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Tlingit weaver Clarissa Rizal passes away

The world has lost another luminary. It is with great sadness that we note the passing of the renowned Chilkat and Ravenstail weaver Clarissa Rizal, a Raven of the T’akdeintaan (black-legged Kittywake) Clan.

Not so long ago, we were in danger of losing the knowledge on how to make our sacred Chilkat weavings. We as Native people owe a debt of gratitude to Clarissa for mastering our sacred art traditions and for teaching others to weave. Clarissa trained under the late master weaver Jennie Thlunaut, and Clarissa has said that she made a promise to Jennie at that time: She would help revive Chilkat weaving through workshops and apprenticeships. It was a promise Clarissa kept.

This year she spearheaded an effort to create “Weavers Across the Waters”—a Chilkat and Ravenstail robe made by forty-one weavers. The weavers donated small, square, woven panels, which Clarissa wove together into a robe. It was unveiled in Hoonah in celebration of a new clan house in Glacier Bay National Park. Later, as a National Endowment for the Arts fellow, she placed the robe on President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. It is in part a tribute to her, and a testament to her efforts to revitalize weaving, that so many people were able to contribute to the project.

In her effort to pass on her knowledge, she also authored “Jennie Weaves an Apprentice – A Chilkat Weavers’ Handbook,” which received a HAIL (Honoring Alaska’s Indigenous Literature) award in 2008. Of course, her weavings and other artworks also have received many accolades and awards, including two Best of Show honors from SHI’s biennial Juried Art Competition.

Most recently, she organized the presentation “Weavers Present: The Revival of Northwest Coast Textiles,” which was held at Sealaska Heritage during Celebration 2016. (Video: It was clear then that the many weavers who presented looked to Clarissa as a mentor who had passed on her knowledge to them.

She left us too soon, and we will miss her generous spirit and vivacious nature. But she will continue to be with us through her robes that will be danced and participate in ceremonies. We are grieving the loss of her, but we are happy to have known her and grateful for the work she did on this Earth.

(Photo by Brian Wallace)

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research and advocacy that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars and a Native Artists Committee. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.