A noblewoman from the Tlingit people of mainland British Columbia, Anisalaga came to Vancouver Island in the mid-1800s with her husband, Hudson’s Bay Co. trader Robert Hunt. photo U’mista Cultural Society
A rare First Nations cultural artifact has been repatriated to the descendants of its creator in the remote First Nations community of Bella Bella where it was made, thanks to a grant from the federal government. The Chilkat cedar ceremonial blanket, estimated to be about 150 years old, was recently discovered to be on the auction block in Paris, France. It was purchased by the U’mista Cultural Society with a $27,368 grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Sarah Holland, executive director of U’mista said the late 19th century Chilkat blanket was made by Tlingit princess Anisalaga who brought the art form of Chilkat weaving to the Kwakwaka’wakw people. “Without the support from Canadian Heritage, we could never have brought this national treasure home where it will make a crucial contribution to ensuring that this art form is passed on to future generations,” said Holland.
Made between 1865 and 1871, the ceremonial blanket is one of only 13 in existence, according to Canadian Heritage, and it is an integral part of the Tlingit and Kwakwaka’wakw tribe’s history and culture. Anisalaga, also known as Mary Ebbets, was aTlingit woman whose chieftain father arranged her marriage to a Hudson’s Bay fur trader Robert Hunt. She and Hunt settled in Fort Rupert or Taxis, where they ran a company store. “For the descendants of Anisalaga, this blanket is a direct link to their ancestors,” says an U’mista Facebook page dedicated to the repatriation of the blanket. “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 ancestry and history.”
Made of cedar bark and wool, Chilkat blankets take up to a year to complete before they are worn in ceremonial dances. 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. The blanket is now on display at the U’mista Cultural Society in Alert Bay at the tip of Vancouver Island. It depicts the grinning head of a bear and other animals of Aboriginal significance.