Crystal A. Rogers, whose Tlingit names are Yankawgé and Ghunaxhdují Tláa, comes from a long line of women descending from Yáay Hít (the Humpback Whale house) of the L’uknaxh.ádi (Raven Coho clan) indigenous to Ghunaxhóo Khwáan (Dry Bay in Southeast Alaska). She is the child of a German/Irish man who immigrated t… Read More
Crystal A. Rogers, whose Tlingit names are Yankawgé and Ghunaxhdují Tláa, comes from a long line of women descending from Yáay Hít (the Humpback Whale house) of the L’uknaxh.ádi (Raven Coho clan) indigenous to Ghunaxhóo Khwáan (Dry Bay in Southeast Alaska). She is the child of a German/Irish man who immigrated to the US from Germany and became a citizen at the age of 12. She is the grandchild of the Chookaneidí of Xunaa (the Eagle Brown Bear clan of Hoonah) and a great-grandchild of the Aakhw Khwáan Wooshkeetaan (the Eagle Shark clan of Auke Bay). She lives in Juneau, Alaska, where she designed and completed an independent bachelor’s degree in indigenous studies at the University of Alaska Southeast.
Crystal’s art is inseparable from her Native identity, and deeply rooted in her sense of social justice. Her artistic spirit first began to flourish at Portland Community College, where she worked with a cohort of students to create a vibrant activist community on campus. She planned and organized cultural events of all sizes, and immersed herself in social justice theater. It was this combination of activism and theater that enabled her to develop and express her voice of advocacy for disenfranchised communities.
Returning home with an awakened sense of purpose, she immediately became enamored with her Tlingit language, and dove into the burgeoning language revitalization movement. She found herself within a series of oratory performances both in Tlingit and in English. It was the Lingít language that led her to Chilkat weaving. While searching for a powerful speech to recite for a local Native oratory competition, she came across “Welcome Speech,” given in Haines in 1985. This elder declared that although she was at the end of her life, she was happy that the young people were eager to learn what she called “this weaving I was blessed with.”
Unbeknownst to Crystal at the time, that elder—Shaax’saani Kéek’, Jennie Thlunaut—was the last traditional Chilkat weaver, and among the young people she was referring to was Clarissa Rizal—the woman who, in just a few months, would become Crystal’s weaving teacher.
She practiced and performed “Welcome Speech” over a hundred times, trying to invoke the spirit of the woman who spoke these words when Crystal was two years old. She placed 1st and 2nd in the Native Language and Dramatic Declamation categories, respectively, both in the regional and statewide competitions. Four months later, after she had all but forgotten the competition, her spirit became restless and would not find peace until she found herself in front of a Chilkat loom, working on her first project. Crystal knew immediately that she would pursue this practice the rest of her life.
Although she is still apprenticing in Chilkat and Ravenstail, Crystal has come to learn that those who hear the calling from their ancestors and decide to make a lifelong commitment to this heritage art form is already a “weaver.” Weaving is not her livelihood, but a basis for an entire way of life. She strives to embody the “rules” passed on by Jennie for Chilkat weaving, which include humility of ego, purification and strengthening of spirit, and a strict and efficient discipline for taking care of all one’s responsibilities.
First and foremost, Crystal is an indigenous weaver, and from this ancient practice, Crystal is branching off into many modern, yet complementary forms of art. She has received training in drawing to prepare her for designing Chilkat projects, and in digital photography that she will begin using to design and take portrait photographs of other weavers. The classes she has taken in moccasin and sea otter sewing has propelled her into developing a business partnership that has a contemporary Native fashion and jewelry line in the works. She finds no limit to her expansion into other art forms, both traditional and trendy, which she endeavors to weave into an integrated way of living. Read Less
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