The story of Southeast Alaska's Native people began centuries ago and continues today.
True Southeast surrounds you with that story like no other place in Juneau. Walk through an authentic clan house. Learn about the four core cultural values of Southeast Alaskan Native cultures in the special exhibit, Enter the World of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Peoples. Take home a Native-crafted souvenir, along with new insights into Southeast Alaskan history and the ways we are all shaped by whatever land we call home.
- Admission: $5; $4 for seniors 65 and over. Children under age 7 admitted free.
- Summer: 9 am-8 pm
- Winter: Tickets may be purchased in the Sealaska Heritage Store for group or individual sales.
- Address: 105 S. Seward Street Juneau, AK 99801
- Call for more information: (907) 586-9114
Sealaska Heritage will open a new exhibit featuring Alaska Native masks in May 2017. Masks are an ancient tradition among Alaska Natives. They are the medium through which humans interact and communicate with the supernatural world. Masks are used in ceremonies and in dances to appease and influence the spirits they depict.
Masks are used in theatrical performances or dance to tell mythological or historical legends. In some regions, masks are used to tease or ridicule fellow village members with the goal of resolving conflicts. While the basic meaning and use of masks are fairly uniform among the Native societies, their representations vary dramatically both in their realistic interpretations and surrealistic creations among the different tribal groups. Alaska Native masks reflect the artistic creativity and achievements of Alaska’s indigenous societies.
The word “art” is absent in Native languages. However, this is not to say that Native societies lacked an aesthetic appreciation. The cultural significance of masks may have been paramount, but individuals commissioning the production of a mask would often defy cultural rules to find the best artist, signaling that masks were viewed as both powerful spiritual beings and works of art.
The Alaska Native Mask Exhibit features traditional masks from the Iñupiat, Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Athabascan, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. The masks are grouped by their cultural significance rather than by geographical divisions or cultural affiliation. This exhibit contains a sampling of Alaska Native Masks. It also contains masks that were made for sale, but these masks uniformly draw on the ancient meaning that gave rise to masks in each of these societies.
At Sealaska Heritage Institute's Walter Soboleff Building, visitors will see monumental art made by some of the best artists of our time, and each tribe--Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian--is represented in the large installations. Visitors will first see huge, 40-foot panels on the exterior designed by the internationally celebrated Haida artist Robert Davidson. The design represents a supernatural being called the "Greatest Echo" -- a theme chosen by Davidson because Dr. Walter Soboleff, the building's namesake, echoed the past to bring it to the present.
Inside the entry, visitors will see an enormous house front made by the Tsimshian master artist David A. Boxley. At almost 40 feet wide by 15 feet high, it is thought to be the largest, carved-and-painted Tsimshian house front in the world. The center of the house front tells the Tsimshian story Am’ala: Wil Mangaa da Ha’lidzogat (Am’ala: He Who Holds up the Earth). A tiny door in the belly of Am’ala leads into the clan house, formally named Shuká Hít (Ancestors’ House) in a ceremony.
Once inside Shuká Hít, visitors will see the largest glass screen in the world, made by the Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary. Preston is internationally celebrated for his innovative creations, which use a medium not known in pre-contact times. His piece measures 17 feet wide and 12 feet high at its peak and is rendered in carved, amber-and-black glass.
The clan house, named Shuká Hít in a ceremony, is modeled after the traditional clan houses historically seen throughout Southeast Alaska. It includes a central “fire pit” and tiers for communal activities. A traditional clan house would have included a wooden house screen with posts on one side, but—in a nod to the modern world—we have rendered them in glass. In the corner of the clan house is the carved hand print of a child. The placement of a handprint or “X” in a clan house is an ancient practice and was done during the grand opening ceremony for the building.
The interior of the building is planked in cedar, which was hand-adzed by the Tlingit master artist Wayne Price. Adzing produces a texture that is commonly seen in Northwest Coast art, canoes, clan houses, and ceremonial objects. Price adzed almost every day for five months despite a very blistered hand. At the end of the project he had made nearly one million adze marks on more than 3,200 square feet of wood! In this short video, Price talks about the importance of adzing to Native culture. Once Native people learned how to adze, everything else followed--including clan houses, totem poles and dugout canoes.
Sealaska Heritage Store
Before you leave, we hope you browse our Sealaska Heritage Store, where we offer authentic Native art, gifts and souvenirs. Proceeds from store sales and admissions support our cultural programs. Read more about our cultural programs.