At toddler review, the story’s in the regalia

Celebration event steeps young people in culture

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled several names. The article has been corrected.


Five-year-old McKayla Paul, of the Deisheetaan (Beaver Clan), took to the stage naturally at Thursday’s Celebration 2018 Toddler Regalia Review. Her face wide with a smile, she twirled in a red-and-black traditional blanket made by her auntie, holding down front and center stage with confidence, her expecting mother Erica George behind her.

Every piece of her traditional outfit — a bib embroidered with beaded dragonflies, an octopus purse embellished by images of flowers and kelp, a headband and a robe signifying nobility — tells a story of heritage, pride and clan history.

Take the dragonflies. The story goes that when the Deisheetaan were in a clan war, Paul’s grandmother Victoria Milton explained, a guard overlooking the clan at night became drowsy. Dragonflies pecked at the guard’s face, keeping him awake, Milton said.

“It was a signification to us that the dragonfly had saved us during that time, so we claimed it,” Milton said.

The dragonflies are also just cool, Paul said, “Cause they fly around.”

Paul’s robe marks her as a member of the noble class, Milton went on. There were three different classes, blue blood, common and a slave class, Milton said. “We come from what is called blue blood, that’s who we are,” Milton said.

Others at the 2018 review had their own stories to tell. Elizabeth Awasti George-Frank, all of 3 years old, wore a Chilkat blanket woven by her mother Shgen George. Chilkat weaving is an ancient, painstakingly-intricate style of weaving that was once nearly lost to history.

Thanks in part to a revival in Chilkat weaving, new practitioners like Shgen have learned the art from a small group of master weavers. Shgen learned how to weave the blanket, her first, recently from local weaver Clarissa Rizal. It’s adorned with a glacier pattern, an important image for the family’s Daklaweidi (Killer Whale) heritage. The buttons on the blanket represent bubbles mentioned in an important clan song.

With her sister Gabbi George-Frank beside her, Elizabeth displayed the blanket in front of a packed Centennial Hall crowd.

Shgen is proud of her children, and the event is a great opportunity to show them off, she said. But the toddler review is also a way to steep the next generation of Native culture bearers in their ancient way of life, Shgen said. “Surrounding our children with their culture is so important. Being at Celebration is a great opportunity to immerse our kids in song and dance,” she said.

Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida people from far and wide come to Celebration to do just that. Canadian Cherish Clarke and Mike Rudyk, inland Tlingit with ties to Juneau, as Clarke put it, brought their children Jett Rudyk and Mariella Wentzell from Whitehorse, Yukon to Juneau for the event. Mike rode three days in a canoe for the unofficial canoe landing start.

Jett, 3, who has been given the traditional name Da Ke (or Speaker), represented the family on stage. Clarke and Mariella, both also dressed in regalia, stood by his side.

The Rudyk-Clarke family is Yanyeidi, or Wolf Clan. Clarke said their regalia ties the whole family history together. She wore slippers matching Jett and Mariella’s, gifted to her when her father died in October. Bracelets honored her parents on one arm, and Mike, her husband, on the other.

“You have so many people that love you who work on your regalia. It’s one of our most prized possessions,” Clarke said.

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.


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