The Return of a Cultural Artifact
Canadian Aboriginal art has long been admired and sought-after almost from the moment the first Europeans set foot here. But recently, one significant and historic piece of Canadian Aboriginal art was returned home to British Columbia.
Thanks to the U’mista Cultural Society, ‘Namgis First Nation, private donors and a grant from Canadian Heritage, a rare Chilkat ceremonial blanket that was discovered on the Paris auction block is now on display at the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay on the north end of Vancouver Island.
Made between 1865 and 1871, the blanket is the work of Anisalaga (Mary Ebbets), a Tlingit woman whose Chieftain father arranged her marriage to a Hudson’s Bay Company trader named Robert Hunt in the mid-19th century. Together, they ran a store in Fort Rupert. After her husband died, she continued to run the store, and according to the U’mista Cultural Centre, she “was a formidable woman and a superlative artist whose story is interwoven with the major historical narratives of our province and nation.”
Not only did she run a successful business as an Aboriginal woman in the 19th century, but she is also credited with bringing peace to the region all while having 13 children. Anisalaga is also credited with teaching the northern style of Chilkat weaving to the Kwakwaka’wakw people. These cedar bark and mountain goat wool blankets take up to a year to complete, and it is only by rights established through birth or marriage that a Chilkat can be worn or woven. Apparently, there are only 13 of these blankets in existence.
Anisalaga’s blankets have been scattered across the globe, so bringing one of them home has been very important, especially for Anisalaga’s descendants, who consider it a direct link to their ancestors. Many of these descendants are celebrated artists themselves, including Corrine Hunt, who designed the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games medals.
The Chilkat ceremonial blanket now resides at the U’mista Cultural Centre, home to many other Aboriginal cultural artifacts, exhibits and treasures.