Not “the last Chilkat blanket weaver”: The Story of Annie Klaney and the Indian Arts and Crafts Board

By Rose Buchanan, Archivist and Subject Matter Expert for Native American Related Records

“Chilkat Blanket.”

This terse subject line is easy to miss in a nearly 100-page file of administrative correspondence from the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB). It headlines a May 17, 1962, letter from Carl W. Heinmiller, director of Alaska Indian Arts, Inc. (AIA), to Robert Hart, IACB Assistant General Manager, communicating an update about AIA activities. But the letter’s brief tagline and bureaucratic nature obscure the importance of the woman it highlights: Annie Klaney (K’aanaakeek Tláa), who played a critical role in preserving the art of Chilkat weaving.

Annie’s story can be told using IACB records (Record Group 435), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) records (Record Group 75), and Census Bureau records (Record Group 29) in the National Archives’ holdings. Annie was born in Sitka, Alaska, in October 1882—either on the 1st or the 25th, according to Alaska Native Village census rolls maintained by the BIA’s Juneau Area Office. Although these records list her tribal affiliation merely as Tlingit, we know from secondary sources that she was specifically a member of the Kaagwaantaan Clan, Ch’aak’ Kudi Hít.[1] By the 1920 federal census, Annie had married Gus Klaney (Tlingit, Ghaanaxhteidí Clan, Xíxch’i Hít), a fisherman, and the couple was living in Klukwan with their three children: Andrew, Laura, and Archie. Later that year, Annie had a fourth child named Elsie.

The Klaneys’ Native family record card for 1940 shows Annie’s birthday as either October 1 or October 25, 1882 (National Archives Identifier 52209295, Image 27).
The Klaney family lived in Klukwan, Alaska, at the time of the 1920 U.S. Census.
Map of Haines–Port Chilkoot Region, Southeastern Alaska (National Archives Identifier 40862362, Image 27). According to federal census records and BIA census rolls, Annie and her family lived in Klukwan and Haines at various points between 1920 and 1950.

The 1940 federal census is the first time that we see a clear reference to Annie’s role as a culture bearer: she is one of five women living in Klukwan whose occupation is given as a “Chilkat blanket weaver.” Non-federal sources help to fill the gaps in the official record. Collections housed at Sealaska Heritage, for example, indicate that Annie had been weaving for at least a decade prior to 1940 and that clan members used her works ceremonially. So, twenty years later when the IACB and AIA were looking for Native art projects to support in the Port Chilkoot area, it is not surprising that they turned to Annie.

“Chilkat Robe, named the Ta naak’wu Naaxein (Medicine Rock Robe), connected to the area Tanaku, near Hoonah, Alaska. Raven design. Weaved by Annie Klaney (K’aanaakeek Tláa), Tlingit, creation date circa 1930.” Image courtesy of Sealaska Heritage.
Ta naak’wu Naaxein (Medicine Rock Robe) used in ceremony. Image courtesy of Sealaska Heritage.

The IACB was established in 1935 and charged with advancing “the economic welfare of the Indian tribes . . . through the development of Indian arts and crafts” (49 Stat. 891). The agency was part of the “Indian New Deal,” a series of laws passed during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration to reform federal Indian policy and improve economic conditions for tribes. Then and now, the IACB helps American Indian artists from federally recognized tribes to gain exposure for their wares and assists federally recognized tribes with developing frameworks for preserving tribal cultural activities.

The AIA was established by non-Natives in 1957; according to the organization’s articles of incorporation, its primary goals were to “provide vocational education for Alaskan youths”; “encourage the perpetuation of Northwest Indian culture”; and “produce, market and sell seafood products and articles of Indian craft and artwork.” In a program proposal submitted to the IACB in 1960, the AIA requested funding to support training programs for Tlingit youth in the Port Chilkoot area to learn cultural practices like woodcarving, basketry, and weaving from Tlingit elders. In December 1961, the IACB awarded the AIA $9,000 to use in hiring Native artists to both create products and offer instruction to apprentices and trainees.

By spring of 1962, IACB and AIA administrators had begun strategizing how they could use the award money to support training in Chilkat weaving. Chilkat weavers traditionally used mountain goat wool, which could be scarce, so one idea included paying hunters to bring in mountain goat hides. It is unclear if this idea was implemented, but the administrators did proceed to contact weavers in the Port Chilkoot area about serving as paid weaving instructors. According to the May 17, 1962, letter mentioned at the beginning of this post, many weavers were initially skeptical of the IACB and AIA’s motives: they were “very much afraid of being tricked,” as AIA Director Heinmiller reported.

But several weavers—including Annie—were eventually brought on board. The May 17 letter highlights Annie specifically, characterizing her as “one of the last Chilkat blanket weavers” and indicating that she was paid $50.00 for teaching weaving to women in Klukwan. A bout of tuberculosis briefly interrupted her participation in the training program and resulted in a hospital stay. But by July 9, 1962, Annie was back to teaching in Klukwan, and her students included her two daughters. Annie also began working on the fringe of a Chilkat blanket owned by the Department of the Interior.

In this March 2, 1962, letter from AIA Director Carl Heinmiller to IACB Assistant General Manager Robert G. Hart, Heinmiller discusses the need for mountain goat wool to support Chilkat weavers (National Archives Identifier 40852294, Image 68).
Heinmiller’s letter to Hart on May 17, 1962, highlights Annie Klaney’s important role teaching Chilkat weaving in Klukwan, Alaska (National Archives Identifier 40852294, Image 36).
Heinmiller’s letter to Hart on July 9, 1962, mentions Annie Klaney’s work on a Chilkat blanket owned by the Department of the Interior (National Archives Identifier 40852294, Image 19).

Unfortunately, the records consulted for this post turn to other matters after July 1962, and Annie is not mentioned again by name. But the IACB awarded the AIA another contract in 1962, which included funds to “revive the production of Chilkat blankets.” So it is possible that Annie’s work with the AIA and IACB continued. Additional research in IACB records might confirm this.

What we do know, however, is that Annie Klaney was not “one of the last Chilkat blanket weavers,” as AIA Director Heinmiller described her. Thanks to her important role as a teacher in the Klukwan community, Annie ensured that knowledge of Chilkat weaving was preserved and passed down to new generations.

Annie Klaney (at left) with an example of her weaving. This image is found among other photographs of IACB-supported artists in the series “Records Relating to Arts and Crafts Projects in Alaska, 1947–1980” (National Archives Identifier 12019568).

The records referenced in this blog are housed at the National Archives at Seattle and the National Archives in Washington, DC, respectively. For questions related to records housed in Seattle, please email seattle.archives@nara.gov. For questions related to records housed in Washington, DC, please email archives1reference@nara.gov.


[1] Zachary R. Jones, Haa léelk’w hás ji.eetí, Our Grandparents’ Art: A Study of Master Tlingit Artists, 1750–1989 (PhD dissertation, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2018), 97, https://scholarworks.alaska.edu/handle/11122/10299.

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