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State of Alaska v. George Jim Sr., et al Records

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Scope and Contents

Administrative Information

Detailed Description

State of Alaska vs. George Jim Sr., et al Records



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State of Alaska v. George Jim Sr., et al Records, 1977-1986 | Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

By Zachary R. Jones, Archivist

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Collection Overview

Title: State of Alaska v. George Jim Sr., et al Records, 1977-1986Add to your cart.

ID: MS/022

Primary Creator: Tlingit Indians.

Extent: 1.0 Boxes

Date Acquired: 06/04/2010

Scope and Contents of the Materials

This collection consists of copies of court documents and proceedings from State of Alaska vs. George Jim Sr., et al, and span from 1977 to 1986, amounting to approximately 300 pages of material (one box). The materials in this collection vary, but include the final order and judgment, plaintiff and defendants’ responses, summons, affidavits, plaintiff’s memorandums, motions, cross-claims, transcripts of court proceedings and testimony, copies of letters written by Tlingit individuals and organizations, loan and provenance documents concerning the Wooshkeetaan Screen’s and the Alaska State Museum, and other.

The documents have been kept in the order they were received from the donor, bound, and placed in archival folders.

Collection Historical Note

In 1981 the case of State of Alaska vs. George Jim Sr., et al. began, a case that raised important questions about the nature and rights of cultural properties held by Native American Indians, namely the Tlingit Indians of Southeast Alaska, prior to the Native American Graves & Repatriation Act of 1991. The case, numbered 1JU-81-1785 Civ., which was held in Alaska’s Superior Court, First Judicial District at Juneau, was eventually ruled on and closed by Superior Court Judge Walter L. Carpeneti on July 8, 1986. The ruling favored the George Jim Sr., Albert Wallace Sr., and the estate of John B. Fawcett, as well as the State of Alaska, notwithstanding the objections of the Tlingit people. Since that time the ruling has been contested by the Tlingit people (including the Sealaska Heritage Institute), primarily on behalf of the Tlingit Wooshkeetan Clan.

The case’s roots surround the loan and eventual proposed sale of the Wooshkeetan Clan’s carved house screen to the Alaska State Museum by Tlingit individuals, primarily George Jim Sr., Albert Wallace Sr., and John B. Fawcett. In 1974 the house screen was removed by these individuals, and loaned to the Alaska State Museum. In 1981 these individuals attempted to sell the screen to the State Museum, but concerns were raised by the Tlingit people about the ownership of the screen, and the issue went to trail to determine if the three defendants George Jim Sr., Albert Wallace Sr., and John B. Fawcett could legally sell the item to the State Museum.

The primary concern of the Tlingit people over the screen revolved around the notion that certain Tlingit cultural art objects are cultural property, and this screen was collectively owned by the Wooshkeetan Clan, and could not be owned or sold by individuals of the clan. This principle is comparable in Euro-American society also, as an example, in that some art pieces may be owned by a business, university, museum, etc., and an employee of that organization cannot legally sell that entity’s art.

As such, in 1981 State of Alaska vs. George Jim Sr., et al. began, and eventually took six years to conclude. During that period strong protest from the Tlingit community occurred, arguing that the Wooshkeetan Clan screen was clan property, and the sale of such an item was illegal. During the case, primarily in 1984 and 1985, Tlingit witnesses were called and spoke about the nature of Tlingit property law and worked to demonstrate that the screen was clan property and could not be sold.

In the end, on 8 July 1986 Superior Court Judge Walter L. Carpeneti made a final ruling, but he stated he did so “with great reluctance.” The final ruling found that George Jim Sr., Albert Wallace Sr., and the estate of John B. Fawcett could sell the item to the State Museum if they chose, which occurred shortly thereafter. This finding was based on laws in the American justice system, which did not account for the rules of Tlingit law or acknowledge the notion of communal property, and Judge Carpeneti stated he was displeased with the ruling he had to make.

Sources: Rosita Worl, “Tlingit At.oow: Tangible and Intangible Property,” PhD Dissertation, Harvard University, 1998.

Administrative Information

Repository: Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

Acquisition Source: Charles W. Smythe

Acquisition Method: The copies of case materials in the collection were obtained by Sealaska Heritage Institute on June 4, 2010 from Charles W. Smythe, who obtained the copies from the Alaska State Law Library, Juneau.


Box and Folder Listing


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Box 1: State of Alaska vs. George Jim Sr., et al RecordsAdd to your cart.
Folder 1: Various court documents, bound, 1977-1986. Contains motions, affidavits, cross-claims, letters from Tlingit individuals, Alaska State Museum provenance documents, and other. Approximately 100 pages.Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Transcriptions of court proceedings and hearing, bound, 1985. Approximately 100 pages.Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Core court documents, bound, 1985-1886. Approximately 100 pages.Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Order & Judgment of Superior Court Judge Walter L. Carpeneti on July 8, 1986. 4 pages.Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Plaintiff’s memorandum of law in aid of court’s resolution of interpleader action, by Harold M. Brown, Attorney General, and Richard Svobodny, Counsel for the State of Alaska, dated Sept. 6, 1985. 27 pages. Also included is a letter from Douglas K. Mertz, Assistant Attorney General, to Chuck Smythe of the Chilkat Institute, dating to Aug. 26, 1986, responding to Smythe’s request for this document.Add to your cart.


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