What sets this project apart from a standard conservation survey is collaboration with Indigenous source communities throughout the process. The first step in engaging communities was preparing and sharing detailed lists of items with the tribes.
In November 2021, two Tlingit representatives–Gooch Shaayí Harold Jacobs and Naakil.aan Hans Chester–visited DMNS from Southeast Alaska. The three-day consultation included discussing appropriate conservation and collections care for Tlingit items at DMNS. Harold Jacobs, Cultural Resource Specialist for the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, has decades of experience working with cultural material, museums, and repatriation efforts. Hans Chester is a Tlingit language and culture teacher, basket weaver, and beader. Harold and Hans shared cultural knowledge regarding the items and made observations on materials, production technology, and style. Both Harold and Hans had visited collections at DMNS before, but this consultation was the first focused on materials, techniques, and preservation of Tlingit items.
During the summer of 2021, we welcomed Marlo Wylie Brillon (Skidegate Haida and Northern Cree) as our Native American Science Intern. In addition to participating in the grant workflow, Marlo conducted important cultural research and outreach to Northwest Coast communities to help us better describe and care for these items. Marlo contributed corrections to our catalog information based on her own cultural knowledge and what she learned from reaching out to other knowledge keepers. Through this outreach, Marlo arranged for two Haida representatives to come to DMNS. An emerging artist, Marlo was also able to share observations on materials and techniques used in carved wooden pieces from her own art practice.
In August 2021, we welcomed a delegation from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia to DMNS. During the three-day consultation, we examined and discussed Haida items, made condition observations, and discussed culturally appropriate stabilization and storage options. Aay Aay Hans (Skidegate Haida) and Raven LeBlanc (Skidegate Haida) shared cultural information that provides much needed context for DMNS collection items. A weaver and jewelry maker, Aay Aay helped us learn about weaving techniques in examples of basketry and Chilkat weaving. A carver familiar with Haida formline and iconography, Raven helped us observe the techniques and representations on wood and argillite pieces.
We look forward to welcoming more tribal delegations to help us with this project!