Alaska Native dancer in costume including traditional mask.

Alaska Native Heritage Center Welcomes Home 1744 Cultural Items Donated by Wells Fargo

Anchorage, Alaska, April 19, 2022—The Alaska Native Heritage Center (ANHC) has welcomed home over 1,700 Alaska Native cultural items donated by Wells Fargo’s Alaska Heritage Library and Museum in Anchorage, nearly doubling the size of its current collection. ANHC is one of 35 organizations selected to receive donations following the museums’ closing due to COVID in 2020.  

“The price of this gift is truly immeasurable,” said ANHC President & CEO Emily Keneggnarkayaaggaq Edenshaw. “We are incredibly grateful to Wells Fargo for this donation and look forward to sharing this collection with our community for generations to come.”   

“Many of these items are sacred,” said ANHC Community Engagement Manager, Yaari Walker, who welcomed the items home in a private cultural ceremony. “This donation will help us reconnect with each piece to help us connect with our ancestors—to remember who we are and where we come from.”   

All five cultural regions of Alaska are represented in the collection, including Unangan baskets, ancient ivory figures from St. Lawrence Island, an Athabascan chief’s coat, a Bering Strait qayaq, and argillite carvings attributed to renowned Haida carver Charles Edenshaw. Many endangered art forms are included in the gift, which will be exhibited as part of ANHC’s exhibition, “Nacheyakda’ina: Our Ancestors” in the Hall of Cultures this spring.  Nacheyakda’ina is a Dena’ina Athabascan word meaning “our grandfather’s people.” 

Wells Fargo’s Alaska Heritage Library and Museum started in 1968 as the National Bank of Alaska’s Heritage Library to help keep Alaskan artifacts in their place of origin. “In that time, we were able to keep and bring back more than 6,000 Alaska Native pieces that reflect the diversity of Alaska’s many Native cultures,” said Erika Smith, business execution specialist and chair of Wells Fargo’s Native Peoples Connection Employee Resource Network Alaska chapter. “As a fourth generation Alaskan, living on Dena’ina lands, it has been an honor to support Wells Fargo’s promise to preserve valuable pieces of our history and culture, and am proud that Alaskan heritage will live on in new and meaningful ways.”

In addition to cultural items that will be displayed for education, the donation also consists of sacred items that will not be shared publicly. In the coming months, ANHC collections staff will work closely with established Cultural Advisory Committees to interpret the collection, including determining which items will be displayed for education and which items will be returned home to their respective regions.  

“There is a long history of cultural items like these being taken from Indigenous communities in Alaska and stored in museums in Europe and the East Coast far away from Alaska,” said ANHC Collections Curator Angela Demma. “It is so important to bring these items home to their source communities, where they are best understood, cared for, and where Alaska Native artists can study them in their own cultural center.”   

“The sky is the limit for our artists to work and learn from this collection, “said Edenshaw. “In many Alaska Native languages, there is no word for art—it is a part of who we are as Native peoples. Quyanaqpak to Wells Fargo for this donation that will allow our artists and our community to connect with a vital part of ourselves.”

To ensure the proper stewardship of this substantial and transformative donation, ANHC is launching a capital campaign to upgrade the Center’s 22-year-old campus and exhibit hall. ANHC is working closely with SALT LLC, an Alaska Native Woman-owned business, to develop a budget and plan for renovations. For more information about ANHC’s Capital Campaign, please contact Emily Edenshaw at 907.330.8000.

About the Alaska Native Heritage Center   

The Alaska Native Heritage Center is a nonprofit organization that preserves and strengthens the traditions, languages and art of Alaska’s Native People through statewide collaboration, celebration and education. It is located at 8800 Heritage Center Drive in northeast Anchorage, just off Muldoon Road North near Bartlett High School. For more information about other events and programs, visit www.alaskanative.net