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First Nation in B.C. pays almost $40,000 to bring 140-year-old robe home

A man who helped return a 140-year-old Tlingit robe to the British Columbia First Nation where it was created says it’s as if the regalia is calling his people, and they’re bringing it home.

A Chilkat robe made of mountain goat wool and yellow cedar bark was purchased by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in B.C. Northwest for nearly $40,000 after it went up for sale at a Toronto auction house last year.

The robe arrived in Whitehorse Wednesday and will travel 175 kilometers south to the First Nation’s traditional territory in B.C. in Atlin, where it is expected to be displayed and may be used in future ceremonies.

As the community celebrates the return of a piece of its heritage, said the First Nation The natives cannot be forced to buy back the regalia stolen from them.

It calls on the federal government to take action to prevent similar situations in the future.

Tlingit Elder and master carver Wayne Carlick said his heart “probably burst” when the robe’s close connection to his community was established after he saw it online.

As an artist and residential school survivor, Carlick says looking at the robe and understanding the story it represents moves her.

“I think when I came home from residential school, I didn’t see any art, I didn’t see any language, I didn’t see any dance or song. People were suffering and really hurting, and there was no art,” he said in an interview from the Vancouver airport.

“It took a long time for me to start seeing First Nation art, West Coast First Nation art, and so it took a long time to get to this point.”

Karlik said getting the robe back is an opportunity for the younger generation to see art in a way he couldn’t at his age, and to learn about the nation’s history and resilience.

It was late last year when a friend of Karlik’s first spotted the gown up for auction and sent her the link online.

Carlick said he’s seen many similar things, but this was the first he encountered with wolves, an animal common in the Taku River Tlingit culture.

An elaborate quilt with native designs.
The Chilkat blanket sold at auction on December 2, 2022 was purchased with the help of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in Atlin, B.C. (of Waddington)

The couple began researching by calling museums in North America before realizing the robe was from the famous Taku River Tlingit family.

Carlick’s friend, Atlin native Peter Wright, agreed to step in and bid on the dress, with the understanding that the First Nation would reimburse him.

The Taku River Tlingit said in a statement in December that the piece was originally expected to sell for about $15,000 to $20,000, but fetched a staggering $38,000.

It is unclear how the item became part of a private collection in Ontario.

Afternoon cafe5:27 p.mTaku River Tlingit wants to see Native art given the same treatment as art stolen from the Holocaust

The First Nation says it doesn’t have to raise funds to buy artifacts it owns.

A spokeswoman for the First Nation said in a statement Wednesday that they are thrilled to have part of their heritage returned.

“This long-awaited return fills our hearts with happiness and strengthens our spiritual connection with our ancestors. However, we must recognize that restoring our First Nation’s relationship with the federal government is just as important,” the statement said.

“It is unacceptable that any First Nation should have to buy back their stolen property and we are calling on the government to take responsibility for this matter. [the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples]The government must prioritize efforts at truth and reconciliation, including the elimination of these types of injustices.”

The First Nation says there are currently hundreds of Tlingit artworks in remote museums and private art collections, meaning community members rarely get a chance to see them.

Ben Lauter, Taku River Tlingit River Heritage archaeologist, said a special display case for the robe is being built by experts in New York and will be installed at the First Nation’s government office in Atlin.

The glass protects the delicate fibers from UV rays and the case is moisture controlled.

An official repatriation ceremony is planned for July as part of a three-day event involving the Tlingit communities of Canada’s interior.

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