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Found 970 Collections

 

Thanksgiving menu

MrsK Shealy
2
 

The 1960s--A Decade Collection

This is a topical collection about American life and politics in the 1960s. Resources in this collection might be helpful to students and teachers working on projects about the decade. It is not meant to be completely comprehensive, but rather includes highlights of the Smithsonian's collection spanning art, popular culture, social trends, leadership, and technology.

Teachers and students might copy and adapt this collection to suit their needs; highlighting a specific aspect of life in the 1960s and adding annotations and additional resources.

tags: Sixties, Kennedy, Camelot, civil rights, Vietnam, politics, decade

Kate Harris
97
 

The 1960s--A Decade Collection

This is a topical collection about American life and politics in the 1960s. Resources in this collection might be helpful to students and teachers working on projects about the decade. It is not meant to be completely comprehensive, but rather includes highlights of the Smithsonian's collection spanning art, popular culture, social trends, leadership, and technology.

Teachers and students might copy and adapt this collection to suit their needs; highlighting a specific aspect of life in the 1960s and adding annotations and additional resources.

tags: Sixties, Kennedy, Camelot, civil rights, Vietnam, politics, decade

Susan Ogilvie
97
 

The 1960s--A Decade Collection

This is a topical collection about American life and politics in the 1960s. Resources in this collection might be helpful to students and teachers working on projects about the decade. It is not meant to be completely comprehensive, but rather includes highlights of the Smithsonian's collection spanning art, popular culture, social trends, leadership, and technology.

Teachers and students might copy and adapt this collection to suit their needs; highlighting a specific aspect of life in the 1960s and adding annotations and additional resources.

tags: Sixties, Kennedy, Camelot, civil rights, Vietnam, politics, decade

Lisa Mcclinchie
103
 

The ART of AFRICAN TEXTILES

African textiles have long served as communicative notations and expressions of identity.  An extraordinary array of weaving and dyeing fashioned into textiles  transforms into works of art.  Embedded in various textiles are symbolic patterns of rank and status, color codes, and embroidered symbols.  New forms are being added by the current digital generation through the vast fabric of data, information, and rapid communication systems.  We see contemporary cloth printed with cellphones, computers, and other devices making modern visual statements! 

Deborah Stokes
23
 

The Art of American Industry

This collection explores the growth of American industry as seen through the lens of artistic production throughout the twentieth century. It can be paired with a multi-day lesson plan on American industrialization in a Social Studies, History, or Economics context. Students can begin to explore and understand the layered narratives and consequences involved within the rapid chances in mechanized American life. The lesson would begin with students examining the first row of resources to become acclimated to expansive impact of American industry. Students would then be able to use the Connect/Extend/Challenge thinking routine to examine how these fluctuations profoundly reformed societal, familial, and personal relationships. By considering multiple perspectives and outcomes, participants can begin to better identify their connection to broader industrial trends today. 

#SAAMteach

Evan Binkley
33
 

The Art of Portraiture

How do artists create portraits? Students will take a close look at modern and contemporary portraiture through the lens of artists’ decisions, paying particular attention to the different approaches that artists take to their subject matter and the different processes that they use in making their art.

#NPGteach

Briana White
15
 

The Art of West Virginia

Art and photography of the Mountain State
Pamela Curtin
45
 

The Art of Writing and Calligraphy

This collection includes a variety of resources representing styles of writing from around the world. It encourages viewers to consider writing not only for its ability to communicate through letters and symbols, but also for its artistic value. The collection includes a video on Sumerian writing, a website on African writing systems and art, and artifacts that are examples of the writing of East Asian, Arabic, Cherokee, Hebrew, and Modern European alphabets. In addition, a few tools used for writing are included. There is some background material on each type of writing as you read through the collection.

Questions for classroom discussion and research might include:
-What is the purpose of writing? Why use hand-writing or calligraphy instead of using a computer?
-How do alphabets differ?
-How can a style of calligraphy (or font change) the interpretation of a written work?
Kate Harris
29
 

The Arts Today

Inspiration for our young artists and scholars.

Christina Ratatori
15
 

The Athabascan Peoples and Their Culture

By Eliza Jones (Koyukon Athabascan), 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

When I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, our family moved in every season – to spring camp for ducks and muskrats, to fish camp in summer, and to hunting and fur-trapping sites during fall and winter. That kind of traveling life was once universal in Athabascan country, from the Arctic Circle to Cook Inlet in Alaska and across the western interior of Canada. It’s a vast territory, hundreds of thousands of square miles covered by boreal spruce and birch forest. The rivers that cross it were highways for dog sledding in winter and canoe voyages in summer. Today the rivers, along with air and snow machine travel, still link our scattered communities, but roads reach only a few.

Athabascan peoples are an ancient family that spread out across the land and gradually grew apart. Koyukon, Gwich’in, Han, Holikachuk, Deg Hit’an, Upper Kuskokwim, Tanana, Tanacross, Upper Tanana, Dena’ina, and Ahtna communities occupy different areas of interior and southern coastal Alaska. Their languages share the same complex grammar yet have developed different vocabularies. The people have varying subsistence practices, customs, ceremonies, and clan structures. The Eyak, who live on the southern Alaskan coast around the mouth of the Copper River, are more distant relatives.

In Athabascan belief, everything around us has life. The land and trees have spirits, and we treat them with respect. If we need to cut a tamarack, which has the best wood for making fish traps, it is Koyukon courtesy to explain our need to the tree and to leave an offering of a bead or ribbon behind. Animals and fish are given the same kind of care. Before bringing a mink carcass into our cabin, my mother or stepfather would rub its nose with grease so that its spirit would not be offended by the human scent inside. If they trapped a fox, they put a bone in its mouth, because the animal was seeking food when it met its death.

Community and Family

Western cultural influence came to Athabascan country in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when Russian fur traders set up forts in southern Alaska and the Hudson’s Bay Company built a post at Fort Yukon. Later in the century, the U.S. government and the Alaska Commercial Company took over from the Russians. The gold rushes of the 1880s and 1890s brought a flood of miners, settlers, and traders into the region. Our communities became less nomadic, more tied to trapping and a cash economy, and increasingly dependent on clothing, guns, food, and tools from the company stores. Through the efforts of missionaries most Athabascans adopted Christianity by the early 1900s. The twentieth century brought new technologies, mass media and Western schools where the teaching was in English only.

One of the biggest changes in my lifetime has been in the way that our children learn. I grew up in an oral tradition in which all our teachers were family and kin. Story telling time, as we called it, began in October after freeze-up. We would be home in our small cabin, chores finished for the day, our mother sewing by the light of an oil lamp. My stepfather would tell a kk’edon ts’ednee, a story in our language about ancient times when animals were human beings. It would include a lot of repetition to make it easier to learn and remember and a lesson about living in harmony with nature and people. Before he continued the next night, we had to repeat the story back to him, line by line. At other times we listened while adults talked and reminisced but were not allowed to interrupt. If we had a question we asked our grandmother or someone else about it later.

I was taught to read and write in English by my mother, Josie Peter Olin, who was educated as a child at the Allakaket Episcopal mission school. I was fourteen when the first one-room government school was built in our village, and I attended it for three years to finish the work of all twelve grades. I moved to Koyukuk to marry Benedict Jones, and there we raised our children. I worked as a volunteer health aide, and he was village Chief. In 1970 we moved to Fairbanks, where I worked at the Alaska Native Language Center editing a Koyukon Athabascan dictionary compiled by Jules Jetté, a Jesuit priest who came to the region in 1898 and learned to speak our language fluently. That dictionary turned into my life’s work. It contains detailed information about Koyukon culture as well as language, including knowledge that no longer exists in our communities. After we retired and came back to Koyukuk, I taught Koyukon in the school, hoping that a new generation would know and continue our culture despite the huge changes and challenges that affect their young lives.

Ceremony and Celebration

Our midwinter celebrations take place between Christmas and New Year’s. There are church gatherings, children’s programs, snowshoe races, dogsled races and dances. On New Year’s Day we finish with a celebratory potlatch. People save and prepare special foods and make new clothing and beaded moccasins to wear for the dances. Spring Carnival takes place in early April at the end of beaver trapping season. We do a lot of traveling to other villages to share in their celebrations. It’s a wonderful and exciting time, with high-stakes dogsled races, snowshoe competitions, ice-picking contests, Athabascan fiddling and dancing every night.

Today, Athabascan communities hold potlatches on various occasions. Some are informal festivities to celebrate holidays, and others are formal and spiritual occasions to recognize turning points in the lives of community members. Potlatches can mark a first successful hunt, a homecoming, recovery from an illness or settlement of a grievance.

The most important and universal events are memorial potlatches held a year or more after a death to honor the memory of the deceased and to repay those who assisted the family during their time of grief. These are the helpers who built the casket, dug the grave, provided food for the vigil or sewed traditional clothing to dress the body. To prepare for a memorial potlatch, the hosts make, buy and gather large quantities of gifts and food. Often several families join together to share the financial burden. Hosts are not trying to show off their wealth. It is our way of thanking those who generously gave service. The protocols, songs, and dances for memorial potlatches vary among the different Athabascan peoples, yet the fundamental idea of the whole community marking the passage of a human soul to the world beyond is the same for all.

In Koyukuk, a memorial potlatch takes place over a three-day period. Residents and guests from other villages arrive with food for a gathering in the community hall. Friends and relatives sing songs they have composed for the deceased to commemorate his or her unique accomplishments, personality and service to others, and with the songs there is dancing. It is an emotional and difficult time for the family. To lift their spirits everyone joins afterward in singing old familiar songs and dancing to fiddle music or rock and roll. On the last day all of the guests sit down for a feast of special foods, including dishes that the deceased person most enjoyed. After the meal the hosts distribute gifts to everyone in attendance, with the finest presents reserved for the funeral helpers and composers of memorial songs.

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

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
20
 

The Black Arts Movement

“Sometimes referred to as 'the artistic sister of the Black Power Movement,' the Black Arts Movement stands as the single most controversial moment in the history of African-American literature—possibly in American literature as a whole. Although it fundamentally changed American attitudes both toward the function and meaning of literature as well as the place of ethnic literature in English departments, African-American scholars as prominent as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., have deemed it the 'shortest and least successful' movement in African American cultural history."--"Black Creativity: On the Cutting Edge," Time (Oct. 10, 1994)

This topical collection includes background information as well as examples of poetry and art from the Black Arts Movement. Two excerpts from essays are also included. There are also some examples of works from artists who rejected the premise of the Black Arts Movement.

Students could use this collection as a starting point for further research or to create an illustrated timeline of the movement. Works could be analyzed for their reflection or rejection of themes like: black nationalism, self-determination, "the black is beautiful" movement, and liberation. Students could also evaluate the merits of the arguments for and against a "black arts movement" as articulated by Karenga and Saunders in the text excerpts.

This is a work-in-progress based on the digitized materials within the Smithsonian Learning Lab's collection--it is not meant to be wholly definitive or authoritative.

Kate Harris
41
 

The Boggs Collection

Art inspires us to appreciate, enjoy and reflect.  While no longer here to speak to that, Mae Helene Bacon Boggs generously gave us her collection of California paintings to find our own perspective in these matters. The art collection at Shasta is as unique as the collector, Mrs. Boggs, who not only collected the works, but was also instrumental in the development of Shasta as a California State Park.  She donated a fine library and archives to provide intellectual support for this collection. 

The legacy and philanthropy of Mrs. Boggs---her contributions to history and art---reside in Shasta State Historic Park, the only designated art gallery within California State Park System.  In 1871, at the age of eight, Mrs. Boggs had moved with her mother from Missouri to Shasta.  Her uncle, Williamson Lyncoya Smith, cared for them.  Smith was the division agent for the California State Company from 1853 through 1888 and, in this capacity, established the first stage line along the Sacramento River.  In honor, his name is assigned to the gallery as Mrs. Boggs wished.

            In her later years, Mrs. Boggs moved to San Francisco, established a successful business, and in 1902 married Angus Gordon Boggs, an important mining businessman.  Upon entering the social scene in San Francisco, she devoted herself to local and statewide improvements.  The list of those is long.

 

            Her correspondence, always signed “Faithfully, Mae Helene Bacon Boggs” has allowed us to appreciate, enjoy and reflect on both art and history.  Those of us familiar with the story of Mrs. Boggs and her art collection develop a deep respect as well as a fervent desire to further her preservation efforts.

Shasta_ranger
42
 

The Boundless World of Art

These are various artworks done by many movements and concepts from the East and the West to demonstrate the relationships of various art movements that have shaped their surroundings and the world.

Tyler Rodriguez
5
 

The Brown Sisters: Forty Years in Forty Portraits

This collection includes a unique series of portraits of four sisters. Every year, for forty years, one of the sisters' husbands captured the four women in a black and white photograph. A New York Times article introduces the project, paired with the forty photographs and some discussion questions considering elements of portraiture that are captured in these images.
Ashley Naranjo
43
 

The Changing Image of American Classrooms

The artworks in this collection exemplify just how rapidly classrooms and their students have changed over the past century. What can we learn about the Civil Rights Movement and America's historical challenge of diversity? How might these works allow us to better understand ongoing societal issues in addition to the valuable roles teachers play? 

This Learning Lab collection is intended for a multi-day lesson plan for middle school students. A lesson based off of this collection could be begin with a discussion of the similarities and differences between schooling a century ago and classrooms today. Using a number of individual and group thinking routines, students could then begin to identify historical precedents of discrimination which have existed and/or continue to exist in the American educational system. A close reading of attached articles incorporated with additional thinking strategies would allow students to consider ongoing efforts of activism related to the classroom. 

#SAAMteach


Evan Binkley
36
 

The Character of Man

Understanding the nature of our own species has been one of the greatest mysteries addressed in the history of human art, philosophy, literature, and culture. This collection will present a history of man’s search for the meaning of his own character—what impulses drive man, what morals and desires construct his life, and what artwork is produced as a result of this character. Does culture impact the character of man? Does it influence the men of one culture towards a particular mindset that distinguishes it from other men, or are there foundations of character that run throughout all of mankind? By examining the way that authors, artists, and philosophers approach the study of their fellow men, we can understand not only the cultural influences that drive these questions but also the nature of the men doing the questioning.



#AHMC2019

Briana Hanratty
19
 

The Cultural Side of the Chicano Movement

The art pieces in this collection is an overview of the cultural side of the Chicano Movement.

Dianna Millan
5
 

The Democratization of Portraiture: Prints and Drawings of all the People by the People

This collection serves as a preview for the first seminar session of the 2018 Smithsonian-Montgomery College Faculty Fellowship Program. This year's theme is “We the People: America’s Grand and Radical Experiment with Democracy.”

National Portrait Gallery curator Asma Naeem and educator Briana Zavadil White will present an engaging and interactive examination of the democratization of portraiture in the United States, and model close looking techniques that Fellows can use with their students. Included within are a presentation description, participant bios, a "reading portraiture" guide, and images and articles for participants to consider in advance of the session.

#MCteach

Christopher Columbus, Yarrow Mamout, Charles Mingus, Lena Horne, Leonard Roy Harmon, Bill Viola


Philippa Rappoport
10
 

The Edward H. & Rosamund B. Spicer Photos of Yaqui Culture

The Rosamund B. and Edward H. Spicer of photographs of Yoeme (Yaqui) documents lifeways, culture, ceremonies, and families from the mid-1930s to the early 1940s in the villages of Old Pascua, Arizona and Potom, Sonora, Mexico.

#LatinoHAC

Arizona State Museum
21
 

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
18
 

The Global Collection #TeachingInquiry

A collection focused on teaching about the power of diverse communities to Grades 3 and up. The artifacts found in this collection are intended to focus on the concept of cultural and artistic traditions by developing an understanding of diverse communities through the compelling question, “How does Culture make us similar or different?” Also, to help students build contextual knowledge under the supporting questions of (1) what is Culture, (2) how does Culture change over time, and (3) what can we learn about a Culture through their artistic traditions? #C3Framework #TeachingInquiry

lindi Ingram
14
 

The Great Debate: Portraiture and Primary Sources

This collection is created in conjunction with a professional development workshop facilitated by the National Portrait Gallery and Teaching with Primary Sources Northern Virginia (TPSNVA is funded by a grant from the Library of Congress). 

Have you ever wondered if a portrait is a primary source? In this workshop, we will examine portraits from the Portrait Gallery, along with primary sources from the Library of Congress, to consider this question and explore connections between the two distinct collections. Participants will brainstorm and come up with strategies to incorporate these rich resources into their English and social studies curriculum.  

#NPGteach

Briana White
66
 

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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