Blessing at Troth Yeddha’ signals first step in repatriation

Heather Bryant / Sun Star Reporter
June 5, 2011

A long time ago, the University of Alaska Fairbanks had a very different name. Troth Yeddha’ is what the Tanana Athabascans called the hill where UAF now sits. The native people would come here to pick Troth, which are wild potatoes. Troth Yeddha’ translates to wild potato hill.

Today, Troth Yeddha’ park sits on the land between the Museum of the North and the Reichardt building. Chief Peter John of the Tanana Chiefs Conference of Interior Alaska blessed the ground. “The grandfathers used to come to talk and give advice to one another about what they were going to do,” said Chief Peter John according to the Alaska Native Language Center website. “When they learned this place would be used for a school, the university, they came here one last time, to decide what they should do. They decided that the school would be good and would carry on a very similar traditional use of this hill–a place where good thinking and working together would happen.”

On May 28, Troth Yeddha’ park hosted another blessing.

Members of tribe communities around the state of Alaska have begun the process of repatriation. Repatriation is the return of human remains or artifacts to the tribe or village they came from.

Attendees gathered on the warm Saturday afternoon to bless the human remains at the Museum of the North. The museum currently houses remains from 32 tribes and villages in Alaska.

“A lot of remains were brought up here to the university and there were some studies done on them,” said Benno Cleveland as he introduced the ceremony “A lot of the remains are still here and haven’t been brought back to their communities where they came from.”

Bob Maguire had approached the museum about starting the process of repatriation. However, Maguire passed away in March of 2011 from a heart attack.

“I met with Bob and Cora Maguire,” said Angela Linn, the collection manager for ethnology and history at the Museum of the North. “The group of us decided this was something for the community to take the reins on.”

Organizing the event was a group effort led by Candyce Childers. Childers asked Benno Cleveland and Diane Benson to take part. All of them cited continuing Bob Maguire’s work as the reason they participated in the event.

“Bob Maguire wanted the ceremony to draw attention to what happened to the remains that are still at the museum,” said Benson.

Linn explained that the repatriation law is complicated and requires people to get their communities involved. “Our hands are tied at the museum level, we can be advocates and help educate people,” said Linn. “If people if wants these things to be returned they have to start the process.”

During the ceremony, Benson read the list of the tribes and villages that have remains in the museum. “These remains are from all over the state,” said Benson. “The way we treat those remains, affects who we become and where we are going.”

Approximately 40 people gathered to participate and observe the blessing ceremony.

Another blessing was held in Hawaii at the same time. Kumu Karen Leialoha Carroll, a Hawaiian spiritual leader and teacher, and her Kahu Ohanna, students, held a ceremony simultaneously in support of the one here.

“It was kind of them to do so,” said Childers.

Benno Cleveland had one last reminder for attendees before the end of the Alaskan ceremony.

“We have to remember we all live in this world together and somehow someway we need to continue to build the bonds that we have with one another and try to understand each other and continue to try to help and respect one another.”

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