Art students in Miah Lager's ravenstail weaving class at Yaakoosegé Daakahídi Alternative High School may not have any art classes next year, due to the expiration of the three-year Transitions Grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
"Actually, this is the last year of that grant," Lager said. "So after next year, we don't know if there will be any art offered at Yaakoos."
According to Lager, there are approximately 30 students in her two ravenstail weaving classes.
"Within this grant period, to my knowledge, it's the first time that they've done ravenstail here at Yaakoos," Lager said. "But I know that in the past, people have wovenravenstail within the school. JDHS has too."
Lager said Ravenstail can be difficult for some, but for others, it's much easier than traditional art projects.
"It's a nice time for somebody who isn't a typical art student in that sort of way," Lager said. "They really shine and can do those sorts of things. It's been a nice balance for kids who have different strengths."
According to longtime ravenstail weaver Kay Parker, beginning weavers can take about 40 hours to finish their first bag. A bib might take Parker several weeks, three to four hours a day, but a robe requires even more patience.
"It can sometimes take you a half an hour just to weave one row all the way across," said Parker. "Then you have a bunch of strands in between that you have to manipulate, so it might take you another half an hour to manipulate all those strands." Lager agreed.
In many looms, the warp - threads around which other threads (weft) are passed over and under - is taught. In ravenstail, the warp is hanging, sort of like fringe, Lager said.
"You have to be really aware of what you're doing," Lager said. "The warp, parts that are hanging down, can get crossed over if you don't pay attention. ... So sometimes the kids have to pull it all out and start the row again."
But Lager is inspired by the ravenstail program at Yaakoosgé.
"There is such a strong effort to keep ravenstail weaving alive," she said. "It was dormant for so long, that people openly share patterns."
According to Lager, Lily Hudson, a local ravenstail weaver, also visited her classes.
"Lily said this is one of the few places where people are openly sharing their patterns," Lager said. "Within the art community, there's that idea about pattening, oh, if people know my secret, then people can make my work. But that forum is really open, which is amazing."
Right now, students are working on individual pieces to form a collaborative robe, made from traditional handspun wool, donated by Parker.
"(This) hasn't really been done before," Lager said. "Usually, one weaver weaves the entire robe, but we wanted them to all be a part of it; so they're each doing a smaller section fo the pattern, and it will be a permanent piece for Yaakoos."
And as far as next year's art classes, Lager is hopeful.
"Right now, Yaakoosgé has proposed to the school board for a permanent art position for the 2008 budget," she said, "so they really need to hear that it is an important position."
"Our school has been enriched through the grant that has made our cultural arts and Tlingit language program a reality here," added Laury Scandling, Yaakoosgé administrative liaison. "I think that such opportunities provided immeasurable validation for Native students and a memorable experience for students of all cultures. I am hopeful that the district will make these important classes permanent."
According to Lager, Yaakoosgé always accepts donations of art materials, which can be dropped off during school hours at the school, 1208 Glacier Ave.
Those interested in showing support for Yaakoosgé's art program can contact the school board via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 523-1800.
Neighbors editor Kim Andree can be reached at 523-2272 or email@example.com.