Alaska Native weaving project honors survivors of violence
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Lily Hope and her family are continuing her mother’s work for an important cause.
The daughter of late acclaimed Chilkat and Ravenstail weaver Clarissa Rizal, Hope is an award-winning Tlingit weaver and weaving teacher who is now leading a new project called the Giving Strength Robe.
Dozens of Chilkat and Ravenstail weavers from all over North America will be weaving 5-inch-by-5-inch squares to create one traditional indigenous robe, a blanket-like garment worn over the shoulders. Once completed, the robe will be given to Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE), Juneau’s gender-inclusive shelter for survivors of gender-based violence.
“I think (my mother) would say, ‘Doesn’t this speak to the generosity of spirit of the weaving community and the community as a whole?’” Hope said in a phone interview. “We’re all giving our time to make collaborative art with a purpose.”
The project is the first effort by Spirit Uprising, a new nonprofit pursuing 501(c)(3) status that Hope and her family started to perpetuate the ancient art of weaving.
Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving are complex art forms traditionally practiced by Northwest Coast Alaska Native peoples, and make use of hand-twined textiles.
Hope said she got the idea for this robe after she saw a Facebook post in a Ravenstail and Chilkat Weaving Facebook group about work dedicated to survivors of domestic violence. The purpose of the robe is to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence in Alaska, and hopefully inspire positive feelings in survivors.
“We’re all touched by it,” Hope said. “It’s in our villages and communities.”
She added, “We want to be bringing healing to those who may put this (robe) on their shoulders.”
Hope enlisted the help of her sister Ursala Hudson and aunt Deanna Lampe to get the project going, and put the call out to artists. The response was great, she said. More than 60 weavers from all over Alaska (including artists in Juneau, Anchorage, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Klawock, Sitka, Yakutat, Kake) committed to participating. Responses came in from other states, provinces and territories, too. Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, New Mexico, British Columbia and Yukon will also be weaving squares.
Hope and her family sent out kits to the weavers that included materials, warp and west spun from merino wool. The effort was funded through contributions from weavers.
“Everybody donated or bought a kit for $50,” Lampe said. “We’re hoping to crowdfund some kind of a booklet that could be published with every weaver’s photograph and a short biography.”
So far about 16 squares have arrived in Juneau and several more are on their way to the capital city. All the squares will be in a teal, purple and white color palette.
“It’s been cool to see them come in,” Hope said.
Although this is the first project for their budding nonprofit Spirit Uprising, it’s not the first time Hope and her family have done a collaborative weaving project. Hope’s mother Rizal previously headed Weavers Across the Waters Community Robe project.
About 40 weavers contributed to that project, which was first used in a ceremony in August 2016 before Rizal’s passing in December of that year. Hope led the completion of a bottom row and border for that robe, and it was finished in 2017.
Hope, Hudson and Lampe were all involved in that project that was
“I called my sister and said, ’Isn’t it about time we did another collaborative robe?” Hope said, adding, “We were all like, ‘I guess we’re going to do this again.’”
She said her mother likely would have thought they were crazy for attempting such a stressful, involved undertaking again.
“I think that she would say, ’Didn’t you learn how much work that was last time? Ha ha ha,” Hope said enunciating each laugh.
Weavers helping with the Giving Strength Robe were instructed by Hope to approach their work with thoughts of resilience, healing and compassion for survivors of domestic violence, rather than righteous anger directed at perpetrators of violence.
“It’s important to come to weaving with grace, strength and positive thoughts,” Hope said. “When we are in a state of rage or coming at it with more anger than peace, we don’t weave.”
Saralyn Tabachnick, Executive Director for AWARE, said she is moved by the project and its intentions.
“AWARE is deeply touched about this project, and honored to be the recipient of such generous, thoughtful and caring weavers,” Tabachnick said. “We are super grateful and fortunate to have Lily Hope in our community, building community and providing leadership. The depth and breadth of this project and the process is inspiring.”
Lampe said she didn’t hesitate when her niece asked if she wanted to participate.
“It’s for a good cause,” Lampe said. “We all know the stats of domestic violence. Plus, we all know somebody who knows somebody.”
An average of 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the U.S., according to statistics compiled by the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Nearly 30 percent of women and 10 percent of men have experienced one of those forms of domestic violence.
The robe is also meant to be a companion piece of sorts for Tlingit master carver Wayne Price’s healing totem pole for AWARE, which is similarly intended to bring awareness to gender-based violence and healing to its survivors.
The pole is expected to be raised this spring, but the robe will be coming later this year.
“We wanted to have it done at the same time, but it’s just not realistic,” Hope said.
When the Giving Strength Robe is completed, Hope said there will be a reception and first dance for the garment, “so it can come alive and have the spirit of dance put into it.”