From 17-19 November 2010 the Native American Graves & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Review Committee held hearing in Washington DC regarding the Tlingit Indian Teeyhittaan Clan’s repatriation claim for a contested item held by the Alaska State Museum. This hearing and repatriation request focused on a clan hat and at.óow of the Teeyhittaan Clan of Wrangell, the Yéil Aan Kaawu Naa S’aaxw (Leader of All Ravens Clan Hat), which had been held by the Alaska State Museum since 1947 after placement as a loan at the museum by William L. Paul Sr. (1885-1977), a former Teeyhittaan Clan caretaker of the hat. At the conclusion of the hearing, the NAGPRA Review Committee ruled that the Alaska State Museum did not have legal right to possession.
Regarding the Yéil Aan Kaawu Naa S’aaxw, a number of years after William L. Paul’s placement of the hat with the Alaska State Museum, the Teeyhittaan Clan sought to use the hat for ceremonial purposes and requested use from the State Museum, believing the hat remained their clan’s property. However, the State Museum was reluctant to allow this to occur, asserted that the State Museum held title to the hat, and articulated that use would be along parameters outlined by the Alaska State Museum. This situation repeated itself for a number of years. In 1997 the designated Teeyhittaan Clan caretaker of the hat, Richard Rinehart Sr., continued dialog with the State Museum about custody, in attempt to have the clan hat returned to Teeyhittaan Clan ownership, but again the State Museum refused. Over the next decade the Teeyhittaan Clan and the Wrangell Cooperative Association, a federally recognized IRA tribal government, continued to request that the hat be returned to Tlingit ownership, but efforts proved futile. During this period the Teeyhittaan Clan and Wrangell Cooperative Association opened a dialog with the Sealaska Corporation/Sealaska Heritage Institute about the option of repatriation, based on laws outlined in the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act of 1991. Requests were made by all entities to have the hat returned to Teeyhittaan Clan ownership, but again the State Museum refused to return the hat.
In 2008 the Teeyhittaan Clan, in partnership with the Sealaska Corporation and Wrangell Cooperative Association, both federally recognized tribal governments, issued a formal repatriation request based on federal laws outlined in the Native American Graves & Repatriation Act of 1991 that the Yéil Aan Kaawu Naa S’aaxw be returned to the Teeyhittaan Clan. This request was, however, again rejected by the Alaska State Museum. During the next two years the Alaska State Museum continued to refuse to turn over the hat, and as such, the NAGPRA Review Committee, a committee appointed by the Secretary of the Interior based on the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), was asked to make a ruling as to whether the Alaska State Museum had the legal right of possession of the hat. The NAGPRA Review Committee’s duty, in part, is to determine right of possession in reflection of federal law.
From 17-19 November 2010 hearings were held in Washington DC on this issue, and after review of evidence presented, based on federal law and Native American Graves & Repatriation Act of 1991, 25 U.S.C. 3001 et seq., the NAGPRA Review Committee determined that the Alaska State Museum did not have the legal right of procession to the Yéil Aan Kaawu Naa S’aaxw. Nearly three years after the hearing, the State Museum returned the hat to the Teeyhittaan Clan.