Ice Man Relations

Dorothy Rosenberg’s sister called her recently to give her some news about a long-lost relative – a really, really long-ago-lost relative. Rosenberg, 80, who belongs to the Alaskan Tlingit tribe, learned through DNA testing that an iceman who died 200 to 300 years ago in the wilds of British Columbia is one of her ancestors. The iceman could be a legendary Arctic trader celebrated in tribal lore. But even if he’s not, the twenty-something man – found draped in squirrel pelts and wearing a hat made of roots – is being welcomed as kin by his California cousins.

"We are also Jewish," said Aaron Rosenberg, Dorothy Rosenberg’s youngest son who lives in Hollywood. "We are the best of both tribes."

Three sheep hunters found the human remains in a melting glacier in 1999 on land in British Columbia, part of the traditional territory of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. The tribe named him Kw day D n Ts’inchi, meaning "Long Ago Person Found" in the Southern Tutchone language. DNA testing recently traced the remains to 17 people in Alaska and Canada, including Dorothy Rosenberg’s sister, Harryet Rappier, who lives in Juneau, Alaska. She called recently to deliver the news. 

"She said her DNA matched the man in the ice," said Dorothy Rosenberg of Canyon Country. "That goes for me." Her family – including sons Mark and Ben who live with their mother – expect to find more family members through the DNA results. "It could be just the beginning of our family tree," said Ben Rosenberg, 49.

The man – believed to have died in his early 20s – was wearing a spruce-root hat and a robe made of Arctic ground-squirrel pelts. It’s thought that he died between 1670 and 1850, said Lawrence Joe, director of the tribe’s Heritage Land and Resources department. Some southeast Alaskans believe Long Ago Person Found is Kaakaldeini, who was immortalized in song and stories, said Kathy Dye, spokeswoman for Sealaska Heritage Institute. According to oral tradition, Kaakaldeini was hurt while on a trade trip to Canada.

When a storm rolled in, he told his companions to leave him, fearing that if they carried him, they would go too slowly and all die in the storm. His companions piled blankets on him, left and he was never seen again. Extensive travel between Canada and Alaska is documented in tribal oral traditions, Dye said.

After the discovery, the tribe – along with government groups – convened a discovery committee and led the culture, artifact and DNA studies. The Royal BC Museum and the government’s BC Archaeology Branch oversaw preservation and research of the remains, which were cremated in 2001. In 2000, a DNA study was launched to determine whether Long Ago Person Found had any living descendants in Canada and Alaska.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute, a nonprofit that represents the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of southeast Alaska, worked with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations on the Alaskan participants. The DNA results were released last month at a symposium about the discovery in Victoria, British Columbia. Of the nearly 250 people tested, 17 in Alaska and Canada were found to be related to the man. "The DNA results are not a surprise to native people here but it’s good to see science validating oral histories," Dye said. "It proves the truth of oral histories to the general public." For the Rosenbergs, the excitement continues.

Phone calls to the Canyon Country home start with a news flash about their famous relative. Although Dorothy Rosenberg has lived in Southern California longer than in Alaska, she kept those strong ties to her roots. The family would travel to Alaska every couple of years, meandering through villages. Her mother gave her sons their tribal names. Aaron Rosenberg uses his, Eech ya, or face of the coral reef, as part of his e-mail address. He also speaks the Tlingit language and can sing a love song and the tribe’s national anthem. "We were the first Americans," the 42-year-old said. "We are the true Americans." from Daily News