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An Alaska Native museum in the state’s Kodiak Archipelago is using a nearly $100,000 federal grant to build a private online database to help unite local tribes with their ancestors.

The Alutiiq Museum—a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve and share the culture of the Alutiiq Alaska Native tribal people— will lead the two year project, called ‘Angitapet’, meaning ‘We Are Returning Them’ in Alutiiq/Sugpiaq.

The museum has identified at least 12 institutions in the US that hold the remains of at least 168 Kodiak Alutiiq ancestors, said Amanda Lancaster, the museum’s Curator of Collections and repatriation coordinator since March 2017. Those ancestors are subject to return under a human rights law called NAGPRA, or the native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, which requires museums and universities holding Indigenous human remains and artifacts to catalog those remains and return them to their tribal nations.

Lancaster said that the number of Kodiak Alutiiq ancestors held in collections across the country is likely to go up, but the current figure comes from federal data museum staff has culled itself, and from personally reaching out to more than 70 institutions across the country.

“One of the biggest hurdles with NAGPRA is that there is no central database,” Lancaster told Native News Online. “So tribes will do all this work to possibly repatriate the ancestors, and then find out they were claimed 10 years ago.”

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To solve that problem on a regional level, Lancaster said, Angitapet will give representatives from Kodiak’s ten federally recognized tribes access to the database. There, they will see a list of remains affiliated with their communities, and be able to track each ancestor’s repatriation status. 

Additionally, Lancaster said, museum staff will consult with each tribal government to determine their repatriation needs, identify claims, and plan for future repatriations.

The Alutiiq Museum Is one of 16 tribes and 28 museums to receive a 2023 grant from the National Park Service to to assist in the consultation, documentation and repatriation of ancestral remains and cultural items under NAGPRA, announced in August.

Outside of NAGPRA, the Alutiiq Museum is still working to bring home a Sugpiaq/Alutiiq girl, Perascovia Friendoff, who died while attending the nation’s flagship off-reservation boarding school in Pennsylvania more than a century ago, and was buried there. 

In 1901, eleven Alaska Native children were taken by a government agent from a Baptist Mission orphanage in Southwest Alaska to a boarding school in the eastern half of the lower 48 states, some 6,000 miles away: Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Among them were two Sugpiaq/Alutiiq girls: Anastasia Ashouwak, and Perascovia Friendoff, who would both die of tuberculosis and be buried on school property.

In July 2022, Native News Online followed the Anastasia’s family on their journey collecting their ancestor’s remains in Pennsylvania, and returning them home to Alaska for reburial after 121 years away.

Her repatriation was facilitated by The Alutiiq Museum. But the museum was unable to claim their second relative, Perascovia, at the same time, because of the Army’s strict regulations requiring a signed affidavit for each child’s closest living relative.

According to museum staff Derehich Chya, the museum is still conducting genealogy research and attempting to track down Perascovia’s distant living relatives in order to fulfill the Army’s requirements for return.

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About The Author
Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna KunzeEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Senior Reporter
Jenna Kunze is a staff reporter covering Indian health, the environment and breaking news for Native News Online. She is also the lead reporter on stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriation. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, Elle and Anchorage Daily News. Kunze is based in New York.