Midnight Sun, Arctic Moon

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Secret Treasure
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Here's a secret the Smithsonian Institute doesn't want you to know.


Most Alaskans have heard about the Tlinget and Haida native tribes of Southeast Alaska. The Tsimshian people have traditionally been considered a Canadian tribe of people and not native to Alaska as they migrated from Canada across the river into Alaska in the 1800's.

However, Ken Decker, a Ketchikan historian and Tsimshian master carver who has won the title of Ketchikan's "artist of the year" has information that the Tsimshians are indeed native to Alaska and lived in what is now the state of Alaska far back into the past.

According to Ken, remnants of a basket dated at about 5,000 years old were found along the Thorn River on the Prince of Wales Island. Master weaver Dolores Churchill of the Haida tribe was commissioned to re-create the basket from the fragments. What she discovered was that the basket was not of Haida origin, as the anthropologists had thought, but that it was a distinctly Tsimshian design. Her re-created basked now sits in the Smithsonian Institution as proof that native tribes inhabited the region 5,000 years ago. However, this basket, some of the earliest evidence of mankind in the entire region, is not of Haida origins but is Tsimshian. This is a ground-breaking story that if widely known could revise our conception of native Alaskan history, if there are any budding anthropologists or historians out there would like to take on such a project and research it further.
Ken Decker knows a lot about his people and uses his art as a way of keeping his cultural heritage alive. He is a member of the Wolf clan, one of four clans of the Tsimshian People of Southeast Alaska. Born and raised in Ketchikan, he appreticed as a carver under Master Carver Ernest Smeltzer, and trained under some of the most famous Northwest Coat artists. He now teaches classes and states that "Teaching offers me a way to share the knowledge others gave me, and a way to spread fulfillment that can be gained when working with Northwest Coast traditional art forms."
Ken is the Grandson of James and Lillian Leask of Metlakatla, Alaska. He is very proud of his heritage and views his art as a way of keeping the culture alive. His grandfather traveled in the first canoe from Old Metlakatla, British Columbia, to the present day site of Metlakatla, Alaska, where the Tmishain people migrated in 1887 with missionary Father William Duncahn.
Ken and his wife Monica own and operate Crazy Wolf Studio (www.CrazyWolfStudio.com) where Ken's artwork is featured.
The kneeling "Female Creator" bowl-statue featured in the photo was carved by Ken's good friend Artie George, a Coast Salish carver, and the great nephew of Chief Dan George, the actor who appeared in some of Clint Eastwood's films.