Project: Yakutat Tlingit Tribe House Front Project
Grantee: Yakutat Tlingit Tribe
Written by: Gloria Wolfe
In 2017 the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe was awarded a Journey to What Matters grant to create a formline-style house front at the site of the tribe’s culture camp. Local artist, Loretta Nelson was the lead artist and instructor for the project. Her design emulates the story of the people of Yakutat. She drew the crests of all of the Tlingit clans who live in Yakutat today. Her drawings show the majestic Waas’éitushaa – Mount Saint Elias, which is visible from almost all angles of Yakutat as it towers 18,008 ft., straight out of the cold waters. She incorporated the bountiful icy waves and rivers that bring nourishment to the Tlingit. She also included a large copper called a tinaa, which remains an essential form of currency for the Yakutat people; it is found all around Yakutat and often traded to surrounding villages and clans as it is a symbol of the wealth, strength and love for the Tlingit land, resources and people. This story is a reflection of Nelson’s upbringing and reflects Tlingit values of the land resources and the Tlingit people of Yakutat.
For the majority of the campers and students, this was their first introduction to formline; for those who have had experience with formline this was their first opportunity to work on a large piece of artwork. All of the students knew it would be kept at their beloved Culture Camp site on the girls cabin.
They often spoke of the pride they have in partaking in an old tradition of telling the story of the people in Yakutat out on the Situk River. The campers have loved the Situk River fish camp site and the fairly new Culture Camp site, but they spoke of their new feeling of ownership of the land.
Of all the times the elders and family members of the Tlingit youth shared history of the traditional ownership of the Yakutat area, it hasn’t been until they painted the story of their family and can hang it for all to see atSituk, that they feel closer to owning their ancestral homeland.