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Release: Immediate

UI to give 19-century caribou tent back to arctic Indian tribe

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- After caring for it for more than 100 years, the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History is returning a 19th-century caribou skin tent to its original owners.

A delegation from the Dogrib Indian tribe of Canada's Northwest Territories will visit the UI next week to receive the 40-skin tent. UI graduate Frank Russell purchased the tent in 1894 from K'aa'wid'aa, a Bear Lake Chief and an important figure in Dogrib history.

Upon its return to Dogrib country, the tent will be displayed in the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories.

UI anthropology Professor June Helm, who has worked with the Dogribs since 1959, and Museum Director George Schrimper organized the exchange. The event, which is open to the pubic, will be at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 16 in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol.

Three members of the Dogrib tribe, Elizabeth Mackenzie, a tribal elder, Mary Siemens, co-author of a Dogrib dictionary, and John Zoe, chief negotiator for the Dogrib Treaty 11 Council will give the Museum a gift in exchange for the tent. A subarctic archaeologist for the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre also will be present.

The tent became part of the UI collection through the efforts of the Iowa State Board of Regents and Charles Nutting, then director of the Museum. In 1892 the Regents sent the 24-year old Russell to Northern Canada, where for two years he collected artifacts and examples of animals, plants and geological materials. Many of the items Russell collected from Cree, Dene and Inuit peoples have been used to create the exhibits on arctic and subarctic people in the Museum.

"Russell undertook a very difficult journey," said Mary Whelan, chair of the American Indian and Native Studies Program. "He had visited Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba in the summer of 1891 and become fascinated by Northern wilderness. On returning to Iowa, he asked the Board of Regents to sponsor an expedition to the Northwest Territories where he traveled by dogsled, canoe and snow shoe, endured the long, harsh subarctic winters and became acquainted with many of the peoples to lived in those regions."

The exchange is sponsored by the department of anthropology, the American Indian and Native Studies Program, the Museum of Natural History and the F. Wendell Miller Fund.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: For interviews or further information, your contacts are: June Helm, professor of anthropology, (319)335-0539; George Schrimper, director of the Museum of Natural History, (319)335-0481; and Mary Whelan, chair of the American Indian and Native Studies Program, (319)335-0529.)