Sealaska Heritage

NEWS_SHI to unveil new exhibit on Tlingit war and peace

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Exhibit to open during Gallery Walk, everyone welcome​​

Nov. 27, 2019


Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will unveil a new exhibit next week that delves into traditional Tlingit laws, the consequences for breaking them and the complex peace ceremonies that ended conflicts and restored balance.

The exhibit, War and Peace, will debut at 4:30 pm, Friday, Dec. 6, at Sealaska Heritage during Gallery Walk. Visitors may view it free of charge during that time.

The display delves into the application of Tlingit laws, traditional dispute resolution processes, and the consequences of failing to atone for infractions. When laws were broken, and if conflicts were not resolved to restore peace, the consequence would be war.

“The Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian have been widely described as warriors and warring societies, but less known is the existence of Tlingit law and the traditional mechanisms for resolving conflicts and disputes,” said SHI President Rosita Worl. “This exhibit attempts to bring these complex and oppositional topics to the public.”

The exhibit also tells of the interactions between Tlingit communities and the American military, which in the 19th century often resulted in conflicts because the Tlingit followed their own legal processes.  Bombardments of communities, or confiscation of personal and military prerogatives by the Tlingit, were often the consequences of such interactions.

The display shows the armor and helmets worn by warriors that protected them from daggers, spears and arrows. It also explores the famous battles between the Tlingit and Russians in 1802 and 1804 and the Treaty of Cession, through which the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. One panel explains that the Tlingit considered going to war over the treaty as they considered the transaction illegal because the Tlingit owned the land.

The exhibit includes imagery of Northern Lights because the aurora borealis are thought to be the spirits of warriors racing across the skies.

The exhibit will be open through February 2020 at Sealaska Heritage, 105 S. Seward St., in Juneau.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research and advocacy that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artists Committee, and a Southeast Regional Language Committee. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116,