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The Alaska Federation of Natives has been given republication permission to reproduce the following Anchorage Daily News photos and articles from the Whale House Series:

Series At A Glance

Part 1: The sale of the Whale House legacy.

Part 2: Carving the masterworks.

Part 3: A Tlingit buyer of Tlingit artifacts.

Part 4: A dealer's passion for the Whale House.

Part 5: Epic sage becomes litigation.


A tangle of bloodlines and birthrights is now a court's to unravel.

By Marilee Enge

Last of five parts

George Stevens, 77, of Klukwan wears his button blanket.
“George Stevens” dated 4/8/93 By: Bob Hallinen
George Stevens, 77, of Klukwan wears his button blanket.

Klukwan - The small, elderly man approached the witness stand.  He wore rolled-up dungarees and a vivid red-and-black robe with the raven emblem of his tribe outlined in buttons.  His name was George Stevens, he was nearing his 77th birthday and he was scared.

Stevens displayed his dance robe and the raven to the people assembled for Day Four of the Chilkat Indian Village Tribal Court.

"You see that bird.  It gives me courage to face what I am going to face today," he said.

For an old man steeped in Tlingit traditions, it was difficult to speak his mind about the sharp divisions of his people and what he believed to be false claims of lineage.

But Klukwan was already rent by the question before the extraordinary court - who owned the prized Whale House artifacts?  At the Klukwan community building in January, after years of village whispers and formal legal arguments, the matter was out in the open.

WHOSE LAWS?  Tangle of bloodlines, birthrights goes to court

"I am a member of the Valley House," he said.  "My mother's named was Sarah Kladoo, blood sister of Maggie Kladoo Hotch."

Those two simple sentences were filled with meaning for the villagers in the courtroom.  If Stevens' mother and aunt were of the Valley House, then so were the descendants of Maggie Hotch.  And those descendants, led by Clarence Hotch, didn't have the right to remove the treasures of the Whale House and attempt to sell them.

For many years, Stevens said, he kept quiet on the matter.  Now he was challenging the identity of a powerful family.  His pronouncement was akin to telling a family of European nobles that they were interlopers in their castle.

Stevens' mother, Sarah, married a Taku man and moved to Juneau, but she returned for potlatches and even sent the concrete used to build the Whale House in 1937, the old man said.  Just before she died in 1968, she called Stevens to her home and told him that she had contributed to the Whale House so its artifacts could be saved.  She warned him that there would be trouble over the carvings, he said.

"The reason why my mother helped on the house (was) to preserve the wall screen, totem poles, worm dish.  To preserve it."


After Stevens told his story, defendant Bill Thomas questioned him.  Clarence Hotch was his great-uncle and Thomas had the task of representing his family against charges that they had stolen the artifacts.

Why did his own elders say they came from the Whale House, Thomas wanted to know.

Stevens had no direct answer for the question.  "I never dreamed I'd be sitting here," he said.  "The only reason is I'm protecting my mother's words."

"We are doing the same thing here, George," Thomas replied.  "Defending what we were told."

All his life, Thomas had heard that he was a member of the Whale House, Klukwan's highest-ranking family.  Now, villagers like Stevens were calling his own identity into question.

From the day in 1984 when he helped carry the great totems from the Whale House and shipped them to art dealer Michael Johnson in Seattle, Thomas had justified his actions by saying that he acted under instructions from his uncle.  And in Tlingit society, the uncle's word his law.

Uncle Clarence, who became leader of the Whale House after his brother, Victor, died, was fulfilling the wishes of their sister, Mildred Sparks.  She believed that the old ways were dead and the carvings were no longer serving any purpose in the Whale House, according to the family.  Mildred died two weeks after the artifacts left Klukwan.

"Clarence was watching his sister die.  Victor had died.  It's like the last of the Mohicans," Thomas said away from the courtroom one day.

He recalled that Clarence once reacted angrily at a village "payoff party," a potlatch where one tribal side was to repay the other side for some earlier contribution. Clarence believed that people were ignoring the old customs.

"He said, 'It's dead, it's all over.  You've got Ravens in there sitting with Eagles.  They've all got their hands out.  The traditions are dead.'"


It was nearly two months after the artifacts were taken from the Whale House before village leaders discovered they were gone.  Martha Willard, and influential elder, called the Alaska State Troopers to report that there had been a theft.  Investigators located the artifacts in a Seattle art warehouse and interviewed the major players, including Thomas, Hotch and art dealer Michael Johnson.

The case was assigned to Roger McCoy, a lieutenant in the criminal investigations bureau in Juneau at the time.

After interviewing everyone who would talk to him, he concluded that the ownership of the artifacts was so clouded that a crime would be hard to prove.  He even spoke to a Canadian art dealer named Howard Roloff whose purchase of the Frog House artifacts in 1976 had created a furor in Klukwan.

"The conclusion I came to was that's how the (dealers) make money, how they do business - try to convince people up and down the coast to sell artifacts," McCoy said.

Even Roloff was unwilling to take on the Whale House.

"He said he wouldn't touch the Whale House," McCoy said.  "He told me there is no one person who owns it."

Roloff repeated that position in an interview eight years later.  In all his years of dealing on the coast, he never tried to open negotiations for the Whale House objects.

"I thought there would be problems with it," he said.  "There are objects that are clan owned, and objects that are individually owned.  Those are obviously clan objects."

Johnson had a buyer for the artifacts.  A wealthy New York woman whose family holds a large collection of Northwest Coast Indian art agreed to pay $2 million and donate the objects to a major museum.  Johnson was to receive 10 percent plus all his expenses dating back to his first attempts to remove the artifacts in 1976. 

Adelaide de Menil was not just a rich philanthropist.  She was a talented photographer who had spent days inside the Whale House in the late 1960s, taking some of the only color photographs of the totems ever made.  Her husband, a respected anthropologist named Edmund Carpenter, arranged to place the carvings in the American Museum of Natural History.

"It was a generous offer," Carpenter said recently.  "The only thanks we got, we were attacked in the press.  I found myself attacked on the front page of The New York Times for receiving stolen goods.  All we had done was offer to buy them subject to court approval."


A judge issued an injunction halting the sale of the artifacts.  It remains in effect today, and the sellers never saw the money.

When the troopers suspended their investigation, Klukwan's village council sued Johnson and the Whale House group for removing the artifacts.  The village was represented by Alaska Legal Services; the defending family hired Donna Willard, an Anchorage lawyer who was once married to one of the house members.

TREASURE: Tangle coast to tribal court

The epic saga of the Whale House artifacts grew into epic litigation.  A series of courts spent years dealing with esoteric and complicated issues of where the matter should be heard.  The case was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge James von der Heydt, who had once urged Klukwan to develop a tribal court to deal with artifact ownership disputes.

Tribal court Judge James Bowen
Tribal court Judge James Bowen presides over the Whale House artifacts case in Klukwan.
BOB HALLINEN/Anchorage Daily News

He ruled early on that the federal courts had no jurisdiction in the case.  The village appealed his decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed him and sent it back.  In October 1990, five years after the suit was filed, von der Heydt ordered the Whale House artifacts case to tribal court.  It was the first time in Alaska legal history that a case had been referred from federal court to a village court.

Von der Heydt concluded the village is a federally recognized tribe with the power to pass laws - like the one prohibiting the removal of Native artifacts.

Johnson and the Whale House group argued then and now that the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act took away any sovereign power to pass laws.

Von der Heydt disagreed.

"The power to pass the ordinance that is in dispute in this case was part of the retained, inherits power of the Chilkat Indian Village," he said. 

Some villages in Alaska had tribal courts, but Klukwan had to start from scratch, finding a judge to preside over its first trial.  It had to figure out what was traditional Tlingit property law, and how it should apply to the Indian family that tried to sell the objects and to the white art dealer who sought them.  Were the artifacts the shared property of the clan or individual property that members of the house could sell?

Several respected Tlingit elders turned down the job of tribal court judge, and the village finally settled on a Juneau lawyer, James Bowen.  A Klallam Indian from Washington's Olympic Peninsula, Bowen had served as a tribal court judge elsewhere after he graduated from law school in 1976.

Defense attorney Willard, who later withdrew from the case, didn't trust the judge, partly because he was paid by the village council that was bringing the case to court.

"I have objected vehemently to his role in this case because his biases are relatively well-known, and frankly I have great difficulty with somebody pulled out of the Tlingit's hat, paid for by the plaintiff adjudicating the case," she said.

Over the years, the state of Alaska has sided with both the village and the defendants.  It was wrong to remove the carvings, the state reasoned, but the village had no right to pass the law making it illegal.


Trying to identify a Tlingit law that governed the ownership of such important artifacts may be impossible, said Doug Mertz, a former assistant attorney general who handled the Whale House case for the state.

"People have attempted to actually write down the traditional Tlingit law of property.  You can come up with a fairly general statement of what it is.  But then actually applying it to these people, and several generations back, is an enormously difficult prospect," he said.

"Are these house artifacts or clan artifacts?  And once you decide that, who is the rightful trustee?"  Mertz wondered.  "Is it the group that took them and turned them over to Johnson?  You have elders coming down on both sides."

Tlingit anthropologist Rosita Worl has studied traditional law.  She testified at the Whale House trial that the Tlingits had a sophisticated system of property.  Crests, such as the symbolic figures of the whale or the worm on the Whale House totems, were owned and used exclusively by the clan, she said.  Houseposts in particular could serve as the clan's symbolic title to the property.

When crest objects were brought out at potlatches, they became the property of the entire clan.  Generally, only ceremonial garments remained personal property, Worl said.  Even a Chilkat blanket commissioned by an individual became clan property after it was displayed at a potlatch.

Although traditionally it might have been a serious and punishable offense to sell a clan crest object, the system of sanctions weakened after white people moved in and imposed their own laws.

"In the past, individuals probably would have paid for it with their life," she said. "But in contemporary time, the clan didn't have that authority."

By the time Johnson first came to the Northwest coast, there was really no law - traditional or modern - prohibiting individual Natives from selling crest objects.  And the dealers who urged them to sell were following time-honored practices, according to art experts.

"It's really not any different than someone who keeps coming around wanting to know if you'll sell your house," said Steve Brown of the Seattle Art Museum.

"There was no line to draw to say, 'This is ethical.'" he said.

"Even people involved in this museum-art field 15, 20 years ago, their views have changed.  Now it's the politically incorrect thing to do.  You didn't hear anybody talked about giving things back."

Michael and Sharon Johnson complain that activist Legal Services lawyers are imposing a new standard on business practices that were normal in the '70s and early '80s.

"The Legal Aid people have decided that to deal in Indian artifacts is evil.  They have taken this politically correct stance that all dealers of artifacts are evil," Sharon Johnson said.

"They have whipped themselves into this frenzy that we are these rich white people trying to rob Indian people of their culture."

Joe Johnson, the village's lead Legal Services lawyer, said Michael and Sharon Johnson have tried to shift attention away from the merits of the case by accusing his agency of political motives.  One of the mandates of Alaska Legal Services is protecting the governmental powers of Native villages, he said

"It frustrates me to see people try to blame so much of what happened on the attorneys.  This is the way the village feels," Joe Johnson said.  "This is a program that's designed to help people who can't afford to hire an attorney."


In the years since the Whale House carvings were removed, Native people throughout North America have demanded, and received, tribal artifacts that were bought or stolen by collectors.  In 1989, Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which required museums to return ceremonial and funeral objects to the tribes they came from.

Worl serves on a committee at the Smithsonian Institution that is charged with returning pieces in its collections.  Native Americans once again have the power to enforce their own laws and customs, she said

"The enforcement mechanism is back in place."

Native Americans across the country are assessing what they can retrieve from museums and private collectors.  Whatever the effect of the act nationwide, the fate of the Whale House artifacts is to be decided by a village court in Klukwan.

With Judge Bowen presiding in a colorful Tlingit button blanket, the four-week trial early this year took listeners on a journey through Chilkat history, Tlingit ethnology and Whale House genealogy.  Elders testified about the role of the uncle in Tlingit society, the role of the house caretaker and the significance of the totems.

Many witnesses wore ceremonial clothing, and some testified in Tlingit.  Anna Katzeek, a Juneau woman with roots in Klukwan, served as a translator, storyteller and witness.  Most of the elders made speeches before they took the stand, and Katzeek occasionally broke off her translation to make her own statements during testimony.

Annie Hotch testifies at the tribal court in Klukwan with help of interpreter Anna Katzeek.
“Anne Hotch” dated 4/8/93 By: Bob Hallinen
Annie Hotch testifies at the tribal court in Klukwan with help of interpreter Anna Katzeek.

In Klukwan, the Federal Rules of Evidence did not apply. Bowen admitted almost everything - hearsay, insults and just plain irrelevant testimony.  His easy-going style placated even the defendants who began the trial bristling with hostility.

Michael Johnson didn't attend.  He sent only a letter.  The Whale House group represented itself, and its members made clear they were not defending Johnson.

No one would say exactly why Donna Willard withdrew, but it is clear that the family was eager to settle the case before trial and Johnson was insistent that his contract with them was still valid.  Thomas said the family was willing to return artifacts to Klukwan and allow them to be placed in a village cultural center.  However, they wanted to recoup their legal fees, insurance and storage expenses.  Village attorney Joe Johnson, on the opposing side, said the family demanded $500,000.

In December, the Johnsons warned that they will sue the family if the artifacts are return to Klukwan.

"That will leave us no alternative but to start a whole other lawsuit," Sharon Johnson said.  "It's very sad, but at that point we would have to sue the family.  They signed a contract with us saying they owned it...We simply need to get our expenses back."

The trial ended Feb. 12. Bowen is expected to deliberate for several months before he reaches a decision.  Among the questions before him are whether the Whale House is Ganaxteidi clan property, and whether the village has authority over the property owned by clans.  District Court Judge von der Heydt will probably review the decision.  Appeals to both a village appellate court, which does not yet exist, and federal courts are possible.

At the end of the trial, village president Joe Hotch hugged his cousin, defendant Ron Sparks, and said he had no hard feelings against the family.

Michael Johnson is another matter.

"Art dealers took advantage of individuals who needed cash in Klukwan and throughout southeast Alaska.  For years this and other villages have worked to reverse that trend," village lawyer Johnson said in his closing argument. "And that's one of the things that makes this case so important.  These villages are doing what they can.

"This village is taking a stand that these wrongful actions are to be stopped.  Michael Johnson is only the most recent in the long series of art dealers who've plagued this village and others."

In an interview at his house in Santa Fe, N.M., last December, Michael Johnson said the Whale House affair has left him bitter and financially ruined.

What would he have done differently in his long quest to acquire the treasures of the Whale House?

"I regret we didn't do it sooner," he said.  "If we had done what we wanted to do 10 years earlier, I don't think there would have been any question about it."

The Whale House carvings have long been valued as great art.  The carver, whose identity has only been known for about five years, may be the greatest artist in the Alaska history.  For villagers, however, the value of the art is less important than the role of the house and its crest art in Tlingit society.

"The whole social structure is organized around these different clans.  Our identity is involved in that," said Lani Strong Hotch, a young mother and village activist.  "It's not simply an art object that we look at."

After attending college in Fairbanks and Seattle, she returned to Klukwan to take care of her grandmother.  Her own village, and the cause of holding on to artifacts, gave her a sense of belonging she never felt elsewhere.  The clans and their art provide a sense of identity that Native people were struggling to recover, she said.

Hotch is from the Eagles side of the Tlingits, and the Whale House is of the Raven.

"There's a balance, the Eagle and the Raven.  It's a balanced society.  Without those people having their crest objects, not having access to that house, because of all this litigation, turmoil, hard feelings, nobody's gone near that house.  We haven't used it for potlatches for years.  It's a loss," Hotch said

"I'm Kaagwaantan, but my children are Ganaxteidi yatxi.  They're the children of the Ganaxteidi, and the Raven House.  That's their father.  The balance is missing."

Idea of art display wins elders' respect

Klukwan sees center not as museum, but as home for living traditions

By Marilee Enge

Bill Thomas poses with the deteriorating woodworm feast dish in the Whale House in Klukwan.
“Bill Thomas with feast dish” dated 4/8/93 By: Bob Hallinen
Bill Thomas poses with the deteriorating woodworm feast dish in the Whale House in Klukwan.

Behind the ramshackle doors of some of Klukwan's old clan houses lies a rich store of Tlingit art - carved totems and boxes, wall screens and masks.  They are owned by people who were strong enough or stubborn enough to resist cash offers from art dealers and collectors throughout this century.

Since passing a law in 1976 that made it illegal to sell or remove artifacts from the village, leaders have talked of building a cultural center where such objects could be displayed without being lost to the people Klukwan.  But inertia, lawsuits and village politics have kept the plans from moving off the drawing board.

Now, as a judge deliberate the fate of the Whale House artifacts locked away in a Seattle warehouse, villagers are renewing plans to build a cultural center in Klukwan.

Elders once disdained the idea of a Klukwan museum because they didn't want their culture to be regarded as a relic, said Joe Hotch, president of the village council.  But a place where the old ways and old objects are treated as part of a vital, living culture is an idea they have come to embrace.

"I, for one, don't want to look at my culture and tradition as something of the past," Hotch said.

"We don't want to put them in a museum where they'll say, 'Hey, this is the history of the Chilkat people.' We live, we will continue to live, as long as there's a child in the community."

Project director Deatrea Marceil said the center would cost $2.5 million.  She plans to start seeking funds this year.  Work is scheduled to begin this summer on a new sewer system for the village, making it possible to build a tourist facility for the first time, she said.

Architectural plans created several years ago with money from a state grant call for a replica of a traditional clan house, exhibit rooms and a storage area where house groups could place objects for safekeeping.  Families could store their artifacts out of sight of the public and remove them only for ceremonies, Marceil said.

There would be weavers and carvers, dancing, a salmon bake and a place for recreational rafters on the Chilkat River to pull ashore.  Tour groups would be encouraged to visit to the center, which would be built near the entrance to Klukwan, just off the Haines Highway within the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.

In the past, visitors have been discouraged from driving through the village and stopping in front of the clan houses. There was suspicion of white outsiders, partly because of the art dealers who spent so many years trekking to Klukwan to buy artifacts.  Marceil said there still is ambivalence about building a tourist attraction at the edge of the village.

"I live here too.  I understand the ambivalence," she said.  "You feel a little strange when the bus stops in front of your house."

Even Marceil, who has lived in Klukwan for five years, encounters suspicion when she speaks to villagers about the art objects in their clan houses.

"There's still nervousness about what the outside world knows," she said.  "One of the prevailing attitudes is, 'We don't want people to know what all is here.' You ask and it's like, 'Why do you want to know?  What's it to you?'"

Nevertheless, several house groups have agreed to place their artifacts in the cultural center when it is built, she said.

The state recently compiled a list of more than 400 artifacts that were collected from the Chilkat region and placed in museums around the country.  They range from household objects to Chilkat blankets to important crest helmets and masks.  Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Klukwan might demand the return of some of those objects, Marceil said.

If the four totems and the Rain Wall screen of the Whale House are ever returned to Klukwan, they would likely be centerpieces of the cultural center.

As recent as a year ago, there were offers of $5 million for the Whale House artifacts, according to Edmund Carpenter, a New York anthropologist.  Carpenter said he was consulted on the $5 million proposal, in which a benefactor hoped to place the great carvings in the Smithsonian Institution.

But progressive curators and Native American leaders argued it is best to display Indian art in small museums back home.  Klukwan's cultural center would be modeled after respected Native heritage centers in Neah Bay, Wash., and Alert Bay, British Columbia.

"To me, the most exciting thing that's happening in the museum world today is the growth of small tribal museums," said Steve Brown, assistant curator of Native American art for the Seattle Art Museum.

"You can go and not only see the artwork, but you can feel a little of the country and the people and the place that is their home.  You can experience not only the art but the land that sprouted it and the people that created it."

The ancient ancestress of the Ganaxteidi has woodworms surrounding her head at the top of the housepost.
copyright © A. de Menil
The ancient ancestress of the Ganaxteidi has woodworms surrounding her head at the top of the housepost.

The Woodworm housepost
copyright © A. de Menil
The Woodworm housepost
At the bottom of the totem a crane holds a frog figure.
copyright © A. de Menil
At the bottom of the totem a crane holds a frog figure.

The Woodworm Post
Tlukwx Ass A Gass

The post to left of the rain screen represents a crucial event in the early life of the Ganaxteidi clan.

The carving tells the story of how the clan came to move north up the Lynn Canal to the Klukwan area.  The large upper figure on the post represents Ka-kuthch-an, the girl who fondled the woodworm.  The figure she holds in her hands is Tlukwx-ass-a, the woodworm. Tlukwx-ass-a is also represented above the girl's head as two woodworms whose heads also form her ears.

The lower figures on the post represent a frog in the bill of a crane.

The whole post is said to represent the tree in which the woodworm lives.

Adelaide de Menil

THE TOTEMS: This is the last of four detailed looks at the houseposts of the Klukwan Whale House




WHO'S WHO Part 5

JAMES BOWEN:Juneau lawyer; tribal court judge.

EDMUND CARPENTER: Anthropologist: de Menil's husband

ADELAIDE DE MENIL: New York philanthropist who planned to donate the artifacts to a major museum.

CLARENCE HOTCH: Whale House keeper from 1981 to 1988.

JOE JOHNSON: Alaska Legal Services; lead lawyer for the village of Klukwan.

MICHAEL & SHARON JOHNSON: Former art dealers who planned to consign the Whale House artifacts for sale.

SARAH KLADOO (STEVENS): George Stevens' mother, of the Valley House.

MAGGIE KLADOO (HOTCH): Sarah Kladoo's sister; mother of Victor, Mildred and Clarence.

DOUG MERTZ: Former assistant attorney general; represented state's interest in the Whale House case.

ROGER MCCOY: Trooper who investigated the theft.

HOWARD ROLOFF: Canadian art dealer who bought the Frog House artifacts.

GEORGE STEVENS: Elderly Klukwan man; Vally House member.

BILL THOMAS: Clarence's nephew, helped remove Whale House artifacts to sell them.

JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Federal judge who sent the artifacts case to tribal court.

MARTHA WILLARD: Raven House leader with ties to Whale House; reported the "theft" of the artifacts.

ROSITA WORL: Tlingit anthropologist with roots in Klukwan.



Timeline of Whale House artifacts

1750 - Carver Kadjisdu.axtc is born; approximate date, according to one theory.

1775 - Kadjisdu.axtc may have carved the Shakes House posts in Wrangell.

1800 - Earliest time Kadjisdu.axtc may have traveled to Klukwan to carve the Whale House posts.

1835 - Date commonly given for creation of the Whale House and the posts.

1852 - Chief Chartrich leads a party to capture and burn a Hudson's Bay Post.

1867 - U.S. buys Alaska; Tlingits meet to discuss expulsion of new invaders; Chartrich advises against it.

1881 - Census lists 565 residents and 65 houses in Klukwan.

1885 - Lt. George Emmons pays his first visit to Klukwan and meets the 3-year-old Louis  Shotridge; reports old Whale House in the last stages of decay.

1899 - Klondike Gold Rush brings fundamental changes to Chilkat Indian society.

1899-1901 - Whale House is torn down and a new one built but never finished; Chief Yeilgooxu (George Shotridge) holds last great potlatch in the Whale House.

1905-06 - Louis Shotridge meets G.B. Gordon of the University of Pennsylvania museum and they discuss acquiring the Whale House artifacts.

1915 - Shotridge goes to work for the University Museum full time; begins collecting in Klukwan and negotiating for the Whale House objects; returns to Philadelphia in 1920.

1922 - Shotridge returns to Klukwan, calls a meeting of the Ganaxteidi clan, and urges sale of the objects for $3,500; clan votes no.

1923 - Shotridge claims the Whale House objects are his based on U.S. inheritance law; controversy divides the Chilkat people; Shotridge prepares to take the posts and screen but finds a notice posted on the door by Chief Yeilxaak asserting custody.

1924 - Shotridge makes a last attempt to seize the artifacts but finds Yeilxaak, now blind, guarding them from theft.

1925 - Chilkat of Haines and Klukwan hold a peace-making ceremony to defuse the conflict over the artifacts.  Shotridge gives up.

1937 -- Louis Shotridge dies after suffering a broken neck while working as a government stream guard.

Millie Shotridge DeHaven begins construction on the modern Whale House.

1938 - Millie Shotridge DeHaven throws a potlatch to celebrate completion of the Whale House.

1944 - Millie Shotridge DeHaven dies. Ganaxteidi clan leaders meet and make Victor Hotch keeper of the Whale House.

1956 - Mary Williams, Ganaxteidi leader, writes a will that assigns guardianship of Whale House objects and refers to the artifacts as clan property.

1959 - Alaska becomes a state.

1970/71 -- Michael Johnson's first visits Klukwan.

1976 - Frog House artifacts are removed and sold to Howard Roloff.

Johnson gets Estelle DeHaven's backing and attempts to take artifacts out of the Whale House.  Villagers block roads.
Village Council passes law that clan treasures may not be removed from Klukwan.
Estelle DeHaven sues village with Johnson's backing.

1977 - Estelle DeHaven makes another aborted attempt to remove the Whale House artifacts.

1979 - Johnson tries to hire Wackenhut to take out artifacts.

1981 - Victor Hotch dies; Clarence Hotch becomes Whale House keeper.

1984 - April 24: Clarence, Bill Thomas and others remove Whale House objects.

Mildred Hotch Sparks dies.

Village sues Whale House group and Michael Johnson.

1988 - Clarence Hotch dies.

1990 - Judge Von der Heydt rules the case should go to trial in Klukwan tribal court.

1993 - Trial is held; Michael Johnson does not attend.

The Woodworm Post

Tlukwx Ass A Gass

The post to left of the rain screen represents a crucial event in the early life of the Ganaxteidi clan.

The carving tells the story of how the clan came to move north up the Lynn Canal to the Klukwan area.  The large upper figure on the post represents Ka-kuthch-an, the girl who fondled the woodworm.  The figure she holds in her hands is Tlukwx-ass-a, the woodworm. Tlukwx-ass-a is also represented above the girl's head as two woodworms whose heads also form her ears.

The lower figures on the post represent a frog in the bill of a crane.

The whole post is said to represent the tree in which the woodworm lives.



MARILEE ENGE/reporter:

When Daily News reporter Marilee Enge was growing up in Petersburg, the ferry ride to Wrangell and the old house of Chief Shakes was something like the drive to Portage Glacier for Anchorage residents.  It was the place you took the out-of-town guests to show them something about Alaska.

The four houseposts at the chief's house are believed to have been carved more than two hundred years ago by the Tlingit master, Kadjisdu.axtc.  Though Enge viewed the Shakes posts many times, it would be years before she learned of Kadjisdu.axtc's masterpieces, the Whale House totems carved in Klukwan late in his life.

Two years ago in Seattle, Enge viewed an exhibit of photographs by the early Juneau photographers Winter and Pond.  Among the black-and-white pictures of Native life at the turn-of-the-century was a room-sized photo of the Whale House and its great carvings.  By that time, the artifacts had been taken from the village and locked in and warehouse in Seattle while a tug-of-war over their ownership raged.

Like others before, she was astounded by their beauty.  And she got caught up in their history.

"I guess those things really do obsess people," she said.  "I started reading everything I could about them."

To research this series, Enge traveled twice to Klukwan and attended part of the monthlong tribal court trial in January where the ownership fight was played out.  She also went to Santa Fe, N.M., to interview Michael and Sharon Johnson about their decades-long efforts to obtain the carvings.  In Seattle, she visited leading experts in Northwest Indian art for their perspectives on the Whale House artifacts and the changing ethics of collecting aboriginal works.

FRAN DURNER/photographer:

Since her college days as a fine art student, senior photographer Fran Durner has been captivated by Tlingit design.  Long before she was acquainted with the details of the Whale House carvings, she became infatuated with them through the photographs of turn-of-the-century Juneau photographers Winter and Pond.  In fact, several of the images used in the series were reproduced from prints which Durner had acquired years ago for display in her home.

Researching the modern and historic photographs for the series to Durner from Seattle museums to New York collectors.

BOB HALLINEN/photographer:

Hallinen first became aware of Tlingit carving a decade ago when, as chief photographer for the Ketchikan Daily News, he photographed Nathan Jackson teaching totems carving in Saxman.

Since that time Hallinen has photographed the majority of the totems in Alaska, along with numerous ancient and modern totems in British Columbia.  In recent years he photographed a survey of totems for We Alaskans magazine, and a story on ancient totems in their original location off Prince of Wales Island.