Kodiak’s Alutiiq Museum Earns National Recognition

The Alutiiq Museum in the city of Kodiak preserves and exhibits many Alaska Native artifacts from the Kodiak Archipelago region and other areas, and now the State of Alaska’s Division of Libraries, Archives & Museums has designated it as the state’s first natural and cultural history repository.

Marnie Leist is the Curator of Collections at the Alutiiq Museum and says the recognition is especially significant because they’re the second nationally accredited tribal museum in the United States.

They play a part in keeping and protecting Native history.

“Almost 80 percent of our collections are on loan to the museum,” says Leist. “It is our responsibility to help care for other tribal organizations, federal state agencies, to care for the collections in perpetuity. And, because we have a dedicated, professional staff, maybe a 1000 years from now those 7000 year old artifacts are still around for future generations.”

She says that takes physical upkeep of the objects.

“I try to put things in micro climates if they’re sensitive to help preserve them. Large objects, we do dust them and we actually just had a great workshop with the conservators from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology from Boston come and teach us more about how to vacuum objects, like kayak frames and other types of skin objects,” says Leist.

Part of maintaining artifacts is making sure they can survive in their environment. Here’s a very Alaskan example.

“Right now, we’re doing a paper test, so in our long, sunny, bright summer days we have lots of light. Well, UV damages objects, so I created this little test really quickly and here in another couple of weeks, we’ll see how much the paper bleached out in just those few weeks,” says Leist.

Scott Carrlee is the Curator of Museum Services at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau and says granting the Alutiiq museum repository status was easy. He says that’s because it’s one of the seven institutions in the state accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

“That means that they’ve been through a review process. A very rigorous review process,” says Carrlee. “What we are concerned about is this designation is really strictly the collection’s care, collection’s management portion of what the museum does, so the fact that the Alutiiq Museum is already accredited, that gave the committee a comfort level with designating them as a repository.”

Amy Steffian is the director of research and publication for the Alutiiq Museum and refers back to the year she first joined the staff.

“I’ve been with the museum since it opened in 1995 and I’ve seen the repository grow from a young organization learning professional practices, and to see us achieve both national and now state recognition for our practices is really lovely,” says Steffian.

The Alutiiq Museum’s collection holdings range from bone and ivory objects to photographs and historical documents.

The Museum will hold its annual Community Archaeology dig from July 13 to 31where volunteers from around Kodiak can work on an archaeology site to build that collection.