Thoughts on Richard Dauenhauer



Last week, community members were invited to share their personal reflections on Richard Dauenhauer’s life and work. Their responses follow.


Dick Dauenhauer has attained symbolic immortality through his publications that preserve the words and wisdom of our ancestors and that will live on in the hearts and minds of current and future generations.
-- Rosita Worl, President of Sealaska Heritage Institute



Dick was a wonderful helpmate to Nora, and they made a great team in recording our Native history, resulting in awards. Everywhere they went, they seemed to be helping each other in doing consulting work and research. He was also like a kanee (brother-in-law) and did many things to help the Sockeye clan. I’m really going to miss him.
-- Nathan Jackson, Tlingit master carver, of Ketchikan



Those of us privileged to know Dick Dauenhauer will remember his ready wit, his dancing eyes, his rascal’s laughter. We’ll remember hearing him performing Tlingit oratory with Nora, giving voice to generations past, present, future. We’ll remember his generosity with family and students and friends. We’ll remember his love of his garden and the forest and the waters. We’ll remember Dick’s many languages and how he moved with grace among so many of the world’s cultures over the centuries. We’ll remember his fierce love -- for Nora, for their children and grandchildren, yes. And his fierce love for poetry. Those who didn’t get to meet him can get acquainted through his poetry, the fine example of his words, strong and vital, vibrant with curiosity and learning. His “Benchmarks” remain to help us find our way.
-- Peggy Shumaker, Rasmuson Foundation’s Distinguished Artist for 2014 and former Alaska State Writer Laureate



Dick’s ready wit matched his incredible powers of observation and discernment. There are lots of photos of Dick with his hands open, explaining something or other. He was so patient. I miss his smile; and I still have things I would like him to explain to me.
-- Jim Simard, Head of Historical Collections, Alaska State Library



Nora and Dick must be some of the most internationally famous and influential Alaskan scholars — their work is required reading at universities around the world. Even before I came to Alaska, I joined a long list of graduate students assigned to read their first book major edition of Tlingit oratory, “Haa Shuka.” Their writings were a revelation: they helped inspire me to work with culture they so lovingly described. Soon, I moved to Sitka and got the chance to meet them in person — I was pretty nervous about presenting myself before such celebrated poet/scholars. I was a mere graduate student, but their good humor and helpfulness set me at ease. In recent years, I collaborated with Dick and the organizing committee for the “Sharing Our Knowledge” Tlingit Clan Conference — a task which showcased his diplomacy, intellect, kindness, and engagement both in historical subjects and contemporary issues. And the stream of books Dick and Nora released, though Sealaska Heritage Foundation (and Institute)….every new one, I anxiously awaited, and read cover-to-cover upon receipt. What an indescribable joy it was to be with them, and to be continually inspired. For all their accomplishments and international acclaim, Nora and Dick remained the same funny, accessible, and vigorous people I met long ago in Sitka. Dick was a powerful intellectual with a big heart, a kind and supportive friend, and I will always cherish him.
-- Steve Henrikson, Curator of Collections, Alaska State Museum


Dick was an amazing person: a combination of an extremely erudite intellectual and a down to earth easy-going fellow with a wonderful and slightly quirky sense of humor. I am so happy that a year before he passed away, he was able to bring our his largest collection of poems entitled “Benchmarks,” and I treasure the words he wrote for me on its title page: “To Sergei, a benchmark in my life.” The truth is that it was Richard Dauenhauer who became a true benchmark in the lives of everyone who knew him.
–– Sergei Kan, Professor of Anthropology and Native American Studies, Dartmouth College


Richard Dauenhauer was an exemplary scholar and overall genuine person. He carried himself with humility and was a respectful scholar that served an indigenous community by helping the world see how beautiful, important, sacred, vital, and relevant the Tlingit culture, language, and oral literature is. His life was one of service and education; an admirable life. He’ll be missed but also remembered by many.
-- Zachary R. Jones, Archivist & Collection Manager, Sealaska Heritage Institute


My enduring memories of Dick Dauenhauer will be through his collaborations with Andy Hope III — the Tlingit Country Map, with its comprehensive list of Tlingit tribes and clans, and the Sharing Our Knowledge conferences, which bring together academics and other learners with Alaska Native culture-bearers. Dick’s involvement in both were critical to their success — and these are but two of many contributions by he and his wife Nora that provided the foundation, beginning in the early 1970s, for the resurgence of interest in Tlingit language and culture.
-- Peter Metcalfe


In the field of linguistics, it is too often the case that senior scholars jealously guard their languages of study, and attempt to dissuade newer, younger students from developing novel perspectives and analyses. Dick Dauenhauer was the exact opposite. He was invariably welcoming and supportive of anyone seeking to advance the knowledge and documentation of the Tlingit language. He openly shared his irreplaceable data, recordings, and papers, and he eagerly sought out and read the work of others, even those of us just starting out. To those of us seeking to understand more about Tlingit grammar, he was an unfailing source of support and encouragement, as well as a shoulder to cry on. He will always be a model of the kind of scholar I wish to be: open, honest, kind, welcoming, supportive, funny, and above all - brilliant.
–– Seth Cable, Associate Professor, Department of Linguistics, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Dr. Dauenhauer’s gentle presence will be sorely missed. Thanks to Dick and his wife, Nora, current and future generations will have decades of enrichment from their stories, poetry, and documentation of Tlingit language.
-- Robbie Stell, retired UAS provost

In the Spring of 2010, I was fortunate to a be part of the last creative writing workshop Richard Dauenhauer taught at UAS. He introduced us to the beauty of translation and was very supportive of student attempts to capture significant life moments through poetry.
-- Katie Bausler, public relations and marketing director, UAS


Above and beyond Richard’s amazing work with our language, I will always remember him for being an open-minded, loving individual who never ceased to have high expectations of us as learners and teachers.
--­ Mary Folletti


Richard was a true gem for Alaska. A powerful yet tremendously humble wordsmith, scholar, and community man. I’m honored to have had the privilege to walk, talk, and listen in the same creative spaces as him. His physical presence will be missed dearly.
-- Christy NaMee Eriksen, spoken word artist


Richard had a charming way of being rather dismissive about his erudition. He would make little jokes about his work. As many experts are anxious to let you know just how expert they are, it was very appreciated. Besides his work on Tlingits, he was a fine poet. When Nora translated and Dick put the translation into English that sings, the combination was breathtaking. He will be sadly missed.
-- Dee Longenbaugh, historian and owner of the Observatory bookstore


I would like to submit a poem (“Shaking Hands with Beethoven,” shown above) that Dick wrote about my husband Bill, who died in November. Bill had said he wanted to shake Beethoven’s hand, then paused to say ‘if he has a hand’, which led to a discussion about the afterlife and the nature of our identities after death.

Please, everyone, read a poem aloud to someone else in memory of Dick Dauenhauer.
–– Kathy Ruddy


Shaking Hands with Beethoven

By Richard Dauenhauer

In Memory of Bill Ruddy (July 19, 1937 – November 26, 2013)


For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect has come,
then that which is in part will be done away.
. . . For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
but then face to face. Now I know in part,
but then I shall know just as I also am known.
1 Corinthians 13:9-10, 12


Memories, like channel markers
help survivors
navigate your death.
Skipper Bill in the wheelhouse,
trumpeting to Taku Harbor:


‘Tis a gift to be simple
‘tis a gift to be free
‘tis a gift to come down
where you ought to be.


Your final entries
in the log book of life:


I don’t need my body
anymore. It’s all worn out.
It’s time to leave it
behind me, and move on.


At my funeral—No Blubbering!
I think I’m going to heaven.
I’ll meet Mozart and Beethoven.
Beethoven will have his hearing.
I’ll shake Beethoven’s hand
if he has a hand.


From metaphors on charts
of old hymnography
we learn to navigate
our sea of life,
making scriptural
experience our own,
to anchor at the end of day.


Eternal Father, strong to save …
hear us when we cry to Thee
for those in peril on the sea …
thus evermore shall rise to Thee
glad hymns of praise from land and sea.


The anchor setting
where it ought to be,
you let out scope and power down.


• To add to this list, email Arts Editor Amy Fletcher at


Dauenhauer: 'Songs of vision and experience'
Poem: 'Readings with Richard'


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