I was not even 25 years old when this film was shot. In the Summer of 1980, because of sudden news of a death of a dear love, I was in Haines on a private retreat in a small cabin on Paradise Cove with my then 9-month-old daughter, Lily Hope. I remember hearing about the struggles the local Tlingit were having with the local, state and federal governments regarding the Native rights and use of the Chilkoot Lake and River. It was an emotional time for many of the local Tlingits. Over the next couple of decades, I had come to know many of the folks in this film. I watched this film many years ago when it first came out in 1981, just a year after it was filmed. I bought this copy for only $10 at the Sealaska Heritage Institute retail shop and watched it again. All but one or two of the elders in the film have all passed. It was emotional 34 years ago as it was today.
Over 20 years ago I designed this Chilkat “tunic” specifically for a t-shirt. I think only 5 or so shirts were printed. I’m not sure why I didn’t print any more than that. Anyway, if all goes as planned, I will have these T-shirts available for sale at the Clan Conference in Juneau, Alaska where a group of us local weavers will be doing another demonstration/presentation in the lobby of Centennial Hall starting on Thursday, October 29th. See you then!
What is the purpose of a small group of large egos coming together in a cozy space for two full days have to do with creating art?
The Sealaska Heritage Institute sponsored it’s first Northwest Coast Artist Gathering to seek advice from approximately 26 Sealaska shareholder (or descendants of shareholder) artists for their Native Artist Program. Some of the programs include: the SHI Retail Shop, the Native Artist Market held during the bi-ennial Celebration, the Apprentice/Mentorship Program, and the most recent proposal of the Dugout Canoe Project.
I think that I can speak for most if not all of us, that it was an honor for all of us to be in the presence of one another while we touched upon a number of subjects having to do with the creation of art, the passing on of the knowledge, and the marketing of our work while still maintaining a sense of balance in our lives within the basis of our Native spirituality. I think all of us had a good time getting to know one another since we come from many different backgrounds and communities along the Northwest Coast of this continent. I know that all of us felt that natural high of being in the same room with one another and having the opportunity to share ideas and inspire one another during our breakfasts and lunches together. Thank you to Sealaska Heritage Institute for putting together a fine Gathering.
Back in 1981, I was hired (as the 5th employee) of Sealaska Heritage Institute as their Scholarship Coordinator. There was Executive Director David Katzeek, Secretary Lisa Sarabia, Scholarship Coordinator Mary McNeil who was training me to take her position, and my Aunt Katherine Mills who was recording our language and many of the Native stories and songs that eventually Dick and Nora Dauenhauer transcribed and translated into written books published by SHI. The Bi-ennial “Celebration” had not even been created yet, though in 1981 there was a gathering of the elders who at that time felt there needed to be an event which provided an opportunity for the sharing of the oratory, the stories, history and legends, and the song and dance. Hence, Celebration began in 1982.
Rosita Worl has been at the helm of Sealaska Heritage Institute for 17 years. I have watched SHI grow into the institute that it has become. As I said in my introduction at the gathering, although I don’t agree with some of Rosita’s business tactics, I commend her on the dedication she has towards making things happen at SHI, not to mention her dream of creating the beautiful Walter Soboleff Building that now houses the inner workings of SHI with all of its language, art and culture programs, publications, retail shop, exhibit hall, simulated clan house and archives.
1981 was nearly 35 years ago. I was a kid, really. I was going through the motions of being a responsible young parent, a young artist, a young mind full of ideas, hopes and dreams. I’m still kind of like that, but now I am facing another type of dream which includes more responsibility than I thought I had 35 years ago. I feel a responsibility towards our younger generations. There are many of us who are not going to be around much longer; many of us in our 50s and 60+ are beginning to feel like we have to pass on our knowledge before our time is up! And it’s not just the technique we teach, it is our Native values and our process of being in how we pass on our knowledge. No Westerner is going to be able to teach what we know spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. It is next to impossible because they don’t “have the connection” – that DNA that innately is passed from one generation of a people to the next. For example, it would be impossible for me to teach the African weavers how to weave their style with their ways because I was not born to that bloodline or landscape or culture; nor would I want to take away from their livelihood.
So when SHI talks about their “Formline Curriculum” (which was just published at the disappointment of many of our artists), and their idea of partnering with the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau to create the Northwest Coast Art Academy, to inspire and teach our younger generation of artists and scholars, then judging by this most recent past and the fact that the formline curriculum was drafted (by non-Natives with the token Native advisers), printed and distributed, and SHI puts our Non-Native scholars up on a pedestal and is not in the habit of employing our own Native scholars, advisers, teachers and artists, then what makes us believe and think that our own Native teachers will truly be at the helm of the Native Art classes offered at UAS to give the “stamp of approval and credit” that now we have taught and created true “Northwest Coast Native artists?”
The teaching of Northwest Coast Native Art taught in an academic setting by non-Native art instructors is a big concern to some of us Native artists. Big concern, though many of us do not voice our opinions about it for a number of reasons. Why? Fear. There is a possibility we get ousted out by SHI and UAS and ousted by other fellow artists who are “part of the academic circle” — we are accused of being racists, we fear to be ousted out by grant organizations, other art institutions, galleries, cultural centers, etc. etc. None of us want to be accused of racism, or not have the opportunities that other Native artists have in the art world, or not be able to provide for our families because we fear that eventually there is no support for us, and we find ourselves alone because even our fellow Native artists may shun us. It’s a horrible feeling to THINK about these things. So what do we tend to do? We keep our mouths shut. There are many of us who will not speak up about our disappointments in how the non-Native artists, academics and cultural centers such as SHI have not hired our own people for prominent jobs. Why not? Some of the reasons may be because they feel that the non-Native have more experience at teaching in the academic arena, or that the non-Native is more knowledgeable about the topic. Of course, that is how it is going to be. We are not of the western mind-set and do not necessarily teach in the same way that is for sure, however, this is no excuse, because as studies have shown, Native people learn in an entirely different manner than non-Native so therefore, it is only sensible that a Native person teach our Native students.
Sure we have the Artist Gathering to provide advice and guidance to assist SHI (and other institutions for that matter). And we touched upon all kinds of topics to assist them in assisting us. But truly, how many of us Native artists will directly benefit from donating SHI four days of our precious time (two days of prep/travel and two days of actual gathering time)? We each gave SHI and our communities 4 days of our time; in a culture where reciprocity is important, how will those four days be reciprocated? And how many of our younger generation of artists will benefit from the advice we gave to influence the actions and decisions of SHI, and eventually UAS and other institutions that say that they are here to help us preserve and perpetuate Native art, language and culture?
How come the topic of Native indigenous hire as opposed to non-Native hire was not ever brought up during the gathering?
Because all of us know this is a topic of “hot” discussion and no one wanted to rock the boat; this was not the purpose of this gathering, yet the topic is something that many of us are passionate about. No one brought it up because many of us have the same fears and we don’t speak up for reasons named above. And the topic was not discussed because both SHI (and UAS) know that they will not be able to live up to the idea, let alone the promise or written agreement, that no matter what, they will always hire the Native over the non-Native. Bottom line.
Another topic of discussion that was not brought up though many of us had thought about some time before, during or after the Gathering was nepotism. What is the definition of nepotism? It is the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.
Many of us artists have wondered how come certain individuals who are just budding artists are given business opportunities that we have never achieved (until maybe later in our art careers) let alone knew about? Again, many of us know about the nepotism going on at SHI, but no one says anything to or about the head master for fear of being ousted (because of any or all of the reasons above).
I personally have been ousted or “edged out” a number of times in a variety of ways by the head master at SHI. The only reason I was in attendance at this particular Gathering was because of the selection committee called the “Native Artist Panel” who placed my name in the hat of prominent Native artists to invite. Do I hold being “edged out” on a number of things over the years against her? No… because for nearly 40 years I have earned my position as an artist and teacher by hard work and through other’s support, and I have not needed SHI; nor do I need them still. Though I feel that SHI needs artists like myself who gain their respect through honor, diligence, focus and the intent to assist other fellow artists and next generations; we have come to where we find ourselves today. Bottom line: I feel SHI needs us more than we need them. Hence, this artist gathering.
Back to the concept of nepotism at SHI. As a fellow human and mother/grandmother, I understand where the head master moves from. I understand her position as a mother, grand-mother, great-grandmother. I know what it feels to be protective of our close relations and of the younger generation. We want them to do well, live well, be well. We want the best for them. And many of us will do what it takes, whatever it takes to see that our offspring are taken care of, even at the expense of others who may be more “deserving” of a position, whatever form that position may be, or even if it means stepping on the toes of others, or stealing ideas or concepts or intent from others. People catch on. In these latter cases, the energies do not bode well for an empire that will continue to stand well and long. These types of actions lack the fostering of trust, good feelings, honest dialogue with true, supportive, enthusiastic work and exciting, worthy co-sponsorship.
If SHI wants to continue being at the forefront of our Northwest Coast Native art and culture, they must remember where their financial support comes from: the Sealaska Corporation and additional financial support from major local, state, federal and private donors. Even though the Sealaska Corporation’s Board of Directors know about the nepotism (and who knows what else) how is it that Sealaska Corporation continues to support SHI? Don’t they know the organization treads on a thin line with that kind of behavior? To lose the empire because of nepotism and other behind-the-scene workings for personal gain would indeed be the real shame.
About the Innocent: Who are the innocent? I define them as those relatives who the head master had maternal concern. I feel for those who are the “innocent” relatives. They know not many things. Many of us artists who are aware of the nepotism going on at SHI who come into contact with the “innocent” may respond accordingly: we hold their position against them, we may be jealous of how they have been handed a “silver platter” of opportunities though they have not truly “worked for it” as we have, or we think their work should not be a representation of our Native art because they are not “well-versed” in the concept of the design work and their character and their personalities have not yet evolved to be out their in the world of art and business.
I know it will not be easy when the “innocent” ones “wake up” and they see the workings of the good intentions of their relative though at the expense of others. When the “innocent” wake up, they may initially feel shame, a natural response. (Though I encourage them to feel no shame since they did not know what the “behind the scene” workings were; that is why they, in my mind, are called the “innocents.”) The feeling of shame may be immediately shrouded with justifications they pull out of their sleeve and they may feel they had the right all along to all the opportunities. And then the feelings of denial come into play; they denial there is anything wrong with how things came to be. These stages are all a part of the human “loss.” All of these feelings and these stages are natural because the innocent will know they are no longer innocent. Now because of their knowledge of how they came to be where they are at today, they are now being called out to be held accountable for what they now know. They lost. They lost their innocence. And now they will be held responsible for any actions or words from that day forth.
Those who were aware of the nepotism and the “innocent,” how shall we respond when they “awaken” and know? What do we do about any and all of this? How do we help them process their awakening? Are these things important to us? Are these people important to us? Is our art and culture important to us? Or do we just complain and complain, and hide and hide, and keep our mouth shut and keep our mouth shut? Who loses if one loses? We all do. Bottom line: we all lose if we lose even one.
Do we want to lose Rosita Worl? No, not really. She’s a true powerhouse that get’s it done; in Wayne and my words about ourselves working on projects: “…just getterdun!” Rosita has the attitude of “let’s getterdun!” And we admire that. So what do we want her to let go of? We just want her to lose the habit of nepotism and for her to stay on sight of her initial vision she had when she was first given power of SHI. She wanted, and still wants, to help our people in ways that she thinks are important. However, the methods in which any of us in a place of power employ are always scrutinized by the rest of us, and if we mis-use our power, it is not forgotten. Does she care to lose any one of us? I don’t know, but many good people have gone by the wayside because of hurt and anger due to some of her ways that have been questionable. Many refuse to have anything to do with SHI. This is a sad case.
It is not easy to set aside the feelings of hurt and anger. I’ve had to deal with it time and time again with her. However, I learned a long, long time ago from the guidance of Tlingit elder Harry K. Bremner, Sr. and from the late Andy Hope III, that it doesn’t matter what people do and say and if it hurts you; if they are the track to get things done for our people, then set aside your ego and do it anyway even if someone else gets the credit, because all in all, it’s for the greater good of our people,…the greater good of humanity.
So with all that I have said here, then you may ask: what was the true purpose of this SHI Artists Gathering? As I mentioned earlier: we came together invited by SHI’s Native Artists Committee to provide advice to SHI for their various projects to help them work out the bugs to advance their offerings to help advance the careers of their Shareholders who are artists. We are all in this together; there is no “us” and “them.” What affects one, affects us all.
I had never heard of the Santa Fe Indian Market until August 1987; it was the first time I had seen so much fantastic art in all my life. One of the first booths I had seen was the Alaskan gal Denise Wallace’s jewelry; of course there was a huge crowd around her booth like no one else’s because her astounding jewelry was like none other. She was and still is, a celebrity.
The market opens early Saturday at 7am for those art collectors who are racing for that prize possession and enthusiasts who want to get ahead of the crowd. I had heard several people from a number of institutions came by my booth that early but I was not available. Directly after I spent 2 hours setting up my booth, directly at 7 I had to pick up my “Chilkat Child” who I had entered into the Juried Art Show; it took about an hour of waiting in line. However, I was able to catch Julia White, the coordinator of the Tulsa Artist Residency, from which I was one of 12 artists across the nation who was chosen as a recipient of their inaugural residency fellowship to live and work in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a year.
I did my very first Santa Fe Indian Market in 1994 winning the Best of Show with my “Following My Ancestor’s Trail” button blanket wall mural which sold to a collector from Tuscon, Arizona. I won about $5K in awards, sold my load of button blanket greeting cards featuring 9 of my favorite robes, and sold a Ravenstail headdress. I walked away with a chunk of change; it was enough to put a down payment on a house!
The Santa Fe Indian Market is a zoo; it draws about 100,000 visitors from all over the world for the week before and after the Market. Lots of traffic jams in Santa Fe during this time. I don’t understand how artists can do this show every year. I cannot do this show every year. It takes me about 4 years to re-couperate which is why this is only the 5th time I have been an artist vendor at the market. It’s a lot of work to prepare for the market, then we gotta set up at 5am to 7am when the market opens. And when the day is done at 5pm, we gotta strike the set and pack it up, only to do the same thing the next day. It doesn’t sound like much, but believe me, it IS!
I had a good time at this market. It was the first time my booth faced the sunshine; I think that is why I enjoyed this year better than all the other years. You see, when I come from a grey, damp place like Juneau, Alaska and land in the arid country of Santa Fe, New Mexico, it naturally puts a smile in my body. Many of us Tlingits know what I experience!
And yes, all the items you see in these photos of my booth at the market are for sale, except the white curtains and the chilkat robe on the loom. I invite you to contact me for prices and more information.
Another pleasant aspect of this year’s Indian Market included being with my kids and grandchildren during the week. There’s nothing like being a grandma. And though I am not a great grandmother, I am learning how to become one…!
The night before the market, several Tlingit artists gathered together for a dinner at my son’s house in Santa Fe. We were discussing the logistics of creating a mentorship program for our artists back home, based on New Zealand’s Maori artists. We asked ourselves enough questions, like “What does it mean to be a mentor? How do you know you are a mentor? What are the expectations of self as a Mentor and expectations from the apprentice?
There are many events sponsored by other organizations outside of SWAIA’s (Southwest Association of Indian Arts) annual Indian Market, including an offspring of the Indian Market called IFAM which takes place for two days at the “Railyard”; there’s an artist supply market at the El Dorado Hotel de Santa Fe; there’s Dorothy Grant’s fashion show and of course, numerous gallery openings!
The Institute of American Indian Arts Scholarship Gala is held the Wednesday before the Santa Fe Indian Market (Saturday & Sunday); the place is packed with prominent artists, arts organizations across the country including representatives from NMAI (National Museum of the American Indian), NACF (Native Arts & Culture Foundation), art historians and collectors. I was invited by NACF to be a guest at their table since I had recently won this year’s fellowship.
Nearly 22 years ago when I first had a booth at the Santa Fe Indian Market, the only Northwest Coast artist represented was a totem pole carver, Reggie Petersen from Sitka, Alaska. He said he had been doing the market for nearly 20 years with no other comrades from the Northwest except clothing designer, the late Betty David, and he was so happy to finally see “another Tlingit!” Although we had never met, he hugged me as if I were the last person on earth! lol. His wife, 4 children and he would make it an annual sojourn where they would take the ferry from Sitka to Seattle, then drive to Santa Fe and back again. He always had a log that he was carving smack dab in the middle of the Santa Fe Plaza. He said this was one of the ways in which he received commissions for totem poles. Lots of work being a full-time artist with 4 children.
Haida basket weavers Diane Douglas-Willard, her daughter Jianna and Dolly Garza are vendors at the market too. Diane says she has been a vendor at the Market for 20 consecutive years.
One of the hardest things about being a vendor at the market is that I don’t have time to take a break and visit all the other artists let alone attend all the other activites such as the main-stage performances or the fashion show. However, the day before Indian Market began, my daughter Lily and I took a jaunt over to the Railyard where the IFAM art show was happening. We saw several Northwest Coast Native artists including Peter Boome and Zoe Marieh Urness!
I admire the small city of Santa Fe for its unique architecture, dramatic style in clothing, furniture, jewelry — everything for that matter! Even its people! Check out the Trader Joe’s de Santa Fe! Holy—now THERE’s a mixture of all kinds of folks in a middle-class store! Simply entertaining to watch who shops there.
During the early morning of the first day of the Santa Fe Indian Market, a large group of young protestors marched through announcing their disagreement with the government continuing to pollute the Southwest environment and then lying about it. I was surprised there was a demonstration yet proud that the younger generation has stepped up to the plate. It is a good thing to bring awareness to the general public about atrocities to our human race and its well-being.
And then directly after the demonstration, there was this guy across my booth standing with a black, worn-out umbrella. (He sure looked familiar! Lol.) The sun wasn’t even at its hottest yet, though he was prepared for anything. That’s the message for you folks today: be prepared for anything!