Models young and not-so-young showed off traditional Tlingit clothing and accessories on Thursday night at a fashion show at the Haines library.
The fashion show, complete with a red carpet of sorts, drew a couple dozen people to the library on Thursday. It featured models donning traditional Tlingit regalia including bear-claw headdresses, gopher-fur robes, and many other intricately carved, woven, and beaded pieces.
Jessie Morgan is the education and cultural coordinator at the Haines library.
“I just wanted to show off people’s at.óowu, which in Tlingit means treasured clan objects,” she says. “I wanted to show people this amazing art form that Tlingits use to show off and dance at potlatches and honor their ancestors. I just thought it would be a fun way for the public to learn.”
The pieces were gathered from all around the Chilkat Valley and the Yukon.
“Button blankets, Chilkat robes, hats, drums, rattles, daggers, purses, octopus bags … they’ll see it all,” Morgan says.
“A lot of the symbols that you see on Tlingit regalia is clan crests, so they’re wearing animals that represent the clan that they belong to.”
Morgan says a member of the opposite clan is responsible for making traditional clothing.
“So, if you’re a raven, then someone from the eagle clan should be making your at.óowu.”
Lee Heinmiller was the emcee. He also supplied a lot of the historic regalia. Before the show, he carefully displayed some of the pieces.
“This is one is called Raven of the Roof, since everyone sees them on the roof,” he says. “The original is in the UPenn museum and collected by Louis Shotridge. In the early years, my dad made this copy of it, so this is slightly different from the original, the original has human ears on the raven on either side, but it does have the copper eyebrows.”
Heinmiller says a couple of the masks at Thursday’s event date back to the ‘50s, while some of the woven pieces are much older.
After the show, the models posed for pictures and talked to curious residents.
“If we share our regalia, then people have a little more respect and understanding,” says Harriet Brouillette. She says a lot of times people just don’t understand the significance of a crest or design when they wear it on a shirt or handbag.
“It’s really important to understand things like that. Crests are owned by certain clans, and if you don’t know that, and maybe you’re copying or borrowing a design, you could get yourself in a lot of trouble.”
Exploiting traditional clothing and styles because it’s trendy, otherwise known as cultural appropriation, mostly comes down to ignorance, she says.
“When their regalia, something that’s very important to them, is used as a costume or as something trendy, fashion wise, it’s a little bit degrading.”
She says, sharing culture through events like the Tlingit fashion show helps educate people, as well as entertain.