Alaskans join huge Lower-48 Native art market

A member of the Git Hoan Dancers performs at Celebration 2012. The Tsimshian dance group is part of this weekend’s Santa Fe, N.M., Indian Market. Photo by Brian Wallace, courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.

A Southeast Alaska dance group performs this weekend (Aug. 18-19) at a major Southwest U.S. Native arts event.

The Tsimshian Git Hoan Dancers are part of Alaska’s contribution to the Santa Fe Indian Market. The annual event attracts more than 1,000 Native artists and 100,000 visitors to the New Mexico city.

Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl says the Git Hoan Dancers are very popular at Celebration, a biennial dance-and-culture festival in Juneau.

“When they dance for us at Celebration the hall is filled to maximum capacity,” Worl says. “We have a lot of unhappy people who can’t get inside the door.”

The Git Hoan Dancers at Celebration 2012. Photo by Brian Wallace, courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute

Worl says a number of regional artists, including staff, are also sharing Southeast Native culture at the Indian Market.

“We have a number of students who are attending school down here. So we’ve asked them to join us and they’ll be doing cultural performances, telling stories and … a traditional regalia fashion review using our students and also some of our staff and the products that our staff people have made,” she says.

Worl says the art and performances are part of an effort to reintegrate culture into a largely commercial event.

She says the Alaskans are improving their understanding of Southwest Indian culture. They’re also learning how to better market art to those new to Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian culture.

“This year we ended up developing basic introductory cards about what does a killer whale look like, what does an eye look like, what’s a wing design. Because Northwest Coast art is very distinctive in that it’s built all around these form lines,” she says.

Worl says that fits in with a heritage institute goal of developing small village industries. Products produced so far include woven baskets and sewn moccasins. The institute is also working on traditional items made from sea otter pelts.

The market is operated by the nonprofit Southwestern Association for Indian Arts. This is the second year organizers have invited the institute to participate.

A new song performed at Celebration 2010: “Deer Song,” the gift of

the little doe. (From


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