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2016- A Year in Review

By: Chelsi Slotten

    It’s been quite a year here at the Arctic Studies Center.  We started off with a workshop on animal crashes in the Arctic in early January and have kept busy ever since.  Scholars from across the US, Canada, and Europe joined us to look at how human-climate-animal interaction has impacted animal populations in the Arctic.  We were very fortunate to hear from Enookie and Charlie Inuarak, two hunters from the Canadian Arctic community of Pond Inlet.  They spoke eloquently on the how the Inuit relate to animals and the importance of understanding and preserving this bond.  Prior to the workshop, we hosted the Ernest “Tiger” Burch Memorial Lecture.  Dr. Morten Meldgaard, past director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, spoke on the close relationships between animal crashes and human economies with an eye towards how humans have impacted animal populations, which then impact human populations, over time. 

                                                        

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Enookie and Charlie Inuarak. Photograph by Chelsi Slotten.

              Our year continued with work on the upcoming exhibit Narwhal: Revealing an Artic Legend, which will open later this year, and collaborating on the Folklife Festival.  This year’s festival focused on the Basque population.  Dr. Fitzhugh has found evidence of Inuit-Basque interaction in Northern Canada during the 17th century, including evidence of potential cooperation between the two populations.  Several events during the 2 week festival focused on the archaeological evidence for the Basque’s in Canada.  The Festival was a huge success, and we greatly enjoyed being part of it and working with Basque artists and ship-builders.

              Following the festival, Dr. Fitzhugh made his annual research trip to Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec, where he and a group of researchers conducted archaeological survey work and continued excavating the Hart Chalet Inuit site.  This seven week trip was punctuated by presentations at local museums and meetings with indigenous groups to discuss our findings and learn what information the locals were interested in exploring further.  These meetings were highly informative for all, and highlight the importance of working with local communities when undertaking archaeological work.

                                                        

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Rigolet Community Meeting. Photograph by Chelsi Slotten

              Upon our return to Washington DC, we hosted a reception for the White House Arctic Science Ministerial.  Dr. Krupnik was key in working with the Arctic Science Ministerial to organize this event, which was attended by representatives of all eight Arctic Nations and members of the Arctic Council.  We debuted a series of new banners that highlight the history of Arctic scholarship at the Smithsonian.   Our international collaboration continued with the Fulbright Arctic Scholars Week Open House on October 25th.  This program hosted 17 Fulbright Arctic Initiative Scholars from all around the world and several Arctic Youth Ambassadors.  A breadth of experiences, ages, and academic disciplines came together to highlight the importance of Arctic research today and moving forward. The program’s highlight was the scholars’ presentation of their research work to the visiting public in the Ocean Hall.

                                                                                 

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Dr. Noor Johnson presenting at the Arctic Fulbright Open House. Photograph by Schuyler Litten.

              We rounded out the year with a workshop on the importance of increasing accessibility and awareness of Arctic archival collections arranged with the Jefferson Institute and Library of Congress.  This was, once again, an international affair with scholars from the US, Canada and Europe participating.  The breadth of information available of the Arctic is really astounding and digitization efforts have and will continue to make this information more available.

              This year has been filled with collaborations, meeting new colleagues and progress towards understanding this wonderful area we have chosen to research.  We are, as always, excited to continue to learn and ready to face whatever the New Year brings.  Wishing you all the best from all of us here.  Happy New Years!


Sharing Knowledge Alaska: Microsite Update

By Dawn Biddison

The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center’s Sharing

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Archival photo from Material Traditions: Sewing Gut. Kwigillingok, 1931, Courtesy of the Anchorage Museum.

Knowledge Alaska website offers educational and instructional videos -- some with teacher’s guides and lessons -- from its Anchorage Museum exhibition programs. With assistance from NMNH website administrator James Kochert, the site has been updated by Dawn Biddison to include Material Traditions: Sewing Gut– a set of eleven educational videos from an artists' residency at the Anchorage Museum and community workshop at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center in Bethel (see article in this issue). The videos feature teaching artists Mary Tunuchuk(Yup'ik) and Elaine Kingeekuk(St. Lawrence Island Yupik), and contributing artist Sonya Kelliher-Combs(Iñupiaq/Athabascan). The videos include interviews, how to process seal intestine, preparing thread and grass, sewing gut strips and more. Go to http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/html/sharing-knowledge-alaska/Index.html or search for “ASC Sharing Knowledge Alaska” with Google Chrome (for best viewing) to find the link. A limited number of DVD copies are available by request, as well as full resolution HD files.


Fulbright Arctic Week: Our Open House

By: Schuyler Litten and Chelsi Slotten

Last Tuesday, October 25th, we had the pleasure of hosting the Artic Fulbright open house in the Ocean Hall of the National Museum of Natural History.  We welcomed 17 Fulbright Arctic Initiative Scholars from Canada, Denmark, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Norway, Sweden and the US.  Their research was complimented by the Arctic Youth Ambassadors who joined us to discuss their experience of life in the Arctic. Representatives from Alaska Geographic, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dartmouth College, University of Alaska Fairbank, the U.S. Department of State, the National Geographic Society and the Institute of International Education were also present.

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Arctic Youth Ambassadors in the Ocean Hall. NHB2016-02527, Photograph by James Di Loreto, Smithsonian.

The program engaged visitors of all ages with current research on the impact of climate change on Arctic ecosystems and communities.  Over the course of 3 hours the public interacted directly with experts at 24 stations around the Sant Ocean Hall. Dr. Noor Johnson highlighted the need for more community-led research and involvement with offshore development in Canada, while Dr. Maria Tysiachniouk discussed how to balance the interests of oil companies and indigenous populations in the Arctic. Dr. Øystein Varpe talked about his research observing the relationship between Arctic sea ice and its effect on ecological systems. A few examples are the changes in growth rates among different species and shifts in hunting abilities or patterns due to increased light from receding ice. Itty Neuhaus, the only Fulbright artist, explained the development of her instillation. It reflects on the nature of icebergs and their real representation of climate change along their symbolic representation of changes within ourselves. Her 3D printed models of icebergs were created to match their density and behavior in water. Dr. Tamara Harms discussed her research on Arctic freshwater ecosystems and the effects climate change has on areas with significant permafrost melt. Bill Fitzhugh the Director of Arctic Studies and Stephen Loring an Arctic archaeologist had artifacts from our own collections available for the public to interact with. They were used as teaching aids and examples of arctic culture and art.

 

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Dr. Stephen Loring explaining traditional dress as seen on a doll. NHB2016-02556, Photograph by James Di Loreto, Smithsonian.

The importance of involving locals and arctic youth in this conversation was showcased by the presentation of several Arctic Youth Ambassadors who talked about a wide array of subjects relating to their lives in the arctic. One of the Youth Ambassadors, Willie Drake, presented on traditional Yup’ik housing. He discussed the traditional building materials along with functional and cultural uses in relation to their modern counterparts. Jannelle Trowbridge discussed her experience mushing (dog sled pulling) in Alaska with her family.

 

This open house contributed to the public understanding of the Arctic and stressed the need for continued research in the Arctic. The participation of so many scholars, professionals, and locals highlights the interconnected nature of the Arctic nations, both to one another and the broader world.  Many thanks to all those who participated, both as experts or visitors, and to the Fulbright Arctic Initiative for providing their generous funding of Arctic scholarship.


Carrie M. McLain Memorial Musuem: Journey of an Arctic Collection

By Amy Phillips-Chan, Director of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum.  Originally Published in the ASC Newsletter, No. 23. 55-57

For almost 50 years the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum has perched a few yards from the icy coast of Norton Sound on historic Front Street in Nome, Alaska. In 1967 the Nome Museum, among other museums, including the Cordova Historical Museum, Pioneer Museum (Fairbanks), and Alaska State Museum (Juneau), sprung up across the state to celebrate the centennial purchase of Alaska from Russia. The centennial museums represented a concerted statewide effort to gather and preserve Alaska history and culture while at the same time they announced the importance of Alaska collections and researchers to the professional field.

In Nome, local historian Carrie M. McLain had embarked on a lifelong pursuit of collecting and sharing oral histories, photographs, and artifacts since her arrival on the fringe of the gold rush in 1905. McLain’s founding collection of ivory artwork and historical photographs set a precedent for donors with personal connections to Nome and the surrounding region looking to return their treasures and memories. The museum collection greatly expanded over the past five decades and now comprises 15,000 objects, 12,000 photographic prints and negatives, and over 100 linear feet of historical records.

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Tools, ivory carvings, a pair of model boots, and a baleen basket from the Lopp Collection donated by great-grandson Stuart Dick in May 2015. CMMM, Acc. 2015.4.abøgarður, Faroe Islands.

The museum’s greatest collection strength is Alaska Native material culture from the late 19th century, followed by items related to gold mining, the ivory curio market, ancient ivory carvings, and dog sledding. The collection also comprises a fair number of business and household articles from early 1900s Nome as well as cultural artifacts and faunal remains from the Snake River Sandspit site. The overall collection affords unique insight into the socio-cultural and economic shifts occurring within Bering Strait communities at the turn of the 20th century.

The Lopp Collection of bone and ivory implements, stone tools, models, and ivory curios represents one of the museum’s distinct assemblages portraying transculturation. William Thomas “Tom” Loppand Ellen Louise Kittredge Loppserved as missionaries, teachers, and reindeer superintendents in Wales between 1892-1902. The Lopps participated in subsistence activities, took photographs, and printed a newsletter, The Eskimo Bulletin, which chronicled daily life within an Iñupiaq village. The growing presence of gold miners in the area and ensuing changes to the local economy are captured in Kathleen Lopp-Smith’s, Ice Window: Letters from a Bering Strait Village, 1892-1902 (2002).

By the time of the Lopp’s departure from Wales in 1902, the town of Nome had swelled to almost 20,000  people, Western goods were prevalent, and the ivory curio market was in full swing. The Shields Collection provides an example of positive cross-cultural relations with Iñupiaq families in transition and a variety of items produced for the tourist trade in Nome. From 1910-1918, Walter C. Shields served as Superintendent of Schools

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Ivory artwork from the Shields Collection donated by grandson Philip Shields in April 2015. The reindeer and figure stand on top of the tusk inscribed, “To Walter C. Shields, Superintendent 1916. Nome, Alaska. From, Wales Delegates.” CMMM, Acc. 2015.2

of the Northwest District of Alaska. Shields oversaw the establishment of new schools and advocated for the promulgation of reindeer herding as a means to increase Iñupiaq wealth and standing. During his treks to northern communities by reindeer sled, Shields took photographs, acquired objects, and framed his view on Iñupiaq history as a book of poems titled The Ancient Ground (1918).

In February 2015 I came onboard as Director of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum as it stood on the cusp of its own significant transformation with construction of a new building, new exhibits, and its first dedicated collections storage area. Like many small museums, lapse in staff and lack of training over the years had resulted in a disorganized and poorly documented collection. The use of multiple numbering systems, a lack of accession records, and dearth of deed of gifts, presented an impressive challenge. Indeterminate portions of the collection were also stored in seven different locations across town adding another layer of organizational complexity.

In spring 2015 the museum undertook its first comprehensive inventory in fifty years. For those who have processed collections, one is intimately familiar with the meticulous task of searching for documentation, identifying, attributing, and cataloguing. Opening unmarked boxes and exploring collection hideaways also carries a heady sense of excitement and discovery. One remarkable object found folded in storage is a tanned and dyed sealskin wall hanging featuring alternating light and dark squares of intricate geometric appliqué typically found on 19th century Chukchi clothing from Eastern Siberia.

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Sealskin skin wall hanging featuring alternating light and dark squares of geometric designs. CMMM, Cat. 1979.1.52.

For our museum, the comprehensive inventory served a manifold purpose. First, the extensive processing activity helped us establish right of ownership while gaining critical insight into the scope and strengths of our collection. Knowledge about the range and dimensions of objects was also instrumental in planning the layout of cabinets and shelves in our new collections storage area. Next, after objects were catalogued and photographed they moved down the line to where they were wrapped and boxed for the move to the new museum. Finally, hands-on analyses of the collection afforded an opportunity to visualize new exhibit themes and identify key objects for storylines.

The museum collection will embark on its next journey during summer 2016 as it moves approximately one mile north to our new facility. Rehousing the collection in mobile storage will greatly increase the accessibility of the collection and expand its potential value for research, public programs, exhibits, and community projects. Following the move, the museum will be rolling out a “Community Historian” program as an integral part of exhibit development for the main gallery. The program invites community members with localized knowledge to partner with museum staff and draft exhibit content utilizing materials within the collection.

The Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum contains a rich assemblage of artifacts, photographs, and papers that reveal the vibrant history of Nome and the Bering Strait, from marine mammal hunting equipment and ivory artwork, to gold mining and the origins of long distance dog sled racing. Through many personal donations and accounts, the collection offer critical insight into the shared history of Western and Bering Strait Native peoples that continues to enrich the cultural fabric of Nome.


Arctic Ethnology Imaging Project

By Emily Cain and David Rosenthal.  Originally published in the ASC Newsletter, No. 23. 40-41

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Emily Cain (left) and Brittany Hance (right) in the Department of Anthropology's Imaging Lab at the Museum Support Center.

The summer of 2015 saw the beginning of the Department of Anthropology’s Collections Management Unit’s Arctic Ethnology Imaging Project. The goal of this project is to photograph and make available online the entire NMNH Arctic Ethnology collection of over 20.000 objects.

Funding for the first project year (2015/2016) came from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund (CCPF) created in 2006 as an institution-wide pool to accomplish a wide variety of collections-related projects. The CCPF has funded 181 projects since its inception, totaling over $19 million awarded. Jake Homiak, former Anthropology Collections and Archives Program Director, and David Rosenthal, Anthropology Collections Manager, worked on the first grant proposal in summer 2014 together with the support of Igor Krupnik, Arctic Ethnology Curator.

Receiving the funding has allowed us to hire Brittany Hance and Emily Cainto see this project through. Brittany is a professional photographer and former intern with NMNH Photo Services. Emily, with a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies from GWU (2015) has worked as a SIMA (Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology) intern and contractor. Brittany and Emily primarily work out of the Anthropology Collection Lab’s photo studio at the Museum Support Center (MSC) in Suitland, Maryland. It is equipped with an in-studio Mac Pro shooting computer, a Canon T6s camera with 24-70 EF lens, and Capture One 8.3 software, allowing for a streamlined process and high-quality product. Objects are tracked electronically, using a digital bar-code reader and color-coded system that records at exactly which step in the process each individual object is. Using these and other tools, they’ve modified the imaging workflow so that images are added to the online database almost as fast as they are taken while also minimizing human error.

Each object from the collection, ranging from Edward Nelson’s 1879 ti-sikh-puk dance mask from Western Alaska to Greenlandic souvenir tupilak figures of the 1960s, are carefully and thoroughly photographed, providing a highly detailed and readily accessible visual record to go along with existing catalog records.

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Miniature walrus carving collected on St. Lawrence Island by Vaughn Rockney, 1943. E416900, Photograph by Brittany Hance

Challenges

The wide variety of materials within the Arctic collections presents certain logistical challenges; namely, the execution of an efficient system despite the breadth of shapes, sizes, and compositions of objects. In order to navigate this issue, the photo studio has been redesigned with fully modular and mobile shooting and staging areas, allowing for maximum flexibility to suit the needs of individual objects. Additionally, a series of specialized, supplemental photoshoots are planned for objects that fall outside of the capabilities of our main studio.

In collaboration with NMNH Photo Services, two weekend photo shoots have been completed to date in order to accommodate oversized objects such as large parkas and blankets. These objects’ size and, often, age require a much larger staging space and many careful hands. These photo shoots, conducted with the gantry system in the street at MSC, involve experienced volunteers to help facilitate the handling of very large objects, as well as the presence of two photographers for a combination of overall and detail shots with maximum efficiency. In order to manage extra-long objects such as spears and paddles, a new shooting process involving linear motion positioning is in the works for the coming summer.

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Small wooden mask collected in western Alaska by Henry Collins in 1927. E340246, Photograph by Brittany Hance.

To date, we have photographed more than 2,800 objects and produced over 14,000 images. The majority of objects that belong to St. Lawrence Island Yupik and Nunivak Island Yup’ik/Čupik cultural groups have been photographed and inserted into the database, as well as the collections of Lucien M. Turner and Charles Francis Hall for Labrador and Arctic Canada/Greenland, respectively. The collections database is being updated with the outcomes of the project on a regular basis, with hundreds of new images being made available to both internal users and the general public each week.

We are currently waiting for the Smithsonian to announce the 2016 recipients of the CCPF awards and have high hopes to be funded for year 2 of this project. It will include the imaging of the Kotzebue Sound, Northwest Alaska, and of our smaller Siberia collections. Overall the project is expected to take four years to complete. In that time, Brittany and Emily plan to continue improving their process and to document it for future implementation across other in-house Anthropology digitization projects.


Material Traditions: Sewing Gut

Gutsewing

 

CLICK HERE for a preview of Material Traditions: Sewing Gut – a set of educational videos from the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center artists' residency at the Anchorage Museum and community workshop at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center in Bethel. Featuring artists Mary Tunuchuk (Yup'ik), Elaine Kingeekuk (St. Lawrence Island Yupik) and Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq/Athabascan), the videos include interviews, how to process seal intestine, preparing thread and grass, sewing gut strips and more.

To see the complete set, CLICK HERE or search online for "Sharing Knowledge Alaska Sewing Gut." Use Google Chrome for best viewing. A limited number of DVD copies and full resolution HD files are available by request.

Photo: Mekoryuk, 1964. Courtesy of the Anchorage Museum.


Free Public Lecture on Life and Death in the Arctic on January 15, 2016

Ernest “Tiger” Burch Memorial Lecture Series, 2016

Caribou, Cod, Climate, and Man: A Story of Life and Death in the Arctic

By: Morten Meldgaard, Natural History Museum of Denmark and University of Greenland

January 15th, 2016, 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in the Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.

FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

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Far from being a remote planetary ‘deep-freeze’, the Arctic region today is recognized as a dynamic environment that has played a major role in the evolution and spread of animals and plants as well as the migrations and development of peoples and cultures. This presentation begins by investigating why Late Quaternary megafauna like the mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros went extinct while others like caribou and bison prevailed. What caused these differential outcomes? And what was the role of humans and climate in the dramatic changes that took place subsequently?

In order to explore these questions we will consider the history of caribou and caribou hunting in Greenland, where excavations at the important site Aasivissuit (“the Great Summer Camp”) reveal a close human association for several thousand years. Archaeological evidence reveals that dramatic caribou population crashes have occurred time and again, forcing major changes in the human economies. The key to human survival has been the development of broad-based, resilient resource strategies.

To understand what this strategy looked like and how people coped with fluctuating resources we examine the 4000 year old Saqqaq site “Qeqertasussuq” on a small West Greenland island in Disko Bay that has produced a wealth of biocultural information from the frozen remains of seals, fish, caribou and whales. Ironically, in spite of apparent abundance, Saqqaq suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. What happened? Did the marine resource base disintegrate? Did winter sea-ice disappear? Were other agents in play?

Given recent history, one cannot but wonder if humans had a decisive role in cycles of key resource populations over time?  Archaeology and history shows that humans have decimated many Arctic animal populations and that the scale of human impact has changed dramatically with industrialized exploitation. Instances of local prehistoric population decreases and extinctions have been replaced by massive over-exploitation that is resulting in possible irreversible changes in the populations of keystone species and even in the structure of entire ecosystems, in the Arctic and beyond.

Dr. Morten Meldgaard (Ph.D. in Biology, 1990, University of Copenhagen) is Professor of Arctic environmental history at the University of Greenland. He served as the directors of Danish Natural History Museum (2007-2014), The North Atlantic House (a cultural center for culture and art, 2000-2005), and the Danish Polar Center (1995-200). He conducted zooarchaeological research in Greenland and Labrador and published widely on historical ecology, animal fluctuation cycles, Inuit use of animal resources, and application of mtDNA and other genomic data in studying ancient human migrations in the Arctic.



Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga- A Retrospective

By: Chelsi Slotten with William Fitzhugh

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Ask most people who the first Europeans in North American were and they would probably answer Christopher Columbus. They would also be incorrect. The first Europeans to land in North America were actually a group of Vikings sailing under Leif Eriksson almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Leif’s trip to North American resulted in a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland and contact with the Native American population there. The world became much smaller that day as human interactions circled the globe for the first time in human history. Monumental as this event was, Leif does not deserve all the credit. His eventual landing in Newfoundland was the culmination of 200 years of travel and exploration by his Viking ancestors. Fifteen years ago the Arctic Studies Center curated Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga to trace that journey across the Atlantic Ocean. In journeying across the Atlantic, questions of how we know our past and its relevance today were addressed. As the world continues to shrink as a result of better transportation and the internet it’s useful to reflect on where we came from and to that end I have a couple questions for Dr. Fitzhugh.

Q: What was your favorite part of this exhibit?  10-ship

A: Producing “Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga” was incredibly complicated and expensive. Hillary Clinton kicked off our fund-raising effort. Curators from seven nations participated  and a dozen museums loaned objects. The shop opened at the Smithsonian and then traveled around North America for three years. We published a great book(cover shown to right) and we connected with a huge population of Scandinavian and Nordic people in North America. Fifteen years later I’m still lecturing about Vikings!

The most exciting part of the exhibit was the opening when I met the kings, queens, and presidents of all those countries and had lunch with all of them and the Clintons in the White House. Dessert? Chocolate Viking ships filled with ice cream and fruit!

Q: Have there been any major discoveries in the past 15 years that change or deepen our understanding of Viking travel to North America?

A: Nearly every year archaeologists find new Viking sites and artifacts. Recently a mass grave was excavated in Britain, a Viking ship burial in Scotland; a Norwegian penny dating 1065-85 in an Indian site in Maine; spoils from a wrecked Viking voyage in North Greenland, and studies of Viking burials in Greenland showing—contrary to previous belief that the Norse did not adopt an Inuit economy-- increasing use of marine foods (fish, seals) in their diet during the life of the Greenland Norse colonies.

Q: Why do you think people are still so fascinated with Vikings centuries after their era ended?

A: Vikings are a touch-stone topic! Everyone learns about Vikings in grade school—especially the raiding and pillaging. We are fascinated by these ‘barbarians who turned Christian’, their bravery, their boat-building skills, their sagas and poetry. They sailed across the Atlantic in small boats; they voyaged to Rome and Istanbul. They were also traders and nation-builders. Who wouldn’t be ga-ga for Vikings!!!

Q: What can the Vikings teach us that is relevant today?

A: Vikings were the quintessential explorers – they explored nearly half the globe and were builders of the finest boats of their day. They braved the storms of the North Atlantic and lived at the edge of the known world for nearly 500 years in Greenland. As we reach for the heavens in our space-ships we are following the quest for knowledge and exploration demonstrated by Vikings a millennia ago.  

Q: Is there anything else of particular importance you want people to know?

A: Be a Viking! Explore. Search. Sing. Work hard. And you will change the world just like the Vikings did.

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating period in history the online exhibit is publicly available here: http://www.mnh.si.edu/vikings/.


Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People- A Retrospective

 

By: Chelsi Slotten with William Fitzhugh

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Ainu means “human”- Ainu means “us”. These powerful words are the beginning of a journey to understand the indigenous population of northern Japan-the Ainu. In the exhibit Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, we meet a 10,000-year-old culture. Through select objects and artworks the themes of spirituality, trade, cultural identity, contemporary vitality, and fine art are explored. The effects of environmental, historical, and social forces on this culture are also considered.   Video commentary by curator’s Dr. Chisato Dubreuil and Dr. William Fitzhugh can be found throughout the online exhibit. Fifteen years after the closing of this exhibit I sat down with Dr. Fitzhugh to ask him some questions about his recollection of the exhibit.Ainu168

Q: What was your favorite part of this exhibit?

A: Meeting contemporary Ainu and coming to appreciate their culture, their art, ceremony, and oral history was truly exciting. But my biggest thrill was watching visitors in the exhibit hall—they were blown away by the beauty of Ainu objects and philosophy of life.

Q: Did you learn anything particularly unexpected or interesting while you were preparing this exhibit?

A: I could not avoid “becoming Ainu”! As a curator I immersed myself in the Ainu world, physically and emotionally. Chisato and I spent hours visiting her people and studying the Smithsonian 19th century collection of Ainu photographs and ethnographic objects. I began to see through Ainu eyes!    

Q: Have any major Ainu finds occurred in the last 15 years that help shed new light on historical Ainu culture?

A: After 150 years Ainu and their culture and language are finally being recognized by the Japanese people and government. There will be a national museum of the Ainu and more support for Ainu art and language. But still no land-claims or financial reparations. The Ainu and Japanese still have many issues to resolve.

Q: Is there anything else you particularly want to share about this exhibit?

A: Ainu honored the spirits they believed inhabit all living things and objects--even trees and rocks had souls. Today Ainu continue to honor the spirits of nature and practice rituals and ‘sending ceremonies’ that maintain the balance of nature. We have much to learn from Ainu culture.

For those of you whose curiosity has been peaked (I know mine was!) the interactive online exhibition can be found here http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/ainu/index.html.


Tracing Roots: Delores Churchill and the Hat of the Long Ago Person Found

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What would you do if you found a woven spruce hat in a retreating glacier?  For master weaver Delores Churchill, it was a chance to connect the past to her present. The National Museum of Natural History will host a screening of “Tracing Roots: Delores Churchill and the Hat of the Long Ago Person Found” on October 28th.   Please join us as we accompany her on a journey into the past to discover the origins of this unique artifact and what it means to the Haida culture. 

Delores Churchill is a Haida elder from Ketchikan, Alaska who has devoted much of her life to mastering the craft of weaving and preserving her cultural heritage.   As a child, she was forced to leave home and attend a residential school.  While there, she was not allowed to speak her native language or adhere to her tribe’s cultural practices.  Despite this, Delores remembered her language and tradition and is a strong proponent of keeping traditional language and culture alive.  She learned to weave from her mother Selina Peratrovich, a respected weaver in her own right, who taught Delores everything she knew.  Haida weaving uses cedar bark and spruce roots to create tightly woven baskets and hats.  The weaving is so tight as to be waterproof.   Traditionally only females were allowed to weave in Haida culture but males are now learning the craft as well.   Delores is certain that passing the knowledge down through classes and traditional channels will help keep the Haida weaving tradition alive and ensure that Native art is viewed as part of the modern world, not just as museum artifacts.

This program on October 28th is free and open to the public. The film screening begins at 6:15 in  Q?rius Theater at the National Museum of Natural History. After the screening, there will be a discussion session with Delores Churchill and producer/director Ellen Frankenstein where we welcome your questions, as well as a weaving demonstration. Earlier in the day, Delores will demonstrate her weaving in NMNH’s Q?rius Education Center.

Please RSVP for this event here