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Found 6,953 Collections

 

What makes a place? Landmarks around the world

This playlist on landmarks is designed for self-guided learning with intermittent check-ins for elementary age students. The learning tasks are divided over five days, designed for 30-35 minutes per day, and build on each other. However, students are able to work on this playlist at their own pace. They will engage with primary and secondary sources as well as visual, video, audio, and written texts. Students have the option to complete the tasks online by connecting through Google classroom or access Google doc versions of each formative and summative assessments for work online and/or offline. By the end of the week, students will conduct an oral history interview and/or write a brief constructed response that demonstrates understanding of landmarks and what makes a place significant.

  • Formative assessments are represented by a chevron (Learning Check In and Tasks).
  • Summative assessments are represented by a circle (Final Task).
  • Google doc versions of all formative and summative assessments are in the tiles immediately after the digital versions. 

*Social Studies and Visual Arts standards vary by state for elementary grades. We recommend educators and caregivers consult their student and child's state standards for these two subjects.

National Museum of American History
48
 

Tsimshian Bilingual Guide: Twining Cedar

Red cedar bark twined basketry is a distinctive Tsimshian art form. With the passing on of elder master artists and the demands of contemporary lifestyles, it became at risk. A handful of weavers today are working to master and revitalize twined cedarbark basketry, reconnecting with a proud heritage. In 2016, the Arctic Studies Center collaborated with The Haayk Foundation of Metlakatla to document the materials and techniques of cedarbark basketry. The project included a harvesting and processing workshop and a weaving workshop in Metlakatla, and a residency at the Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage where artists studied baskets from museum and private collections, practiced and refined weaving techniques, and taught museum visitors and school children about basketry.

Teaching was led by Haida master weaver Delores Churchill, who learned from master Tsimshian weaver Flora Mather, with assistance from her daughter Holly Churchill, an accomplished weaver. In addition to Metlakatla students, three advanced Tsimshian weavers participated in the project, sharing techniques learned in their families and communities and learning new ones: Kandi McGilton (co-founder of The Haayk Foundation), Karla Booth (granddaughter of Tsimshian master weaver Violet Booth) and Annette Topham (niece of master Tsimshian weaver Lillian Buchert). Metlakatla elder Sarah Booth, a fluent speaker of Sm’algyax (Ts’msyen), assisted Kandi McGilton in documenting indigenous basketry terminology for use in language classes.

The bilingual guide below pairs with a set of 15 instructional videos included here. The guide provides step-by-step details about cedarbark basketry from harvesting materials to twining techniques in Sm’algya̱x (the Tsimshian language) and English. A twined cedarbark basket from the Smithsonian collections is also included below.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, Indigenous, Tsimshian, cedar, bark, Metlakatla, weaving, basket, David Boxley, Kandi McGilton, Delores Churchill, Karla Booth, Annette Topham, Holly Churchill, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
18
 

"Piecing it Together: Austin Graffiti Art 1984-2004"

"Piecing It Together": Austin Graffiti Art 1984-2004 is an art exhibition focusing on the first three generations of Austin graffiti art, considered the foundation of what many call street art today. The show is organized by each decade which helped shape the backbone of Austin’s vibrant Graffiti Art culture. 1984-1989 is the dawning of Austin's hip-hop culture with high pressure Krylon cans and painting illegally in the streets. These originals were influenced by movies like Style Wars, Beat Street and WildStyle. This first generation understood the four elements of hip hop culture to be a community that embraced graffiti, break dancing, DJing and rapping. 1990-1998 saw a revival of graffiti art with crews forming such as NBK (No Boundaries Krew) which was seminal and a big influence around Texas and beyond. Moving into the 2000’s brought a whole new era of artists with evolving styles and perspective. Low pressure paint cans, a broader color palette, and the internet all allowed more production of and documentation of this previously mercurial art form. Masterpieces could be archived and styles shared with increased access to cameras and computers. Together this group of innovators laid the foundation for the inclusive, diverse, creative graffiti art scene we enjoy today. -Nathan Nordstrom

Nathan “SLOKE” Nordstrom is an Austin, Texas native who has been professionally producing graffiti art since the 1990s. Specializing in the use of spray paint, Sloke travels the world exhibiting and curating art shows, and producing murals for companies including: Apple, Facebook, Nike, Google, Red Bull, Tecate, Jose Cuervo, Pepsi, Scholtzsky’s, Nordstrom, Ray Ban, Pandora, Cartoon Network, Trouble Maker Studios, Univision, Time Warner, Vimeo, Fox Network, CNN, Reagan Outdoor Advertising, SXSW, Nikon, Toyota Scion, Ford Motors, F1 Circuit of the Americas, Rackspace, Tango, R.J. Reynolds, University of Texas at Austin, American Heart Association and many others.

Original gallery exhibit was at the Mexican American Cultural Center (ESB-MACC) in Austin, Texas from January 24, 2020 until March 28, 2020. 

Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center
40
 

St. Lawrence Island Yupik Lessons: Language and Culture

The Alaska Office of the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center hosted a St. Lawrence Island Yupik language and culture seminar in January 2012, bringing together seven fluent speakers: John Apassingok, Lydia Apatiki, Ralph Apatiki, Sr., Elaine Kingeekuk, Christopher Koonooka, Merlin Koonooka and Angela Larson. They met for five days to discuss Yupik objects in the Smithsonian exhibition Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska at the Anchorage Museum.

During the seminar, the St. Lawrence Island Yupik language was documented and language and culture teaching materials were written for use in schools and homes throughout Alaska and beyond. Twelve objects from the Smithsonian collections – with links below – are featured in the guide and lessons presented here. These resources pair with twelve video lessons that offer teachers, students, parents and lifelong learners access to the St. Lawrence Island Yupik language and lifeways.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, language, Indigenous, St. Lawrence Island, Yupik, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
26
 

Salmon Give Life: Learning from Alaska’s First Peoples

There are five species of salmon in Alaska, and they are a vital food source for people living a subsistence lifestyle today and in the past. Alaska Natives determined that salmon skin, carefully processed, was a durable and waterproof material for clothing, and they used it to make bags, boots, mittens and parkas. Some artists continue to use this material in their work. The curriculum below consists of five activity-based lessons and will teach students about subsistence, with a focus on salmon, and how Alaska Natives utilize local resources to survive and thrive. The two videos referred to in curriculum Lesson 3 are provided below and are part of a 10-video set on this site in the Community Videos section, titled Sewing Salmon videos.

Tags: Alaska, Alaska Native, Indigenous, salmon, subsistence, traditional ecological knowledge, salmon skin, museum, museum objects, artifacts, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
7
 

Gifts from the Land: Lifeways and Quill Art of the Athabascan Peoples

Athabascan territories cover nearly half the state of Alaska, and these lands have diverse environments and wild resources that Athabascans respect, harvest and share. Wild resources are used for food and for raw materials to make things. For example, Athabascan peoples harvested porcupine to eat and also carefully processed its quills into a fine material to beautify special items, and some artists continue to use quill in their work. Artists today wrap, sew and weave quills onto clothing, bags and boxes made from tanned moose and caribou hide, like their ancestors did in the past.

The curriculum below consists of five activity-based lessons and will teach students about the Athabascan peoples of Alaska: their languages, traditional values and knowledge, subsistence lifeways, and historic artifacts, with a focus on porcupines as a local resource and its quills as an artistic material. The three videos referred to in curriculum Lesson 4 are provided below and are part of a 8-video set on this site in the Community Videos section, titled Quill Art videos.

Tags: Alaska, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Athabascan, Dene, subsistence, traditional ecological knowledge, museum, museum objects, artifacts, quill, porcupine, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
11
 

Iñupiaq Lessons: Language and Culture

The Alaska Office of the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center hosted an Iñupiaq language and culture seminar in January 2011, bringing together eight fluent speakers: Sylvester Ayek, Bernadette Alvanna-Stimpfle, Alvira Downey, Herbert Foster Sr., Willie Goodwin Jr., Jana Harcharek, Faye Ongtowasruk and Rachel Riley. They met for four days to discuss Iñupiaq cultural heritage objects in the Smithsonian exhibition Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska at the Anchorage Museum.

During the seminar, the Iñupiaq language was documented, including three different dialects, and language and culture teaching materials were written for use in schools and homes throughout Alaska and beyond. Six objects from the Smithsonian collections – with links below – are featured in the guide and lessons presented here. These resources pair with six video lesons that offer teachers, students, parents and lifelong learners access to Iñupiaq language and lifeways.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, language, Indigenous, Iñupiaq, Inupiaq, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
14
 

Castle Tour

Anne-Marie experimenting in Learning Lab for future projects.

Anne-Marie Gilliland
12
 

Unangax̂ Bentwood Hat-Making videos

Unangax̂ men of the Aleutian Islands wore hunting hats and visors that were shaped from carved, boiled and bent planks of driftwood, intricately ornamented with paint, beads, walrus ivory and sea lion whiskers. The hats were practical headgear for kayak hunters and at the same time works of art expressing the spiritual connection between human beings and animals of the land, sea and air. In 2012, the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska hosted a bentwood hat making residency at the Anchorage Museum where Unangax̂ hat makers Patricia Lekanoff-Gregory and Michael Livingston worked with advanced apprentices Delores Gregory and Tim Shangin. They examined bentwood hats and visors from museum collections, and they carved, bent, and decorated their own, sharing their expertise with visiting students and museum guests.

The video set presented here provides step-by-step instructions on how to make a bentwood hat and information on the use and significance of these hats in the past and today, along with artist interviews that provide first-hand information about the Aleutian Islands region and this important art form. Links to a selection of Unangax̂ bentwood hats and visors from the Smithsonian collections are included below.

Tags: Aleutian Islands, Alaska, Alaska Native art, Indigenous, Unangax̂, Unangax, Unangan, Sugpiaq, Aleut, bentwood hat, bentwood visor, chief's hat, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
14
 

Twining Cedar videos

Red cedar bark twined basketry is a distinctive Tsimshian art form. With the passing on of elder master artists and the demands of contemporary lifestyles, it became at risk. A handful of weavers today are working to master and revitalize twined cedarbark basketry, reconnecting with a proud heritage. In 2016, the Arctic Studies Center collaborated with The Haayk Foundation of Metlakatla to document the materials and techniques of cedarbark basketry. The project included a harvesting and processing workshop and a weaving workshop in Metlakatla, and a residency at the Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage where artists studied baskets from museum and private collections, practiced and refined weaving techniques, and taught museum visitors and school children about basketry.

Teaching was led by Haida master weaver Delores Churchill, who learned from master Tsimshian weaver Flora Mather, with assistance from her daughter Holly Churchill, an accomplished weaver. In addition to Metlakatla students, three advanced Tsimshian weavers participated in the project, sharing techniques learned in their families and communities and learning new ones: Kandi McGilton (co-founder of The Haayk Foundation), Karla Booth (granddaughter of Tsimshian master weaver Violet Booth) and Annette Topham (niece of master Tsimshian weaver Lillian Buchert). Metlakatla elder Sarah Booth, a fluent speaker of Sm’algyax (Ts’msyen), assisted Kandi McGilton in documenting indigenous basketry terminology for use in language classes.

The videos below pair with a bilingual guide included here. The videos provide an introduction to the artists and to Tsimshian twined cedarbark baskets, and they provide instruction on how to harvest and process materials and on how to weave a basket from start to finish. A twined cedarbark basket from the Smithsonian collections is also included below.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, Indigenous, Tsimshian, cedar, bark, Metlakatla, weaving, basket, David Boxley, Kandi McGilton, Delores Churchill, Karla Booth, Annette Topham, Holly Churchill, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
18
 

St. Lawrence Island Yupik Language and Culture videos

The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center hosted a language and culture seminar at the Anchorage Museum in 2011, bringing together seven fluent St. Lawrence Island Yupik speakers for five days to discuss cultural heritage objects from their region in the Smithsonian exhibition Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska at the Anchorage Museum. This video set presents a range of information about life on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska for the Yupik people: hunting tools used for living from the land and sea to ceremonial items used at celebrations and gatherings to everyday clothing to cultural traditions and values. The videos are in St. Lawrence Island Yupik with subtitles in English and Yupik, for following along in both languages. An educational guide with twelve lessons is included below, along with links to objects discussed from the Smithsonian collections. 

 Tags: Alaska, Native art, Native culture, Indigenous, museum, education, language, St. Lawrence Island, Yupik, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
26
 

Sharing the Dena'ina Language

The Alaska Office of the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center hosted a seminar with the Dena’ina Language Institute in 2010 at the Anchorage Museum. Elders Helen Dick and Gladys Evanoff shared their knowledge about Dena'ina heritage objects in the Smithsonian collections, using the objects as tools to teach the Dena'ina Athabascan language. They worked with language learners Karen Evanoff, Aaron Leggett and Michelle Ravenmoon and with linguists James Kari and D. Roy Mitchell to script and record new language learning videos, including the three videos presented here. Links to the museum objects discussed are included below. 

Tags: Dena'ina, Athabascan, Indigenous, language, Alaska Native, dog pack, fire bag, snowshoes, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
7
 

Sewing Salmon videos

The Sewing Salmon project was hosted by the Smithsonian Institution’s Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum in Alaska and brought together three contemporary Alaska Native artists: Audrey Armstrong (Koyukon Athabascan), Coral Chernoff (Sugpiaq) and Marlene Nielsen (Yup'ik). Together they learned and taught about creating work from salmon skin through studying historic museum objects and through sharing and comparing techniques they developed. Each artist has a commitment to this almost-lost art and shared their knowledge with students and visitors, and with curators and conservators who care for museum collections. The video set presented here introduces the artists and their techniques. Links to a selection of Alaska Native objects from the Smithsonian collections made from salmon skin are included below.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, Indigenous, sew, salmon, fish skin, Athabascan, Sugpiaq, Alutiiq, Yup'ik, Iñupiaq, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
15
 

Sculpting Walrus Ivory videos

Walrus ivory is a precious sculptural material that for millennia has been carved into a nearly endless variety of forms essential to Arctic life, from harpoon heads to needle cases, handles, ornaments, buckles and many more. Naturalistic and stylized figures of animals and humans were made as charms, amulets and ancestral representations. Carvers today bring this conceptual heritage to new types of work.

During a week-long residency organized by the Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum in 2015, Alaska Native carvers Jerome Saclamana (Iñupiaq), Clifford Apatiki (St. Lawrence Island Yupik) and Levi Tetpon (Iñupiaq) studied historic walrus ivory pieces from the Smithsonian’s Living Our Cultures exhibition and Anchorage Museum collection, and demonstrated how to process, design and shape walrus ivory into artwork. Art students, museum conservators, school groups, local artists and museum visitors participated throughout the week. Also, a two-day community workshop in Nome was taught by Jerome Saclamana and hosted by the Nome-Beltz High School. The video set presented here introduces the artists and document the materials, tools and techniques they use to make walrus-ivory artwork. An educational guide with six lessons is included below pair with the videos, along with links to a selection of Iñupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik objects from the Smithsonian collections that were carved from walrus ivory.

 Tags: Iñupiaq, Inupiaq, Eskimo, ivory, walrus, carving, carver, carve, Native art, museum, education, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Yupik, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
28
 

Sewing Gut videos

The art of sewing sea mammal intestine – also called gut – is an ancient and practical one used to create water-repellant clothing and bags, as well as ceremonial garments. During a week-long residency organized by the Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum in 2014, Alaska Native artists Mary Tunuchuk (Yup’ik), Elaine Kingeekuk (St. Lawrence Island Yupik) and Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq-Athabascan) studied historic gutskin objects and demonstrated how to process and sew gut to students, museum conservators and visitors. A two-day community workshop in Bethel followed, taught by Mary Tunuchuk and hosted by the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center with assistance from Director Eva Malvich.

The video set presented here introduces the artists, examine historic objects made with gut from the Smithsonian collections, and offers detailed explanations and demonstrations. Learn how to process and sew sea mammal intestine (and hog gut as an alternative material for non-Alaska Natives); prepare grass and tapered thread for sewing; and complete a gut basket or gut window project. Links to a selection of Iñupiaq, St. Lawrence Island Yupik and Yup’ik objects from the Smithsonian collections made from gut are included below.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, Indigenous, sew, gut, intestine, sea mammal, walrus, seal, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Inupiaq, Iñupiaq, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
19
 

Quill Art videos

Athabascan peoples harvested porcupine to eat and also carefully processed its quills into a fine material to beautify special items. Some artists continue to use quill in their work. In 2013, the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska hosted the Dene Quill Art project, bringing together Athabascan artists Shirley May Holmberg and Emma Hildbrand with ethnographic Nancy Fonicello conservator  to share quillwork techniques and develop new ones by studying historic museum pieces. They shared their expertise with students, museum visitors and local Alaska Native artists, along with conservators who learned how to better care for quillwork objects in museum collections. The video set presented here introduces participants and provides detailed demonstrations of how to work with quill from cleaning and dying, to sewing, wrapping folding and weaving. Links to a selection of Alaska Native objects from the Smithsonian collections made with porcupine quill are included below.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Athabascan, Dene, museum, education, Indigenous, quill, porcupine, conservator, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
14
 

Iñupiaq Language and Culture videos

The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center hosted a language and culture seminar at the Anchorage Museum in 2011, bringing together eight fluent Iñupiaq speakers for four days to discuss cultural heritage objects from their region in the Smithsonian exhibition Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska at the Anchorage Museum. This video set presents a range of information about life in northwest Alaska for the Iñupiaq people: hunting tools used for living from the land and sea to ceremonial items used at celebrations and gatherings to everyday clothing to cultural traditions and values. The videos are in Iñupiaq with subtitles in English and Iñupiaq, for following along in both languages. An educational guide with six lessons is included below, along with links to objects discussed from the Smithsonian collections.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, language, Indigenous, Iñupiaq, Inupiaq, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
14
 

Athabascan Moosehide Tanning & Sewing videos

Older generations of Alaska Athabascan (Dene) peoples tanned moose hides using time-tested methods to make strong, supple leather for sewing beaded or quill-embroidered tunics, jackets, mittens, bags and moccasins, as well as everyday essentials such as dogsled harnesses. Because traditional tanning is time-consuming and requires technical knowledge that has declined in recent generations, most moose hides are now sent out to commercial tanneries for processing with synthetic chemicals. Commercial tanning produces a lower quality hide, but more importantly, it displaces the passing on of Athabascan tanning knowledge. Recognizing this, contemporary artists Joel Isaak (Dena'ina Athabascan) and Melissa Shaginoff (Ahtna Athabascan) have been learning traditional methods for tanning moose hides from elders Helen Dick (Dena’ina Athabascan) and Jeanie Maxim (Ahtna Athabascan) and adding tested, contemporary tools. 

The Alaska office of the Arctic Studies Center worked with these committed artists and elders from September 2017 through June 2018 to carry out moosehide tanning work in communities and backyards in Kenai, Chickaloon, and Anchorage, and a sewing and beading residency at the Anchorage Museum. The collaboration resulted in the set of twenty-three educational videos presented here. Links to a selection of Athabascan objects from the Smithsonian collections made from moose hide are included below.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, Indigenous, tan, tanning, moosehide, moose hide, smoking, sew, bead, Athabascan, Dena'ina, Ahtna, Dene, Melissa Shaginoff, Joel Isaak , Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
32
 

Living Our Cultures: Research, Talks and Events at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

In 1994, the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center opened an Alaska office at the Anchorage Museum, and in opened the long-term exhibition Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska. The exhibition – created by in-depth collaboration with Alaska Natives throughout the project – presents Indigenous voices, perspectives and knowledge through over 600 masterworks of Alaska Native art and design from the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian collections. Living Our Cultures serves as both a public exhibition and as an active resource for community-based research, talks and educational events, some of which are shown in the videos provided below. A major focus of ongoing work is collaborations with Alaska Native Elders, artists and culture-bearers on heritage documentation and revitalization projects, which are presented in the Community Videos section of this site. For more information, contact Aron Crowell (crowella@si.edu) or Dawn Biddison (biddisond@si.edu).

Tags: Alaska Native, Indigenous, heritage, art, collaboration, museum, objects, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
14
 

Alaska Native Territories

Alaska is home to over 100,000 Indigenous residents who represent twenty distinctive cultures and languages. The map shows cities, towns and villages where most people live today, but depicts Alaska Native territories as they existed in about 1890, before the main influx of Euro-American settlers. 

Map information is courtesy of Michael Krauss, Igor Krupnik, Ives Goddard and the Alaska Native Language Center (University of Alaska Fairbanks). Map courtesy of the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center.

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
1
 

The Haida People and Their Culture

By Jeane Breinig (Haida), 2009

(This is shortened version of a longer essay from the Smithsonian book Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska.)

Sea, Land, Rivers

It’s an endless cycle – gathering food, putting it up, sharing it among the people. Subsistence is fundamental to our being, even for city-dwellers. Every summer since the kids were little, we would return to Kasaan to join in harvesting activities with family and friends. Our traditions pass on through the foods, the seasons and the generations. I am Haida Yáahl-Xúuts (Raven–Brown Bear), of the Taslaanas clan (The Sandy Beach People) at Kasaan, Alaska. By the custom of our matrilineal society, I trace my descent and clan affiliation through my mother, her mother and a long line of Raven women going back through the centuries.

Haida identities are linked to the history of our people. Alaskan Haida look south to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands, Canada) as their ancestral homeland. The present villages of Masset and Skidegate were the only settlements that remained after a smallpox epidemic ravaged Haida Gwaii in 1862. Survivors from at least seventeen other communities found refuge there. Alaskan Haida are the descendants of emigrants who left Haida Gwaii sometime before European contact. Residents of Old Kasaan, one of the original Alaskan villages, moved to (New) Kasaan in 1902, and people from Howkan, Klinkwan, and other early Alaskan Haida settlements consolidated at Hydaburg in 1911. The distance from northern Haida Gwaii to Prince of Wales Island is not great, only about thirty-five miles. It is easy to imagine our forebears going across in their canoes: the Haida are justly famous as seafarers and boat builders. Our red-cedar canoes, some large enough to carry forty passengers, traveled up and down the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia and were sought in trade by Tlingit, Tsimshian and other peoples.

When the salmon start jumping in Kasaan Bay, it’s time to begin gathering the foods of our land. We pick sghiw (black seaweed) during the minus tides of May, when you can get out to the rocks where it grows. They spread it out on flat rocks to dry in the sun, took it home in gunnysacks, ground it up, and stored it as a savory food for winter. We love to eat it by the handful or sprinkle it on fish soup. As the summer goes on we fish for halibut and the different species of salmon that arrive in our waters. Sockeye from the Karta River, a staple of the diet in Kasaan, are smoked and preserved using an endless variety of family recipes. Clams, abalone, “gumboots” (chitons), crabs and shrimp are also harvested, and salmonberries, blueberries and huckleberries are picked as they ripen in succession. The men go deer hunting in the fall. Another staple is hooligan (eulachon) oil or “grease,” called satáw in the Haida language. Haida traditionally bartered for fish grease and soapberries from the Tsimshian in exchange for our dried seaweed and halibut. That kind of trading still goes on at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention every October, when everyone brings specialties from home to exchange for favorite foods from other places.

Family and Community

In a traditional Haida village, cedar-plank longhouses stood side by side, each paired with a tall pole displaying the crest animals of the clan members who resided there. An opening through base of the pole, representing the mouth or stomach of the lowest crest figure, served as the doorway to some houses. Like other southeast Alaskan peoples, the Haida are socially divided between Ravens and Eagles, each half (moiety) composed of numerous matrilineal clans. Traditional marriages were always between a member of a Raven clan and a member of an Eagle clan. The residents of a longhouse included multiple generations of male clan members and women of other clans who came there to live with their husbands.

Much of a child’s education was the responsibility of clan mentors outside the nuclear family: for a boy, this was his maternal uncle, and for a girl, her maternal aunt. On their pathways to adulthood, children received the names of ancestors, as well as piercings and tattoos that signified their clan and rank. Children still learn through watching and participating in the activities of the community. Our oral tradition is another participatory way of learning. Elders teach through stories, although the message may be indirect. If you seek an elder’s counsel, you might hear a tale about another place and time. It is up to you to think about the meaning and apply it to your own life.

The worst horrors of Haida contact with the West were waves of epidemic disease – smallpox, influenza, tuberculosis, whooping cough and others – that consumed the aboriginal population, unchecked by natural immunity. Perhaps fourteen thousand Haida in the 1780s had withered to six hundred by 1915. It is hard to imagine loss on that scale, not only of life, but also of culture and heritage. Most of the clan leadership was gone, and consolidation of the widespread population into just a few villages almost destroyed the complex social system as it had functioned until then.

Haida oral literature is renowned for its epic tales of battles and migrations, transformations from animals to human beings and vice versa, and journeys to spirit worlds in the sky and underwater. Other Haida tales, especially Raven stories, are simply fun with a touch of mystery. Raven, the comical trickster is always in trouble. Elders say that he turned black by getting stuck in the smoke hole of a house and being too fat and lazy to escape.

Today there are fewer than a dozen fluent Alaskan Haida speakers. I am fortunate that my mother, Julie Coburn, is one of them. Her Haida name is Wahlgidouk, “Giver of Gifts,” meaning a person who brings in presents to be distributed at a ceremonial giveaway, or potlatch. She has been giving the gifts of language and literature throughout her life. Keeping her language was a kind of heroism under all the pressures for acculturation. Her parents, concerned about their children’s survival in Western culture, spoke Haida to them at home but asked them to answer in English. At her boarding school in Sitka, speaking Haida was harshly punished. But as an adult in her fifties, she recognized that the language was fading away, so she relearned it and now has had the good fortune also to teach others. She participated in the Haida Society for the Preservation of Haida Language and Literature and contributed to work accomplished at the Alaska Native Language Center when Haida elders developed a standardized writing system.

Ceremony and Celebration

In 1880, Chief Son-I-Hat built Neyúwens ("Great House") near Kasaan Bay, a mile from the location where New Kasaan was later founded. That structure, today called the Whale House, was restored in 1938 by Haida craftsmen working for the Civilian Conservation Corps. The restoration included the house’s crest pole and carved interior posts, which portray Coon-Ahts, a legendary figure who captured the monster Gonaqadate and put on his skin to hunt whales. Surrounding the house are additional totem poles brought over from Old Kasaan and restored, along with copies of several more. The Whale House is the only surviving traditional Haida clan house in Alaska.

The English word potlatch has been used for traditional Haida ceremonies that centered on feasting, dancing and the distribution of property by chiefs and other leaders. The Haida word is 'wáahlaal. The largest potlatches marked the completion of a new clan house or the death of a chief and succession of his heir. Chief Son-I-Hat, one of the wealthiest Haida leaders, hosted numerous potlatches before his death in 1912. Potlatches were outlawed by the Canadian government in 1884, and they were discouraged by Christian missionaries who came to the Haida region in the 1870s and 1880s.

Despite attempts to suppress of our traditional ceremonies, we still hold feasts and memorial potlatches, but now in transformed ways. Traditionally, potlatches represented a time for the deceased person’s clan to repay those from other clans who had helped them at the time of the death. In many respects, a potlatch can be viewed as a social occasion but with very formal aspects, acknowledging the sadness of the loss but also marking the end of mourning. Potlatches are also the time to repay those who have served as witnesses for naming ceremonies. By accepting a gift, recipients acknowledge that the name is legally granted within the traditional Haida system.

We are celebrating and revitalizing Haida culture in southeast Alaska. Teaching the language and rebuilding the Whale House are just a part of it. Every summer in Kasaan, a culture camp for the kids is held, with storytelling, dancing and subsistence activities. They want to learn and are so proud of their heritage. What does it mean to be Haida? The answer now is different from that of the past, obviously. We need to know our history and learn from it. We need to know our culture and draw strength from it. We need to make it work for us today.

Tags: Haida, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
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The Tlingit People and Their Culture

By Rosita Worl (Tlingit), 2009

(This is shortened version of a longer essay from the Smithsonian book Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska.)

Sea, Land, Rivers

Lingít haa sateeyí, "we who are Tlingit," have owned and occupied southeast Alaska since time immemorial. When we say haa aaní, “our land,” we are speaking from the heart. Those words mean ownership, which we have had to defend through history. They mean identity, because this is our homeland. They mean the nourishment of body and spirit provided by bountiful rain forests, coasts and rivers. This land and its gifts have sustained us for hundreds of generations.

We believe that animals are our ancestors. Each matrilineal clan has its ancient progenitors. I am an Eagle from the Thunderbird clan, of the House Lowered from the Sun in Klukwan. I am proud to be a child of the Lukaax.ádi, or Sockeye, my father’s clan. The history of our lineages is portrayed by images of ancestral animals and by origin stories, ceremonial regalia, dances, songs and names. These things represent at.óow, or “crest” beings, to which each clan has exclusive rights. Mountains, glaciers and other places on the land are also at.óow, because they are linked to incidents in the birth of our people. For a Tlingit person at.óow embody history, ancestry, geography, social being and sacred connection. They symbolize who we are.

The Tlingit homeland extends from Icy Bay in the north to Prince of Wales Island in the south, some four hundred miles along Alaska’s panhandle. The population is about ten thousand, distributed among a dozen villages, cities and towns. The ocean spreads out before us, with a maze of wooded islands, fjords and channels that Tlingit seafarers historically traveled in cedar-trunk canoes. Behind us are high glaciated mountain ranges that extend inland from the coast.

Fish, especially salmon, is the most important and bountiful resource in the Tlingit region. Harvested in summer and fall and preserved by smoking and drying, it allowed the historical population to grow large, to live in permanent winter villages and to produce surpluses for trade. It is still the year-round staple of our diet. The winter is long, and we look forward to spring and to herring eggs. We pick spring greens as they come up. Through the summer people gather berries and put them away. Summer is the season for hunting seals, which are important both for meat and for their fat. Nutritionists note the exceptional quality of our traditional diet, which includes omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, cancer-preventing antioxidants in blueberries, and the rich vitamins and proteins of wild meats and fish. We’ve always enjoyed the health benefits and superb tastes of those foods.

Community and Family

Tlingit are divided into opposing and complementary halves, Eagle and Raven, which are called moieties. Each moiety is composed of large extended families that we identify as clans. The clans, in turn, are divided into tribal houses. In the present day, many Tlingit people introduce themselves to others first by personal name and moiety—Eagle or Raven—and then by clan name and house. We inherit clan membership from our mothers but call ourselves the “children” of our father’s clan. In the past, children lived in the house of their father. But when a boy reached the age of ten, he went to live with his mother’s brother, who assumed responsibility for the schooling of his young nephew. A girl remained in her father’s clan house until she married.

Although locally organized by village and clan, our region was never politically unified until coming into conflict with the West. When the Treaty of Cession was signed in 1867 our great-grandparents were astonished to learn that Russia had purported to sell Alaska, including our aboriginal lands, to the United States. Tribal leaders sent a lawyer to Washington to tell the government, “If you want to buy Alaska, then buy it from us, its rightful owners.” The struggle for our land continued for more than a century. The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes, established during World War II, litigated for thirty years to reach a financial settlement over tribal property taken by the U.S. federal government to create the Tongass National Forest. In 1968, the Tlingit and other groups unified under the Alaska Federation of Natives to pursue both state and federal claims.

The Tlingit people, like all Alaska Natives, endured a long, hard fight for their civil rights. We were denied U.S. citizenship until 1922 and experienced decades of overt discrimination and segregation. Alaska’s own “Jim Crow” laws excluded us from stores, jobs, schools and public buildings. In 1945, the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood, based in southeast Alaska, finally won the repeal of discriminatory laws by the state legislature. To earn his Certificate of Citizenship, my grandfather had to pass an English-language and civics test administered by white schoolteachers and then have his application approved by a judge. To practice his rights as a citizen, including the right to vote, he was forced to show that he had given up his Native language and culture to lead a “civilized” life.

When he was dying my grandfather called me to his bedside. I was fourteen years old. He said, “I want you to build a fire in the clan house.” What he was saying is that my generation had to rekindle the fire of our culture and language. That became our responsibility. We have worked hard to help restore cultural knowledge, practice, pride and fluency among our people. We have had substantial success, as witnessed by the huge public expression of our cultures that takes place every other year during the regional Celebration gathering. Progress has been made with the Tlingit language as well, although I don’t know that we’ll ever speak it the way our ancestors did. I will tell you, though, that the voices of our ancestors will always be heard in our land. And our core cultural values will be maintained.

Ceremony and Celebration

One of our strongest values is the maintenance of social and spiritual balance between Eagle and Raven clans to ensure the well-being of society. In addition, we have spiritual obligations to ancestors and future generations, a concept of cultural perpetuation called haa shagoon. These traditional beliefs form the basis of ceremonies called ku.éex’ or potlatch in English. The most significant ku.éex’ ceremonies are memorials to those who have passed away. When someone of an Eagle clan dies, members of Raven clans come to assist the grieving relatives. They bring food, contribute to the funeral expenses and sit with the body through the night.

A year after the death the Eagle clan hosts a ku.éex’ for the Ravens, who come as guests. The hosts display their clan treasures, or at.óow. In this context, the word at.óow refers to works of traditional art that bear the images of crest beings. They include Chilkat blankets woven from dyed mountain sheep wool, button blankets, headdresses, carved and painted boxes, masks and drums. Clan ownership of these crest objects is revalidated by their presentation in the memorial ceremony, accompanied by a recounting of their histories and the origin stories of the crests themselves. Balance is maintained through the response of the Raven clans by presenting their own at.óow. The Eagle clan repays the Ravens, who came to the Eagles’ assistance, by distributing gifts and acknowledging them in oratory and song.

At a memorial ku.éex’ we name and honor the deceased person, our ancestors and others in the clan who have recently died. We feed these ancestors and departed relatives with their favorite foods, perhaps smoked cockles, gumboots (chitons) or deer meat. We transfer the food to the spirit world by fire or by giving it to the opposite side to eat.

If the person who died was a clan leader, his successor is named and assumes office at the time of the memorial ceremony. Therefore, a ku.éex’ has multiple functions: repaying the opposite moiety and reuniting with them, fulfilling spiritual obligations, and conducting legal and political affairs. This institution, which remains so vital and important in our contemporary lives, is far more complex than a stereotypical understanding of the word potlatch might imply.

Tags: Tlingit, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska


Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
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The Eyak People and Their Culture

By Joe Cook (Eyak), 2008

(This is adapted from a transcript of an interview for the Smithsonian exhibition Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska.)

Sea, Land, Rivers

I'm of Eyak descent out of the Cordova area. My grandmother is full-blooded Eyak. I was born in Seattle, but I've been in Cordova since I was six months old. I was raised there, raised on the boats. When I was growing up, we lived down in Old Town pretty much. We weren't too far from the old village site.

We're on the edge of Copper River Delta there, which borders the Prince William Sound. On the east side of town, out on the Delta, you'd see a big flat with ponds and a river running through it, lots of ducks and geese. Out off shore you'd see the barrier islands where there's a lot of nesting going on. You'd see habitat for fish. In the inland area, you'd see mountains and glaciers. You'd see goats, bear, black and brown. And out on the Sound area, you'd see seal, sea otters and fish streams. It's a beautiful place.

In the springtime it's on the flight path for all the birds coming back from the south, just hundreds of thousands of sandpipers, ducks and geese. Any kind of bird you can imagine is passing through there.  Some of them stay the summer. When I was a kid, we used to gather the eggs. My grandmother used to gather eggs to eat, and we hunt them in the fall. Out on the barrier islands it was mostly seagulls that would nest out there, and that's where we'd get our fresh eggs in the springtime. We'd be out clam digging in the summertime. My parents used to dig clams, back before the clam crash, prior to the earthquake there. Cordova used to be the clam capital of the world back then, razor clams. After the earthquake, it raised up the land quite a bit so clams weren't as plentiful, and they're still not. Clams we pretty much have to get from Cook Inlet now.

In early spring, we have the hooligan move in. That's the first fish to come in, and then herring after that in the Sound. In the first part of May, the reds and kings (salmon) start to show up, from May until the middle of July. Then we start switching over to silver salmon, which run until September. It's actually a pretty long season, for fisheries on the Delta. The Sound starts early July and then runs through August, along there now with the hatcheries. There's a lot of fish there. When I was growing up, my uncles would take me out hunting and fishing with them. They taught me a lot. They wouldn't take me goat hunting, but they took me on the boats and around. My grandmother used to take me with her on occasion to the different fish camps she had.

Community and Family

From the stories I've heard and read, we were a small tribe. We were the in-between people. We were the traders. We were the go-betweens, between the different factions outside of us. And it seemed to work for us. Being as how we were a small tribe, that was the way we had to be, otherwise we would have probably been wiped out. Everybody in my family is able to get along through negotiation and trading. I think we're still carrying on as the go-betweens. We can get people together, talk things out. My brother Dune Lankard, he started the Eyak Preservation Council. He's trying to do the same thing at the village. It's a work in progress. We lost it all before, and we're just starting to get it back now. And I think we can.

I've fished ever since I was small. I think I had my first boat when I was twelve. I grew up on the water. My family has always fished, and we've always given to people haven't been able to get their own. In the village of Eyak we've got a program now where we get early fish, an early fishery so we can go out and take some early kings and reds. We pass them out to the elders and members of the village, which has really helped out a lot because we don't have that many fishermen anymore in the village. It's working out well, and that's through the Ilanka Culture Center. The village is getting stronger in all of the programs we've got going. We're growing it back.

It's hard to tell what was going on back in my grandmother's time, when she was younger, or back before her. You had the railroad come in and copper mines. I don't think it did my tribe any good. And they had big flu epidemics that wiped out I can't remember how many, but it was probably half the tribe. We had villages at Alaganik and at Eyak Lake. But it was back before my time, and my grandmother didn't talk a whole lot about it. So I'm assuming by her not talking about it, it wasn't a good time. 

Back in the early '60s, I remember Dr. Michael Krauss (linguist, Alaska Native Language Center) coming to town and talking with my grandmother (Lena Saska Nacktan), Sophie Borodkin and Marie Smith Jones. The only time I heard the language was when my grandmother would talk with Marie or Sophie. They'd just be in a world of their own. A friend of mine and I thought about having my grandmother teach it to us, but it never happened. I'm still kicking myself for not doing that. Marie died this year. She was the last fluent speaker. So, it's a language that's technically dead now, although the Native Village of Eyak and the Eyak Preservation Council have it all on tape and the dictionary. It's there for whoever wants to learn it.

Ceremony and Celebration

My grandmother's family, they were brought up when they couldn't speak the language. My grandmother still spoke Eyak, but my mother never learned it. She had to go off to boarding school in Sitka. A lot of our inner culture for the Eyaks was lost, or just was pretty much banned, I think, during my mom's time, so I really wasn't brought up with it too much myself. My gram taught me a few things, but it just wasn't there for a long time. They tried to pretty much just take away the Native culture, and I think they pretty much did.

There was school and government, from what my mom said. When my mom was going to school, she said they had a sign in the theater that Natives were only allowed in the balcony section. They had it a lot tougher than I did. I was brought up in both worlds: White and Native. My mom said that that there's nobody better than you, so if there's nobody than you, then you're better than nobody. So actually, I had it pretty good. I could walk both sides of the street and still do to this day.

It's a lot better today. At the Native Village of Eyak, we've got the Ilanka Culture Center going. We've got classes, and we've got dance classes and a dance group. We're growing it back. It's never going to go back to the way it was, but at least we're bringing back the culture. We've got a small museum we've built, and we'll get back some of our artifacts that were taken from us years ago so we can learn about our history. Getting our programs going – the dance groups, the crafts – it can only better. I see good things happening to us.

Tags: Eyak, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
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The Unangax̂ (Aleut) People and Their Culture

By Alice Petrivelli (Unangax̂), 2009

(This is shortened version of a longer essay from the Smithsonian book Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska.) 

Sea, Land, Rivers

More than three hundred Aleutian Islands clustered in groups stretch westward across the Pacific from the tip of the Alaska Peninsula. In summertime they are just gorgeous. The mountains are snow-capped, with green grass and tundra plants spreading up their sides. Even out on the water you can smell the flowers. In fall the vegetation turns shades of red and brown, and in winter there is a clear, blue, endless sky between periods of storm. The islands have no trees, but driftwood from around the whole North Pacific washes up on our beaches. People of the Aleutians call themselves Unangax̂, meaning “sea-sider.” We are also called Aleuts – a name first used by Russian fur traders in the eighteenth century.  

To our south is the Pacific Ocean, to our north the Bering Sea. Everything our ancestors did was connected to the marine world around us. They built beautiful kayaks with split bow tips to cut swiftly through the waves. Their clothing was made of sea mammal hides and intestines and the feathered skins of ocean birds. The sea provided nearly all of our ancestors’ food – seals, sea lions, ducks, salmon, all kinds of fish and shellfish—and that’s still true today. From the time we’re little we’re taught to respect the water and to keep it clean, because that’s where our living comes from.

I was born in 1929 on the far western island of Atka and grew up speaking the Niiĝux̂ dialect of Unangam Tunuu (the Unangax̂ language). Until 1942 we used to go camping all summer. With the first warm days of spring we would travel by boat to Amlia Island, where we planted potatoes and other vegetables. Gardening was impossible on Atka, because rats had invaded from a shipwreck sometime in the past. We fished for cod and halibut, and later in the summer we’d fish for red, pink and dog salmon. We preserved fish by salting, drying, and smoking. We lived mostly on subsistence resources, because the supply ship came to Atka only twice a year, bringing in the staples we needed: butter, flour and sugar. Growing up I learned to fillet fish, hunt birds, harvest grass for weaving baskets, and gather roots, plants, and shellfish.

Community and Family

We have always had strong leaders in our communities. Traditionally a chief would inherit his position, but for his authority to be recognized he had to excel as a hunter and be spiritual, generous, fair and kind in his dealings with the people. The shamans, or medicine men, took care of the people’s medical needs. They possessed detailed knowledge of the human body and had names for every part of it, both inside and out. There were no elections until the U.S. government started them in the 1930s.

Russian fur traders came to the islands in the mid-eighteenth century following Vitus Bering’s discovery that sea otters were abundant there. The Russians set up a colony that lasted until 1867, and they were cruel, especially in the early years. They enslaved the people, forcing the men to hunt and the women to serve the traders. The population declined as a result of this mistreatment and disease until the majority of our people and over two-thirds of the original villages were lost. The Orthodox Church urged the Russian government to treat the people more kindly, and the situation improved. The Russians built schools to educate the Aleuts, and when the United States came in they reeducated us in the American way.

In December 1941, I was a twelve-year-old school girl when our teacher told us that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. In April we learned that an invasion of the Aleutian Islands was feared and that the United States wanted to get us out of the way of the war. Only a few weeks later the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor and invaded Attu and Kiska islands, at the west end of the chain. In June a U.S. Navy ship came to Atka to evacuate everyone. Before leaving, the navy burned our village to the ground, even the church. It was devastating to the whole community. No one was allowed to get anything from the houses before they were destroyed, and we left with only the clothes on our backs. No one told us our destination.

All of the Unangax̂ refugees were taken to internment camps in southeast Alaska. My family was at Killisnoo until 1945. It was very poorly set up, and we had little food and no medicine or appropriate housing. In that two and a half-year period we lost almost all of our elders and newborns, a total of seventeen deaths out of eighty-five who had left Atka together. We almost lost our culture entirely because of that, and the way I grew up no longer exists.

Before the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 everyone had summer camps. When we got food, we shared it, and you could use another person’s camp as long as you kept it clean and replenished what you used. Land claims introduced the word "mine," as in, “That’s mine. You can’t use it.” After that, people didn’t share as much and started expecting to be paid to do things instead of just helping, as in building a house. And the Native corporation leaders didn’t want to involve elders in the new enterprises, thinking they were too old and not ready to do things in the Western way.

Those were the negative effects of land claims, but things have improved over the years, and ANCSA has brought us many benefits. I first went to work for the Aleut Corporation as a receptionist in 1972 and was eventually employed in each of the departments. I wrote up land selections, helped with the accounting, and ended up getting elected to the board in 1976. I served until 2008, including a long term as president. It was a challenging and terrifying ride, because we were a “have not” corporation with no forests, oil or minerals on our lands to generate profits. Yet we needed to do the best we could to support our communities and shareholders. Your heart really has to be in it, because it takes a lot of personal sacrifice.

Ceremony and Celebration

Father Yakov Netsvetov (later Saint Yakov), whose mother came from our island, was the first resident priest. He consecrated the church on Atka in 1830, and ever since then Russian Orthodoxy has been a foundation of community life. Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter and other feast days mark our calendar of worship and celebration. Starring and masking – still practiced in some villages during the midwinter holidays – are similar to rituals carried out before the Russians came.

The original Unangax̂ festivals were held in the fall and winter, when people celebrated successful hunting and food gathering and asked for the animals to return. Those ceremonies survived Russian rule but were banned after the United States took over in 1867. In the decades that followed, the Aleuts adopted new music and dances for fun and entertainment, such as polkas, two-steps and waltzes. Since 1992, groups of young people have formed to restore and perform some of the original Unangax̂ dances.

Tags: Unangax̂, Aleut, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
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