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Culture Across Generations

Reflections on shared culture across generations.

On October 1st, I visited the Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) in Juneau as part of the Philanthropy Northwest annual conference held in Alaska October 1-3. SHI is a regional Native nonprofit organization founded for the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of Southeast Alaska. The Institute was established in 1980 by Sealaska Corp., a for-profit company formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Dr. Rosita Worl, a cultural anthropologist and president of SHI, is pictured above with her grandson, Rico Worl, along with a traditional handwoven robe. The remarkable story of culture shared by Rosita and Rico across generations is portrayed in the description below taken from the exhibit placard accompanying the robe.

Thunderbird Chilkat Robe

Artist: Jenny Thlunaut

Medium: Yellow cedar bark and mountain goat wool

Date: 1968

Background: This robe was made by Rosita Worl’s precious grandmother, Jenny Thlunaut, in her later years. While Rosita Worl studied at Harvard University this robe was wrapped around her, meaning Rosita became the robe’s caretaker. In addition to the robe being a gift showing a grandmother’s love to her granddaughter, it simultaneously shows the love and close relations between the weaver’s clan, the Kaagwaantaan Clan, and Rosita’s clan, the Shangukeidi Clan. Today Rosita allows her grandson Rico Worl (Tlingit name Lunaat) to wear the robe when dancing, in part because Rico carries the name of Lunaat, the name of the original weaver’s husband. Since the Tinglut reuse and pass down the names within the clan structure, the spirit of the weaver’s husband Lunaat goes with Rico, allowing Lunaat to reconnect with his wife’s work.

Chilkat robes have been woven by the Tlingit for centuries. Most robes embody the Tlingit principles of at.oow and shuka, which entail both metaphysical and actual concepts that connect the robe and its design to Tlingit spirituality, history, geographic location, and the principles of clan ownership. This relationship and connection of the Tlingit name Lunaat makes this situation all the more special and spiritual.