LIVING OUR CULTURES, SHARING OUR HERITAGE: THE FIRST PEOPLES OF ALASKA
In the first arrangement of its kind, the Smithsonian Institution has loaned hundreds of Indigenous Alaska artifacts to their place of origin and allowing access for hands-on study by Alaska Native elders, artists and scholars. These cultural and historical treasures are exhibited in the new Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in the Anchorage Museum.
The center’s main exhibition is titled Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska. The exhibition features more than 600 objects from the Smithsonian's collections that were selected and interpreted with help from Alaska Native advisers. Examples include an 1893 Tlingit war helmet from the southeast Alaska village of Taku and a 1935 Inupiaq feast bowl from Wales, near Nome on Alaska’s northwest coast.
Visitors learn about objects through touch screens: They can zoom in on a photo of an object and scroll through more information, such as related oral histories and archival images.
The exhibition also includes two multimedia installations. A video art installation about contemporary Alaska Native life plays on seven large, flat-screen TVs. A 3-D sound art installation along the west wall immerses visitors in the Arctic through recordings of Alaska Native storytellers and sounds from the natural environment.
In addition to its gallery space, the 10,000-square-foot center encourages research about Alaska Native culture through an archaeology laboratory and a space where Alaska Native elders, artists and scholars can study heritage objects up close.
The Arctic Studies Center, established in 1988, is a federal research and education program focusing on peoples, history, archaeology and cultures across the circumpolar North. The center is part of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. In 1994, the center partnered with the Anchorage Museum to open an Anchorage office.
View the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Exhibition video:
Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Learning Lab
The Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum, in partnership with the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, has built a new Learning Lab site: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska. The site provides digital educational resources about Alaska Native cultures, arts and lifeways for teachers, parents, caregivers and students to teach and learn online, in a classroom or at home.
Featuring more than 30 collections in three categories – plus one “Work in Progress” section – the content was created in collaboration with Alaska Native Elders, culture-bearers and artists. The first section teaches about the Native cultures of Alaska through short essays, contemporary and archival photographs with detailed captions, maps, and objects from the Smithsonian collections with Elders discussions and curator-written historical summaries. The Distance Learning section offers education units, each with a teacher’s guide, lessons, answers and activities. The units include short essays, community photographs, Smithsonian collection objects and videos, all with detailed information relating to the lessons. In the Community Videos collection, viewers can learn from Alaska Native experts about their arts, languages and ways of life, including detailed instruction on working with fish skin, porcupine quill, grass and more.
This work was made possible through funding from the Smithsonian Youth Access Grant, The CIRI Foundation and First National Bank of Alaska.