The Sealaska Heritage Institute welcomed home a long-lost treasure this past December. Weavers, carvers, painters and the curious gathered at the clan house in the Walter Soboleff building in Juneau to witness the unveiling of a five-foot wide naaxiin Chilkat robe. The robe features a design that likely portrays Hiilang.nga thunderbird.
This fine example of naaxiin weaving is made from Mountain goat wool and cedar bark and is the oldest robe that Sealaska staff, have ever seen. It is thought that the robe was made in the late 1700s or early 1800s and University of Alaska anthropologist, Yeidiklatsókw Rosita Worl, suspects it was stolen from a grave due to signs of wear along its top edge.
It is known that the robe was taken to the southern States sometime after the Klondike Gold Rush in 1899. There, it was sold at an estate sale, and later purchased at a flea market in Illinois just 25 years ago by George Blucker.
Unaware of the robe’s significance, Mr Blucker posted the robe to eBay, where bidding could have easily pushed the price above $30,000. But, Mr Blucker quickly learned of the robes importance and agreed to sell it to Sealaska for his reserve price of $14,500.
At this time it is uncertain to which nation the maker of the robe can be attributed – Haida, Tlingit or Tsimshian.