A rare cultural artifact has been returned to a remote British Columbia First Nation.
The Chilkat ceremonial blanket was recently discovered on the auction block in Paris. The U’mista Cultural Society bought it with a $27,368 grant from Canadian Heritage.
Made between 1865 and 1871, the blanket is now on display at the U’mista Museum in Alert Bay, off the north end of Vancouver Island.
No one from U’mista was available to comment on Wednesday. CEO of the U’mista Cultural Society, Sarah Holland, said in a statement that the blanket’s return ensures the art form can be passed on to future generations.
The blanket is the work of Anisalaga, also known as Mary Ebbets, a Tlingit woman whose chieftain father arranged her marriage to a Hudson’s Bay Company trader in the mid-19th century.
She and Robert Hunt settled in Fort Rupert, or Tsaxis, where they ran the company store and where she introduced the art of Chilkat weaving to the Kwakwaka’wakw nations.
“For descendants of Anisalaga, this blanket is a direct link to their ancestors,” the society said on a Facebook page dedicated to the repatriation. “Her blankets have been scattered across the globe, so bringing this blanket home is a way of honouring Anisalaga and reaffirming the connection of family members to their ancestors and history.”
Made of cedar bark and naturally dyed mountain goat wool, the blankets take up to a year of full-time work to complete. Adorned with intricate designs depicting events, people and spiritual beliefs, they are worn in ceremonies and dances among aboriginal groups along the B.C. and Alaska coasts.
The art of Chilkat weaving — and the right to don a blanket — is passed down through birth or marriage. This tawny hued U’mista blanket depicts the grinning head of a bear and other animals of aboriginal significance.
It is one of only 13 in existence, according to Canadian Heritage.
“It is without a doubt that Anisalaga was a formidable woman and a superlative artist whose story is interwoven with the major historical narratives of our province and nation,” the society said on its website.
Anisalaga had 13 children with Mr. Hunt, and her hundreds of descendants include Corrine Hunt, who designed the medals for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Heritage Minister Shelly Glover called the blanket a “highly significant” artifact.
“As we approach Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, we believe it’s important to give Canadians opportunities to enhance their knowledge of their country and its history through our heritage collections,” she said in a statement.