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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Object lessons : hereditary rights and ownership in a northwest coast museum Blair, Graham Alexander

Abstract

Using as a case example an ownership dispute over a Gitksan origin story depicted on the carved doors of University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology (MOA), this thesis contributes to an understanding of the ways in which hereditary prerogatives are being exercised in new contexts on the Northwest Coast and the political ramifications this entails for both museums and traditional systems of ownership. Drawing on interviews, archival materials, and published sources, this thesis details the ongoing history of the 'Ksan doors, from their commissioning in the early-1970s, as both an architectural feature of MOA and an example of contemporary Northwest Coast art, to their emergence as the focal point of an ownership dispute twenty years later that was escalated, if not precipitated, by a 1991 interpretive-dance performance of the origin story that they depict that involved Hereditary Chief Kenneth B. Harris. The claims and actions of Chief Harris and a Gitksan woman named Dolly Watts (whom many identify as the source of the dispute) are considered both ethnographically and historically, with a final emphasis on how MOA has in this case become a forum around and through which cultural meanings and identities are being asserted.

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