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Heritage Celebrations: How Northwest Coast Tribes' Culture and Art Thrive in Alaska

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    Artist creating a bentwood box.
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    Alaska Landscape
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    Northwest Coast Art Festival.
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    Northwest Coast tribe group.

A double major in History and Anthropology, Ellie Hall '10 undertook a community service research project in Alaska in the summer of 2008.

The purpose of Ellie’s project, titled "Cultural Preservation," was to learn, through service and other anthropological methods, about how Northwest Coast tribes in Alaska preserve and celebrate their cultural heritage. She also researched how tourism has affected the preservation and representation of the tribes’ art and culture.

Recently her project took a unique turn: "I’ve been invited to further my research by volunteering for the Women’s Intertribal Circle of the local Pamunkey tribe (in Virginia). I will learn about how they choose to preserve and celebrate their culture heritage, and how tourism has affected the preservation and representation of their art and culture. Hopefully, I will turn my research into an Honors thesis through the Anthropology department my senior year," Ellie said.

Northwest Coast Totem PoleEllie realized early on that research does not always go as planned, and that you learn to be flexible and take any opportunity that comes your way. Like the man she met on the ferry from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska: "I began talking to a man who was on his way home. It turned out he is a well-known Northwest Coast artist. He gave me insider tips on where the great art is and how it has evolved over the years. On the spot, I got a great interview! Ultimately, research is like improvisational jazz. It is free-flowing and can often turn out in exciting, unexpected ways," she said.

"I went in with a loose research question, and it changed frequently throughout the trip. I looked long and hard at each piece of research I gathered and let it dictate the next direction. As a result, I learned much more than I had anticipated." Ellie took what she’d learned in an ethnographic research methods class and applied diverse research methods to any topic that provoked her interest. She also volunteered at a cultural celebration in Juneau, which provided an insider’s view into the importance and hard work of cultural preservation.

"I would like to thank my parents, Professor Moretti-Langholtz, and the Sharpe program for providing me with the financial and emotional support to realize my academic research goals," Ellie said.