Culture festival in Petersburg demonstrates significance of Tlingit regalia

Tina Sakamoto from Petersburg receives a headband during the Séet Ká festival in Petersburg. The headband was made at the festival by Kanik Corinne James from Juneau. Tying the blindfold is James’ mother, Daxkilatch Sheeyik Kolene James. Avery Herrman Sakamoto of Petersburg (with drum) and Kaasei Naomi Michalsen of Ketchikan look on.

Regalia is an important part of Tlingit culture. This was demonstrated at the Séet Ká Festival in Petersburg, where experienced seamstresses and beginners sat together to create headbands in a workshop.

St. Petersburg elder Mary Ann Rainey stands at a long table in the John Hanson Sr. Community Hall. She holds badges she has made for Native students who will be graduating from high school.

“I make them for seniors,” Rainey said. “Not that elaborate. I put diamonds on theirs. I put eagle’s head and raven’s head on theirs. And they can embellish it themselves.

It is made of black and red wool felt with patterns she created. It is long and thin, meant to drape around someone’s neck and down the front. She sews by hand, not by machine.

“I call these shawls,” Rainey said. “Instead of a blanket because a button blanket, with 18 grandkids, I could never do that.”

Rainey also makes traditional handicrafts from cedar bark that she harvests and processes. But she says she would like to know more about the Tlingit badges.

“There are so many things I want to learn that if you don’t have a teacher here, you have to learn on your own or try to improvise,” she said. “I watch a lot. Now there are videos you can see. But you know, you do what you can.

Mary Ann Rainey of Petersburg holds a shawl she made. She participated in the Intro to Regalia and Headbands workshop of the Séet Ká Festival. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

Not everyone here is as experienced as Rainey.

Kanik Corinne James is seated nearby, hunched over a headband she is sewing with a needle and thread. She’s from Juneau and she came to the Petersburg Festival with her parents, who are instructors at this insignia workshop. They are cultural educators at the University of Alaska Southeast, but they are at the festival through the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, also based in Juneau.

James has sewn badges before, but she says this genre is new to her.

“It’s actually the first time I’ve made a headband,” Corinne said. “So I’m kind of like a student in this workshop.”

Corinne’s mother, Daxkilatch Sheeyik Kolene James, is also present.

Kolene says that her adopted name links her to the Petersburg region and that she is happy to bring the beginning of insignia making to the Séet Ká festival.

“For people looking to get back into badge making if maybe they’ve taken a long hiatus,” said Kolene James. “And so we’re just honored to be here.”

The headbands are in black and red wool decorated with buttons.

“Shá is a piece that is worn so that we can represent our clans or moieties,” said Xeetli.ésh Lyle James, Kolene’s husband.

He says details matter in badges. The buttons are abalone; a trade item that stretched for hundreds of miles across Southeast Alaska, the Northwest Coast, and beyond.

Corinne James from Juneau works on a headband in an Intro to Regalia and Headbands class at the Séet Ká Festival, held February 10-15 in Petersburg. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

“The meaning of the colors or even the placement of the buttons can quite often express which clan we come from or which community we come from,” said Lyle James. “And it’s important for us to express who we are and where we come from. And that was thanks to our At.’oow. And At.’oow is a clan-owned item.

These clan badges or items are released to elevate the opposites of the half. So the Ravens support the Eagles and vice versa. It gets more complicated with clans and how people are related.

This insignia workshop is in its second day. When Corinne James finishes her headband, she presents it to Tina Sakamoto from Petersburg. It’s an emotional moment for her.

“When I started it, I knew it wasn’t mine,” Corinne James said. “Your validation of my artwork meant a lot. So I wanted to thank you. Gunalchesh.

Petersburg eldest Mary Ann Rainey was also serenaded with a new headband from Kolene James.

The Séet Ká Festival was held from February 10 to 15 in Saint Petersburg.

Darcy J. Skinner