Learning Tlingit culture through action figures

Ginny Potts plays with the action figure she made out of chenille stems. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/ KTOO)

Ishmael Hope tells a Tlingit story about how Raven brought freshwater to the land from the clan house exhibit at the Alaska State Museum. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/ KTOO)

The overbooked Tlingit storytelling and action figure program was for kids in kindergarten and elementary school. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/ KTOO)

Volunteer Judy Sherburne led a station where kids put together spruce root hats for their action figures. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/ KTOO)

Einar Sharpe assembles a Tlingit-style drum featuring a formline design. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/ KTOO)

While many were still shopping Friday, a workshop for kids to make Tlingit-themed action figures was overbooked at the Alaska State Museum.

The free program was part of a series of workshops that the Friends of the Alaska State Museum pays for through a youth activity grant from the City and Borough of Juneau.


There were 50 slots for kindergarten- and elementary school-aged children at the event Friday afternoon.

Surrounded by Tlingit and Haida artifacts in the clan house exhibit of the state museum, Native storyteller Ishmael Hope kicked things off. He told a Tlingit story about how Raven brought freshwater to the land.

Hope said it was an apt setting.

“To have something that relates a little bit to it being inside this beautiful clan house, it’s the at.óow, it’s the sacred objects of the Gaanaxteidí clan, the frog house, Xíxch’i hít. And so I wanted to have some sense of being in that clan house,” he said.

As a storyteller and a listener, Hope said knowing and communicating the words and beats of a story is only part of challenge.

“You need to be in the physical presence of the elder to really, really get it,” he said.

After the story, the kids were off to a series of crafting stations around the museum where they made miniature Tlingit items and regalia.

Trevor Daniels was running a hair dryer over a paper basket about the size of a big toe. He was drying the stain he brushed on earlier that gave it a more natural color.

“There’s glue and coffee mixed in. I got some on my fingers and it’s pretty sticky,” Daniels said.

All of the items were roughly scaled to fit to a man-shaped action figure they made out of fuzzy chenille stems (or pipe cleaners).

Each child left with a 1-gallon Ziploc bag with their own personal action figure and accessories.

Cahal Burnham, 9, ran through the contents of his bag.

“I have a sailor style hat, umm, and a drum with a Native American pattern on it. Raven tail robe, a beaded robe. And I have a dance paddle and that’s about it,” he said.

He said his favorite part was making the action figure itself.

Museum visitor services manager Lisa Golisek coordinated the workshop. She says they’ve been going on for at least 15 years, and the action figures are always very popular. This time around, she had to turn away about 25 kids.

The next workshop is December 27. Pre-registration is required.