Port Townsend woman figures into return of ancient mask to Alaskan Natives

  • Friday, January 18, 2008 9:00pm
  • News

By Rachel D’Oro, The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Four decades after it was abandoned, King Island holds an almost mystical pull for former residents and their offspring, its crumbling homes still perched eerily high on stilts, clinging to the steep, rocky face of an unforgiving terrain.

Until recently, little else remained of the Inupiat Eskimo village that wasn’t held in traditions and memories or unknown collections and museums across the nation.

Then came the unexpected news from a stranger — a Port Townsend woman — that would change all that for the King Island settlement that relocated to Nome, 80 miles southeast of the Bering Sea island on Alaska’s western coast.

Charlene Saclamana, tribal coordinator with the Nome-based King Island Native Community, received an e-mail from Marilyn Lewis of Port Townsend, saying she possessed an ancient mask brought back from Alaska by a relative more than a century ago and she wanted to send it back to its rightful owners.

On the back of the remarkably preserved relic was a faint inscription reading: “Taken from a medicine man’s grave on King Island.”

Two weeks later, Lewis traveled to Alaska to deliver the wood mask with the red-ochre face, beaked nose and black painted hair.

The artifact is now on display at the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum in Nome.

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