The importance of Alaska Native arts to our region

Tuesday, June 25, 2024 11:00 AM by Travel Juneau

Northwest Coast Art is all over Juneau, and you may well want to buy a piece of your own.  But how do you know if what you’re buying is authentic? And why does that matter? 

It matters a lot. Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI), located in the Walter Soboleff Building, has worked hard to educate the public about the importance of supporting local and regional Alaska Native artists and the sacred nature of certain pieces. Authentic pieces incorporate traditional formline, the building block of Northwest Coast art, and true artists spend their lifetimes mastering it. Their artworks require not only skill, but cultural knowledge and sensitivity. Many authentic artworks contain precious metals or organic media not available to the general public. Unfortunately, more than a few stores stock mass-produced pieces that are poorly made, and worse, misrepresent formline and cultural meaning for the sake of making a profit. If you’re not sure about the authenticity of a piece, ask. SHI notes,

“Native arts and at.óow (sacred clan objects) are a vital component of Alaska Native cultures and are integral to Native cultural survival. The sale of Alaska Native arts contributes to the economic welfare of Native artists, families and communities.”

Authentic new works will have a special sticker (Silver Hand program) identifying them.  The knowledgeable volunteers at Travel Juneau’s visitor information centers will be happy to refer you to shops that support of Alaska’s Native artists and their culture. If you have questions or concerns about purchasing a piece of clan art, please contact SHI directly.

Author: Travel Juneau

One of the amazing members of the Travel Juneau staff spent days and days researching and writing this ridiculously awesome post without even stopping for a sip of water or a moment of shut eye. That's okay, we love our visitors so much we feel it was worth it. We hope you enjoy!