Celebration 2004: Documentary film to preserve oral traditions

Former Juneau residents produce Dance Regalia Documentary Project

Posted: Sunday, June 06, 2004

Under a white tent Saturday afternoon in front of Centennial Hall, Ken Hoff, a raven of the Tongass Tribe, shared the story of his Uncle Sonny.

"He is the reason I dance," said Hoff, 40, of the Gaanax i di clan, a Taan ta kwaan (Sea lion people) of the Yei l hit (Raven house).

"He told me he was going to dance at Celebration 2000, and he asked me if I would dance with him," he said. "The last thing he said to me was, 'Nephew, you're going to dance for me at Celebration 2000.' I said, 'Yes uncle, I'll dance for you.' Two days later, he passed away."

Hoff was able to share his story as part of the Dance Regalia Documentary Project. Co-producers Bill and Clarissa Hudson, former Juneau residents now living in Pagosa Springs, Colo., set up the tent to take portrait shots of Celebration participants and collect video footage for a possible future documentary.

"This is going to be important for years to come," Hoff said. "Even though Celebration is going to be around forever, this is a chance for maybe my grandkids to come out and see how I was. They haven't been born yet, but eventually they will be. People will be able to see this all over the world and maybe come here to Juneau someday to watch."

Hoff's brother, Don Hoff Jr., 51, came to Celebration 2004 from Chattanooga, Tenn. He also shared stories with the crew. The Hoffs danced in Celebration with their other brother, James Allen Hope, and their 80-year-old mother, Tillie Hope, the matriarch of the Raven clan.

"In the olden days, a lot of the clans and tribes didn't want to record or even take pictures," Don Hoff said. "As the elders are passing on, they're realizing that a lot of history will be lost if they don't start documenting.

"My brother made me a new potlatch hat, and I wanted to show it off," he said. "This is the perfect way to do that, so whoever wants to look at it 20 years from now will be able to see it."

Clarissa Hudson thought of the idea for the project last summer when Ida Kadashan, a Tlingit elder from Hoonah, died. Another friend of Hudson's, Ann Keener, died two years ago. Hudson first met them in 1983 at a basketweaving workshop in Haines.

"I was one of the youngest gals who was out there learning some of the traditional arts and crafts from Ida and Ann and Dixie Johnson and Lillian Hammond and Nora Dauenhauer," Hudson said. "Ida and Ann, their passing away, inspired me to get of my duff.

"I felt really bad that these people that had not really had portrait shots of themselves with their robes in a quiet setting, where we were able to get first-hand stories of them and their regalia," she said.

Hudson and her co-producer, husband Bill Hudson, spoke to Donna Foulke, a Washington, D.C., photographer originally from Hoonah. They ran the idea past Rosita Worl at Sealaska Heritage Institute, with the offer of joint copyright of all the images.

"Fifty years from now, I want people to be able to see the images of these robes and regalia, and say, 'Hey, that was my great-grandmother, that was my great-grandfather. He started making knife blades like this. Or he did this carving and it inspired these other carvings of today,' " Hudson said. "You can see where people have inspired one another, and it just goes around and around in circles. Basically, that's what this is all about."

The Hudsons and Foulke are working on the project with Rhonda Mann, public relations; Liana Young, interviewer; and Kahlil Hudson, videographer. During Celebration they brought two computers, two printers and $5,000 worth of equipment in all. They hope to return for future Celebrations.

Sealaska will use the photographs for their educational purposes. Hudson eventually would like to publish a book on Northwest Coast Native dance regalia. They also may use video clips for a future documentary on Native dance regalia.

"People are very passionate about their stories," Hudson said. "They want their stories to be recorded; they want them to be preserved and passed on with their regalia.

"Of course there are people who are afraid that their information is going to be misused," she said. "People are fearful that once you record something, a story that is not quite told right, then it's down in history and that it's the truth."

To contact Hudson or Foulke, e-mail clarissa@clarissahudson.com or donna@foulke.com.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.

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