI, Heye Center in New York City.  Green markets have popped up in neighborhoods throughout the five NYC boroughs; shoppers use reusable material totes instead of plastic and paper bags; and dedicated, earth-centric citizens of the Big Apple are anxious to learn about the many aspects of the sustainable food movement.  This was evidenced by an attendance of approximately 350 museum visitors who flocked to the recent Earth Day program, Native Views on Sustainable Foods, at the NMAI, Heye Center in New York on April 22, 2010. 

Three prominent speakers participated in the programming.  Winona LaDuke (Anishinabe), Executive Director of Honor the Earth; Alex Sando (Jemez Pueblo), representative of Native Seeds/SEARCH; and Kenneth Zontek, author of Buffalo Nation:  American Indian Efforts to Restore the Bison.

Ms. LaDuke, a prominent political and social activist, discussed the efforts and mission of Honor the Earth which is to raise awareness and support for indigenous environmental justice.  Ms. LaDuke discussed the need for developing grassroots movements in Native communities that will support the efforts to reintroduce sustainable, healthy environments through the use of a variety of organic and sustainable food production options. She related heart-warming and motivating personal stories about her involvement in returning fish to their natural habitat and expanding wild rice production on her reservation, White Earth. 

Native Seeds is a multi-purpose organization whose primary mission is to promote the use of ancient crops and their wild relatives by gathering, safeguarding, and distributing seeds to farming and gardening communities.  Alex Sando discussed one of their major projects, known as The Seed Bank, which is the core of Native Seeds conservation efforts. This program, as well as the Cultural Memory Bank, considers seed preservation a holistic endeavor by connecting preservation of the seeds to the preservation of the songs, stories, and traditional knowledge of farming in the Native communities. These efforts are indeed plans for a future “rainy day” scenario when certain crops may no longer be available to farming communities.  The Seed Bank is a repository for seeds which are guarded in a safe environment.  It conserves a very specific genetic diversity in seeds which has been developed over thousands of years.  Mr. Sando professed the critical need to obtain and capture insight about crop production from elders in order to save resources and farming traditions for future generations.

The complete story of Native efforts to combat unhealthy lifestyles cannot be told without addressing the buffalo, also known as bison, and their slaughter to near extinction.  The demise of the Great buffalo herds in the 1800s destroyed a way of life and sustainability to the Plains Indian cultures.   Connected by a spirit of brotherhood with the buffalo, Native nations of the Plains depended on the buffalo for a healthy sustenance and a complete way of life.  The empathy and connection between the two was and is a unique phenomenon created by a spiritual relationship as well as a physical dependency, as described by Ken Zontek.

Today, Native Americans are actively taking a role in the return of the buffalo to everyday culture. While only 15,000 of the 500,000 bison in North American are on Native land, Native knowledge of sustainability is informing ways in which a healthy environment is created. One such effort is the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, which is restoring the buffalo in order to preserve Native cultures, traditions and spiritual relationships for future generations. 

When I was developing the Earth Day program, I encountered terminology, ideas and frankly, concepts, to which I really had not given much thought.  Yes, I have my material totes, etc. but the issues outlined throughout the evening are in actuality so much larger and they affect us all.  While planting seeds and herding buffalo are definitely not a probability in an urban area, the concept of healthy living, sustaining and improving the environment and enhancing quality of life by making decisions that are good, as well as good for those in one’s community, are possible and attainable.  I was enlightened and motivated by the evening, realizing that in my own little world, I have the power to make a difference.

_earth day 1
Alex Sando, Winona LaDuke, Kenneth Zontek

Photos by Stephen Lang

Comments (6)

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Those involved in the efforts above are to be commended. I am especially intrigued by the return to the value of seed banks. What is going on in the corporate world as far as the GMO and patenting of our gifts from God is deplorable. Sustainable heirloom seeds is not only fashionable but also vital to survivability.

The complete story of Native efforts to combat unhealthy lifestyles cannot be told without addressing the buffalo, also known as bison, and their slaughter to near extinction!

We must keep doing all we can to re-educate people back to the fundamentals of human survival. Growing our own food I believe to be a basic skill.

You have a very nice blog here. I'm starting to become more aware of the subtle nuances that make a website more or less easy on the eye-yours reminds me of reading national geographic. I'm very interested in your work with seeds and relocalization of agriculture. I have a website I'm slowly building, and I would love to be involved in helping in any way-keep up the good work!

"We must keep doing all we can to re-educate people back to the fundamentals of human survival. Growing our own food I believe to be a basic skill"

but mankind isn´t ready for this!!!

Nice as well as useful post.
people should aware from this.
thanks for sharing.