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3D Technology and Repatriation of the Kéet-S’aaxw

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Civics +3 Age Levels High School (16 to 18 years old), Post-Secondary

This student activity introduces students to the concept of repatriation of cultural heritage items to the tribes to whom they belong, and the ways that museums and Native American groups are now using 3D technology to aid in the process. A killer whale hat, or kéet-s'aaxw, was requested to be repatriated by members of the Tlingit tribe. The Smithsonian Institution, under the repatriation provisions of the National Museum of the American Indian Act, did so. In the years following, the clan's leader decided that it might be beneficial to 3D scan the image in order to preserve its details and protect it in case of loss or fire. Having this data allowed the museum to create an accurate replica to be used for educational purposes, and provided the tribe with peace of mind. Learn more about this story and other cases of repatriation and replication in this collection which includes a 3D model and tour, video, website, and images of objects that have been part of the process.

Essential Questions include:

  • How does the current process of repatriation reflect a change in traditional relationships between museums and indigenous groups?
  • What kinds of guidelines should be used to determine which objects should be repatriated?
  • What benefits does 3D technology provide for museums and Native American tribes? Can you envision other scenarios where 3D technology might play a similarly beneficial role?

Tags: Native American, American Indian, Tlingit, repatriation, replication, 3D technology, whale hat, indigenous, rights, change over time, museums, anthropology