Beyond Heritage

An open invitation to the community to celebrate Native art

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2003

Ishmael Hope walks around town and rides the bus, and sees a lot of young Natives who have an "amazing amount of creativity." These are the new faces he hopes will contribute to the third annual Beyond Heritage, a four-day festival celebrating Native heritage and contemporary and traditional art.

"It's about place-inspired art, and I'm inspired by Juneau," Hope said of the festival, which starts 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16, at Perseverance Theatre and continues Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, Nov. 18, 19 and 21.

Hope, a 21-year-old Inupiaq and Tlingit member of the Kiks'adi clan, organized the first Beyond Heritage festival in 2001. This year's event is sponsored by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council and Perseverance Theatre. It includes dancing, storytelling, mask-making, poetry, art, jazz, hiphop, film and more.

"A lot of what comes out of Alaska is Native culture," Hope said. "It has its roots in thousands of years and in people around town who want to create some new things. I want to balance those things out - the traditional and the modern."

"Beyond Heritage" is an open invitation to the community - not just Natives - to celebrate Native heritage. Hope wants to intersperse established storytellers, such as Gene Tagaban and Bob Sam, with new artists who haven't been on stage before.

"It's really a thing where I ask people around the community to show their gifts," Hope said. "When someone comes up and says, 'Hey, Ish, I really want to work in this story. Hey, Ish, I really want to carve masks. I want to give a speech about the Native man.' I say, 'Hey, I want to support that. Let's get you onstage, and let's work with you a little bit. I want to see some of your poetry.' "

Vivian Mork, 26, a University of Alaska Southeast student from Wrangell, and a Tlingit of the Raven moiety and the T'akdeintaan clan, performed last year as a last-minute fill-in. She decided to return for this year's festival. Mork has written some new poems, based somewhat about deaths in the Native community last winter and spring.

"Events such as this, especially ones that are so open to the public, help give Native people a voice," said Mork, whose Tlingit name is Yéyeilk'. "There are a lot of young Native people who are involved, and it's nice to hear them speaking about how they feel and growing up in two different worlds. And it shows others that there are still young people out there who are involved with our culture, and our language, and hopefully that sets some seeds in other people's heads."

The unofficial theme for this year's festival is young Native men. Hope has asked some of the inmates at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center to display their artwork during the event.

"There's more young Native men in prison than in college," Hope said. "How can we find useful roles for these men? I want to find more ways to invite these people in. When you ask around town where are the best Native crafts, they'll tell you go to Lemon Creek Correctional Center or over to the halfway house."

Tagaban, a Tlingit of the Raven moiety and T'akdeintaan clan, will return with a mix of traditional and contemporary stories based not only on his Alaska heritage but his experience as a Cherokee and Filipino. He also may play a few songs.

"It's important to show people that there are artists out there who are doing something and that many of the artists are healthy people," Tagaban said. "And it's good not only for young people, but adults, to see Native people out there creating good works, having fun, and showing that we're not just walking around in museums, living in blankets.

"The more exposure people have to each other's culture, the more understanding we have of each other," he said.

Mary Kennedy, a UAS student and a Tlingit of the Eagle moiety and the Laxsgiik clan, will discuss Tsimshian weaving techniques and history. Kennedy grew up in Metlakatla. Her parents are from Hartley Bay, British Columbia. She began weaving at age 4 as part of the village's federally funded Indian education program.

She picked up the art again six years ago, and now focuses on Tsimshian and old Haida weaving. Tsimshians weave from the bottom up, and Haidas weave from the top down, she said. Kennedy makes pouches, hats, basketry, button blankets and moccasins. Tsimshian weavers are known for the materials they use, such as red cedar bark and maidenhair fern.

"Some of the designs are very difficult, and the material is hard to work with," Kennedy said.

Beyond Heritage "ties us into our history and who we are," she said. "It helps us identify how important weaving was to the Tsimshian people. They used it for survival. It helped them survive for thousands of years."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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