Fashion revue aimed at Native youths

Organizers hope to entice minds and eyes

Posted: Sunday, May 28, 2000

Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida regalia can embody clan history -- or elicit the wolf whistles of high fashion.

That's the double-edged message behind the Regalia and Cultural Fashion Revue organized by Wooch.een, or ``working together,'' the Native Culture Club of the University of Alaska Southeast. The revue is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Juneau Yacht Club.

Organizers Kolene Dunne and Pattie Adkisson are bringing together high school and college students, models, artists, presenters and translators to encourage a flourishing of wearable art and to coax Natives to consider higher education.

``This show is our baby,'' Dunne said. ``We wanted to tie the community with the university, and students with artists. This is one small step, but a really positive step.''

Although artists seeking commissions will hand out business cards, Adkisson, a UAS academic adviser as well as adviser for Wooch.een, said the event is ``not competitive; just a sampling from different clans. The regalia is so lovely and so varied that we are trying to whet people's curiosities and give them experience and something to think about.''

Dunne earned her an degree in 1999. Now her appetite is whetted, she's proceeding and even considering a doctorate, majoring in Native Studies or Northwest anthropology. ``So many doors have opened up to me since I chose education,'' she said.

At Wednesday's revue, Mary Kennedy, 36, will show traditional Tsimshian hats she wove of red cedar bark. ``They were used long ago with the higher ranking clans - the Wolf, Eagle, Killer Whale and Raven clans,'' Kennedy said. ``Each clan had a chief, and only the chief and his family would wear these hats. Today, all Southeast clans are using them.''

Kennedy is also bringing wool button blankets she made for dancing. The black blanket sports a red eagle applique outlined with tiny abalone shell buttons. Larger buttons line the edge.

``Buttons were few and far between in the past because they were part of the wealth of the leaders, not something you bought in the store,'' she said. ``I am trying to do it the way my elders taught me 25 years ago me; some were grandmas.''

To wear under the blankets, she had created dresses based on a style she saw 25 years ago growing up in Metlakatla. Although the dresses are wool and polyester doeskin, they represent older, leather dresses trimmed with rabbit fur.

Ruth Demmert, 62, of Kake is modeling a felt robe with Raven or Kaach.adi crest she made 12 years ago for performances of the Keex Kwaan dance group, which she leads.

``Regalia expresses the clan and the crest that the clan owns,'' Demmert said. ``It represents the people we are -- who we are. It's not `costumes,' as tourists on board the ships used to say. We don't put these on to pretend. It's real; it says, `We are here. We are surviving.' ''

Demmert's daughters, Jackie DeBell and Myrna Demmert, will sit in the audience wearing hats of spruce root and cedar bark, respectively, that she has handed down to them -- another signal that their clan is surviving.

Tlingit fabric artist Alberta Aspen of Juneau is showing custom-made vests. Aspen opened her own business, Treasures and Traditions, a year ago. She had sewn all her life and when she retired from her position as a revenue agent with the IRS, she turned her avocation into a vocation.

Aspen specializes in vests decorated with appliqued clan crests and buttons, vests typically worn at conventions. Traditional vests had straight hems and were hip-length, she said. She has updated the design by tailoring points on the front, and making them waist-length.

``I do mainly commissions,'' she said. ``I use wool flannel lined with acetate and mother-of-pearl or shell buttons. Because I am really concerned about quality, I always use good fabric and don't use plastic buttons.'' Vests average $175 to $250, she said.

Others involved in the show include Esther Shea, a matriarch of the Brown Bear clan, and her son Richard Jackson of Ketchikan; Wooch.een members Catherine Edwards and Yarrow Vaara; and regalia-maker Carrie Sykes.

``Our Native heritage is something all kids can take part in,'' Adkisson said. ``The revue is a gentle way of spending time and learning. When you travel to Helsinki or London and see an artifact in a museum, you want to understand what it's saying.''

Revue tickets are $5 and seating is limited. For tickets, call Kolene Dunne at 586-1432 or Pattie Adkisson at 465-6454.

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