Eechdaa Dave Ketah, who was born in Ketchikan, now lives in Portland, OR. Despite living away from Lingít aaní, Ketah has been connecting with his heritage by taking online classes offered at SHI and UAS, visiting his father’s people in Klawock to learn to carve and by attending Celebration in person in 2022.
Tales from the trail
Photos and Text by Eechdaa Dave Ketah
At SHI we take our mission to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures very seriously. When we hear from people who have been affected by what we do, it makes our day. This letter from Dave Ketah made our year. Thank you, Dave, for writing to us. On days like this, we feel we are doing our ancestors proud, because of you. Happy holidays everyone!
Sh yáa awudinéix’í,
I want to express my profound appreciation to SHI (and Sealaska) for making my heritage available to me.
I was born and raised in Ketchikan, and my fatherʼs people come from Klawock. I now live in Portland, OR, and have lived outside Lingít aaní for many years. As such, I have experienced separation from my heritage, culture, and people. Over the years, my longing to connect led to searching bookstores and the internet. My efforts were largely fruitless, and often very limited in success. I would become discouraged and settle back into life as it is outside home.
In May 2020, I was able to take a Beginning Formline class online offered by SHI. My life changed course because of it. I became deeply immersed in practicing the art form. Then, I discovered that my great-grandfather was the lead carver of the totem park in Klawock when it was created in the 1930ʼs. I also began taking Lingít yóo x̱ʼatángi classes through UAS online.
In the spring of 2021, SHI made an Intermediate Formline class available, and I participated. In the summer of 2021, I made a "pilgrimage" to Klawock to begin learning carving. I was blessed by the generosity of Jon Rowan as he taught me how to carve a mask. I also was able to visit the site of my grandmotherʼs village called Sʼeek Heení on Heceta Island. Archaeologists estimate that site to have been inhabited for 8,000 years until they were forced out in the 1900ʼs.
Last summer, I attended Celebration for the first time, and it was among the greatest events of my life. It inspired me very deeply to lean even further into my heritage.
Because SHI made learning the art of my ancestors available and made Celebration an event that I could attend, I feel continually connected to Haa Ḵusteeyí, despite my distance physically. Even today, the release of the Origin of Celebration film, brought many tears of joy as I worked on painting a drum.
Eechdaa Dave Ketah took a Beginning Formline class online through SHI and says that “My life course changed because of it.” After becoming immersed in the artform, Ketah discovered his great-grandfather had been the lead carver of the totem park in Klawock, created in the 1930s.
As we know, "gunalchéesh" translates to English as "it would not be possible without you", so I offer a hearty gunalchéesh!
Please share this with anyone that needs to know how life-changing your work really is.
Gunalchéesh ax x’éit yiysa.aaxi,
Eechdaa Dave Ketah