Today, May 21, at 2:30 PM eastern, Sotheby's will auction a number of Native American items in a sale titled "Arts of the American West," and a concerned group of Alaska Natives is working against the clock to return Lot 88 to its owners.
The item is listed as "Rare Northwest Coast Polychromed Wood Clan Hat, Tsimshian or Tlingit," and the description at Sothebys.com is pretty straightforward, concentrating on the materials and craftsmanship. No details of the hat's provenance or meaning are provided.
A page created to at GoFundMe.com that seeks donations to buy the hat is more informative. It's identified as "a sacred Tlingit clan hat of the Wrangell Kiks.ádi clan."
Harold Jacobs, Cultural Resource Specialist with Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, told the Juneau Empire that a hat such as this one is "the most important object any clan can have." Sealaska Heritage Institute Director Rosita Worl added that “This hat represents the clan … Sometimes this is hard for people to understand. They maybe understand it is sacred, it is sacred to us. But it … it ties present generations to ancestors and also to future generations. To who we are as a people.”
Because this hat is being sold by a private collector, and not a museum that receives federal funding, those who care about the hat cannot petition to have it repatriated under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Their only hope is to buy it themselves.
(Today's "Arts of the American West" auction includes some 137 items, and a related Sotheby's auction of Northwest Coast art, also today, includes another 12; the Tlingit clan hat is the only controversial piece we're aware of.)
"Join us in bringing our long-lost relatives, our ancestors, back home," reads the text at GoFundMe.com. "Fight for indigenous rights. Bring the hat back home."