KODIAK — The Alutiiq Museum welcomed six Alutiiq artifacts to its collection this week. They were originally collected on Kodiak Island around 1872.
The ancestral Alutiiq items – two masks, two bracelets, a belt and a headdress – are on loan from a French museum, the Musée Bolougne-sur-Mer, for five years.
In exchange, two masks currently at the Alutiiq Museum will be sent to France.
The exchange represents a rare partnership between a Native Alaskan tribe and a European city, according to Alisha Drabek, an Alutiiq scholar and vice president at the Afognak Corporation.
“It’s extremely rare that a European museum will loan items back to American tribal groups,” she said.
The artifacts are technically owned by the French city, which sits on the northern coast.
“They are from our region – they belong to us culturally,” Drabek said. “But we are not repatriating them. This is cultural knowledge repatriation.”
Three of the objects – a headdress, belt, and one of the bracelets – are unique in that they complete a set of matching regalia rarely displayed together.
“These pieces are one of just a handful of complete sets in the world,” said April Laktonen Counceller, Alutiiq Museum executive director.
The regalia would have been worn by Alutiiq women during ceremonies, Drabek said.
“They would have been worn at winter festivals, holiday festivals, traditional Alutiiq holidays. Or when greeting another tribe,” she said. “There are all sorts of reasons why you would ceremonially gather.”
On Saturday, Kodiak mayor Pat Branson, state senator Gary Stevens, and tribal elders and leaders gathered at the Alutiiq Museum for an “uncrating” ceremony to welcome the objects back to Kodiak.
“We are so very grateful to the French for recognizing the value of these pieces to the Alutiiq community,” Counceller said via press release.
The artifacts will go on display in September as part of an exhibit that explores traditional Alutiiq beliefs and ceremonial practices.
Elikya Kandot, director of the Musée Bolougne-sur-Mer, is in Kodiak this week for the exchange. The museum boasts a collection of artifacts from all over the world including South America, Oceania, and Micronesia. It also displays antiquities, as well as fine arts.
“It’s my first time in Alaska,” she said. “It’s very interesting to be here.”