FR Doc E8-20108[Federal Register: August 29, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 169)]
[Page 50987-50988]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access []



National Park Service

Notice of Intent to Repatriate Cultural Items: Denver Museum of 
Nature & Science, Denver, CO

AGENCY: National Park Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.

    Notice is here given in accordance with the Native American Graves 
Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), 25 U.S.C. 3005, of the intent 
to repatriate cultural items in the possession of the Denver Museum of 
Nature & Science, Denver, CO, which meet the definitions of "sacred 
objects" and "objects of cultural patrimony" under 25 U.S.C. 3001.
    This notice is published as part of the National Park Service's 
administrative responsibilities under NAGPRA, 25 U.S.C. 3003 (d)(3). 
The determinations in this notice are the sole responsibility of the 
museum, institution, or Federal agency that has control of the cultural 
items. The National Park Service is not responsible for the 
determinations in this notice.
    The first cultural item is called the Whale Hairpiece, carved from 
a section of mountain goat horn, measuring approximately 3 inches high, 
1.5 inches in diameter at the base, and 1 inch in diameter at the top. 
Decorating the exterior of the horn are 18 abalone shell insets. The 
catalogue records term the object a "hair holder or ornament" and 
"braid wrap." In August 1977, the cultural item was purchased by Mrs. 
Mary A. Crane from the art dealer Mr. Michael R. Johnson who had 
purchased the item from "Mrs. Dan Katzeek" in 1973. In a letter Mr. 
Johnson wrote to Mrs. Crane, dated August 30, 1977, he asserted,"I am 
convinced it is very old as the single braid or plaited hair in one 
clump has not been worn since the days of Cook and Vancouver. The style 
is evident in the early Webber drawings but seems to have faded out in 
Victorian times to the double braids or Victorian upsweeps and buns." 
Mrs. Crane donated the hairpiece to the Denver Museum of Nature & 
Science (then Denver Museum of Natural History) on May 27, 1983.
    The second cultural item is called the Strongman Housepost Robe, a 
painted moose hide blanket, approximately 66 x 44 inches in size, with 
two hide strings at top. The center area, about 36 x 24.5 inches in 
size, has a painted design and "VICTOR HOTCH KLUKWAN" is painted at 
the top and also the inside bottom. In 1974, the cultural item was 
purchased by Michael R. Johnson from Victor Hotch. Museum records 
suggest that the image represents Strongman (a Tlingit hero, Dukt'ootl) 
ripping apart a sea lion; that it was a robe for wearing; and that this 
image was also used on house posts. The last claim was verified during 
consultations and supported by photographs of a Whale House post, taken 
from Klukwan in 1984. Mr. Johnson, who claimed the robe dates to about 
1930, donated it to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science on October 3, 
    In the mid-1970s a decades-long controversy began over the 
ownership of Whale House objects. The public and legal battle engulfed 
Klukwan, museums, and collectors alike. Although these objects left 
Alaska several years prior to the controversy, nonetheless, the Denver 
Museum of Nature & Science acknowledges that these two objects likely 
left Alaska under suspect circumstances.
    During consultation, representatives of the Central Council of the 
Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes provided detailed written documentation 
of tribal and clan histories, the significance of the hairpiece and 
robe to the Gaanaxteidi Clan, and the importance of these objects in 
ongoing ceremonial practices. The official claim explained the right of 
the Gaanaxteidi Clan and Whale House to the symbolism embedded in these 
objects. The claim confirms the museum's records that the robe's design 
replicates the image of the Strongman Housepost, which has been well 
documented as belonging to the Whale House. This particular image tells 
the story of the Gaanaxteidi Clan's migration history. The hairpiece 
represents the whale itself, and the whale is a crest of the 
Gaanaxteidi Clan. The whale character figures prominently into the 
"Raven Cycle" stories. Additionally, the claim offers that the 
hairpiece, or yaay che'eeni, was worn by women to bundle the hair and 
only worn on ceremonial occasions with the assistance of the 
"opposite" moiety. It then explains more specifically how it would be 
ceremonially used exclusively by a woman of the aanyadi (high caste).
    The claim argues that these pieces are objects of cultural 
patrimony, that the Hit s'aati (Housemaster) is only the steward of 
these clan objects. Under Tlingit traditional property law (now 
codified in tribal law) the trustee does not have the authority to sell 
clan property. Rather, clan consent is necessary for decisions about 
clan property. The published literature, based on a wide range of 
ethnological, folkloric, linguistic, and anthropological sources, 
supports these claims.
    At length, the claim explains that these two objects are sacred 
objects, as clan crests both symbolize and embody the spirit of the 
being depicted on these objects. Crests represent the spiritual 
affinity and kinship between the clan members and the animals or 
mythical figures being represented. Clan members sometimes refer to 
their clan crests as Ax Shuka (My Ancestor or Relative), and may call 
upon these spirits in time of need. A specific code of conduct is 
maintained around these crests, which Tlingits traditionally believe 
are not truly things, but rather "living beings." The claim asserts 
that, if returned, these objects will be used in the ongoing ceremonies 
of the Gaanaxteidi Clan.
    Consultation evidence acknowledges that many of the clan-owned and 
sacred objects were removed from the communities by members of their 
own tribe. Nevertheless, these individuals acted in contravention of 
traditional Tlingit cultural property law. It is only the Gaanaxteidi 
Clan that has the right to display these objects and tell of its own 
history. The museum cannot provide any evidence that the Tlingit 
individuals who sold the objects had authority of alienation or consent 
of the clan. Based on the evidence of the larger Whale House 
controversy, it is highly likely that many clan members explicitly 
objected to the sale of these kinds of clan objects when Johnson 
purchased them, and continue to be objects of cultural patrimony and 
sacred objects owned by the clan.
    Officials of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science have determined 
that, pursuant to 25 U.S.C. 3001 (3)(C), the two cultural items are 
specific ceremonial objects needed by traditional Native American 
religious leaders for the practice of traditional Native American 
religions by their present-day adherents. Officials of the Denver 
Museum of Nature & Science have also determined that, pursuant to 25 
U.S.C. 3001 (3)(D), the two cultural items have ongoing historical, 
traditional, or

[[Page 50988]]

cultural importance central to the Native American group or culture 
itself, rather than property owned by an individual. Lastly, officials 
of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science have determined that, pursuant 
to 25 U.S.C. 3001 (2), there is a relationship of shared group identity 
which can be reasonably traced between the sacred objects/objects of 
cultural patrimony and the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida 
Indian Tribes.
    Representatives of any other Indian tribe that believes itself to 
be culturally affiliated with the sacred objects/objects of cultural 
patrimony should contact Dr. Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Curator of 
Anthropology, NAGPRA Officer, Department of Anthropology, Denver Museum 
of Nature & Science, 2001 Colorado Boulevard, Denver, CO 80205, 
telephone (303) 370-6378, before September 29, 2008. Repatriation of 
the sacred objects/objects of cultural patrimony to the Central Council 
of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes on behalf of the Gaanaxteidi Clan, 
may proceed after that date if no additional claimants come forward.
    The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is responsible for notifying 
the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes that this 
notice has been published.

    Dated: August 4, 2008.
Sherry Hutt,
Manager, National NAGPRA Program.
[FR Doc. E8-20108 Filed 8-28-08; 8:45 am]


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