Creating Living Legacies


Gusts of wind at Monument Valley, near Kayenta, New Mexico — March 2016 — photo by Rene Sioui Labelle

When we are young, many of us do not think in terms of the legacy we leave behind for our children, friends, family, community and the world.  When we are young we are looking forward to all that life has to offer and we make choices based on our desires; this is natural way to think and be.  Then one day, when we are much older than young (and for each individual that age varies), we reflect upon our lives; all those who we have come to love, the places we have lived, the work we have done, and our basic yet evolving character.  We think about our pending mortality.  We think about what we will do, and where we will be with whatever time we have left.  We think about who we have become and what we have accomplished and the who, what, and where these things will be when we pass.  Yesterday my daughter, Lily wrote me a touching letter of gratitude for showing her the way and life of Chilkat weaving.  The following is my response to her:

My Lily Lalanya:

With each of my children and their children, I leave a part of my legacy; it’s the who and what I am about.

With Kahlil, I leave a variety of my artwork:  painting, collage, weaving

With Ursala, I leave my home, studio, garden

With you, I leave my teachings of spirituality, values and technique of  the spiritual/artistic life in Chilkat weaving

Know and come to understand fully all these things are rooted in love.  Everything I co-create is created from love and the best of these creations are my children; my children are my greatest legacy.   In love you were created and creation continues to create you in love.  Look about you and all that you are and be; look at all that you have co-created as you will never create any of what you are and have by yourself — all of creation is co-created…we never create alone. 

We are a culmination of all that has been before, what is now and the future all at once in one small creation:  the I of who we are in this very moment.  All of us are legacies of everyone who has come before us.

It is well you, my dear Lily, are in the love and power of Chilkat; let it continue to guide you in goodness and wellness for many, many years to come.  

Yo Mamma love

Visiting 1000’s at the Botanical Gardens


Checking out the most delicate of trees — photos by Rene Sioui LaBelle and Clarissa Rizal — copyright March 2016

Nature naturally inspires the human being to become more than cave folk, huddlums and geeks.  The Great Creator God wanted to speed up all of creativity because God was impatient to experience more of what is and will become and needed more “hands” so voile’, humans were born!   Everything we create is God-born and bred, even our messes, catastrophes, and you name it, violent.  Nature is consistently violated, yet nature too is violent.   Nature and God work hand in hand; we have one born of another, the Great Creator.  The duality of the glorified magnificence and the degenerating demise of Nature, mankind and all of creation is the IS.   Let’s experiment with our perceptions:  The eyes in which we see our Creator are the same eyes our Creator sees us.  If we were to think this upon everything we see, then how would we be perceived by every plant, bug, animal, human and the Creator?

The following photographs are mine and Rene’s photos taken during our day trip to the Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, Arizona.  As we saw all that we saw, how was it for the rest of this creation to see us?

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The View Out Back


From the back yard Looking North to the San Juan Mountains first hard frost, Pagosa Springs, Colorado – October 2015

Every day (that I am not in Alaska), the past 22 years I look to these Mountains out back.

I look at them as if they will move.

In a way they do move.

They move me.


First snow of the year, the view out back looking North to the San Juan Mountains, Pagosa Springs, Colorado – moving into December 2015

Hard to imagine living anywhere without the mountains.  I am about to do that for at least a year in Oklahoma.  How will I manage without these pillars of grounded strength?  We’ll see….


The Human Race: Growing Up A Mutt

It is my father’s birthday today; he would have been 86.  Happy Birthday Dad!

I reflected back upon my childhood growing up with men who were straight out of Japan, China, the Philippines.  Many came to Alaska the past 100 years, like my maternal grandfather who was Filipino/Tibetan, and directly after WWII, a flood of Filipino men came to Alaska, my father was amongst them.  These men married the Native women; they rarely married women who were not indigenous.

Most of the Asian men spoke broken English, though there were a few who knew no other language but their own.  A few learned the indigenous languages though everyone, including the indigenous people like my Alaskan relatives, were forced to learn English; and we were not allowed to speak our own.  So English was the “common” language that we all had to learn in order to communicate and “get along.”

Like I said, it was not until a friend mentioned his experience in Korea most recently where he was not even looked at, not acknowledged once they saw that he was a foreigner — that got me to thinking and reflecting back.  I wanted to “see” his viewpoint.

It is true.  They don’t look at you when they see you are a foreigner.

Basically, no matter what country in Asia from which they are from, they generally do not acknowledge foreigners.  Why is that?

It has been my experience, Asians tend to “stick to their own kind” — even in modern times.  Why make relationships complicated with cultural differences?  Relationships are already complex and we make it complicated when we inter-marry.  Even in the Alaskan Filipino communities, now that their own women come to the United States in this modern day, they stay away from any other nationality, they associate only with one another.

I remember how in my childhood, those of us who were “mestizos”  felt awkward being amongst the “pure-bred” Filipino kids and their families whenever there was a Filipino community event.  They didn’t really “look at us.”  At the time, we did not understand why we so-called “half-breeds” felt “funny” in their presence.   it wasn’t until many years later as an adult that I came to understood what that was all about.  While the indigenous people of our land were wide open yet cautious of the foreigners, when they gained our trust, they became a part of our communities.  Yet the Asians always tended to keep themselves apart.  Even though it was the Native women (who were married to the Asian men) who worked hard to raise funds to buy a building in downtown Juneau for a Filipino community to host their events, there is little to no acknowledgement from the Filipinos.  Asians have a very strong sense of pride.  It’s that strong pride that is a strength and it is the part that sets them apart.

Part of why they tend to “stick to their own kind” is because the Asian communities tend to be very tight.  They are community-oriented.  They take care of one another; they think in terms of helping one another excel, to help support one another, and to help rejoice.  If one grieves, they all grieve; if one has achieved something, they celebrate as if each individual achieved the honor.  They speak the same language.  They have the same sense of humor, their foods tie them together, they enjoy the familiarity.  They tend to steer away from the “different.”  If you are different, they are shy of differences, they are cautious.  They cannot relate, so why force relating?

My father was the youngest of the Filipino men who came to Alaska after the war and married an indigenous woman.  Although he became friends with the indigenous men, he continued his life-long friendships with all of the Filipino men.  Over the years, one by one, he buried his comrades.  Pretty soon there were only the offspring of these men he could relate to if any of them spoke the Filipino language.  He missed being able to speak his language daily.  He felt very alone and as each year passed, he buried himself in his gardening.  And although there were more Filipinos migrating to Alaska, they were young, arrogant men and women who he took no interest for whatever reasons.  He could not relate to them.   When my father died, an era died with him; he was the last.  None of his friends were there at his memorial, though all of his friends’ children and grandchildren were in attendance.  We all knew we were the offspring of a by-gone era.

Even though my nationalities are comprised mainly of Asian blood (Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian), I am not fully accepted.  They will glance at me and wonder what I am and once they find out that I am indeed part Asian, they rejoice that I am part Asian blood, but only for a brief moment am I acceptable;  still there is that arms-length distance because my blood, in their eyes, has been “tainted” with indigenous blood, and Jewish blood and Norwegian and Finnish blood.

And of all the Asian nationalities, I have found that the Filipino people are more accepting than any other.  The Filipino are more joyful, playful and not as harshly judgmental.  Though they still keep to their own and rarely “stray” to inter-marry, at least nowadays they will look upon you.

There is no way around it; I find that Asians are hard-core when it comes to identity.  It’s just in their blood.  And I understand them.  That hard-core identity is also in my blood.

I have no judgement about the way things are or were; it just was and it just is.  In my mind, combined with the awareness of simultaneous lives and if we go back far enough, the fact that we are a mixture of bloods, I figure we are all mutts, so when it comes right down to it, there is one human race, THEN there are nationalities of cultures.

Danielle of Danielle’s

Heading north to Telluride, Colorado

Towards Telluride


A woman as you were not born of man’s legendary rib

Nor from any salt of this earth


A cosmic slipstream bore your name and called you forth way before

The first sun melted mist from the birth of a new island


You walked barefoot amongst the thorns in the wounded wood

Even honoring all those who fell


You and innocence were one with the pines and the willow

And mountains and rooftops could hear you whisper


Even so you planted seeds in protected soil sprouting rainbows

That arched their backs to reflect all divine light rooted in love


Even so child-like laughter blossomed forever in the sound of your name

Above yellow above green above blue above purple


Curtains could keep us separated from a woman like you

Though you moved between the lines with grace, respect and honor


Curtains gathered aside you made pillars of them flexible in the wind

Defining the space of what is and what isn’t


Where are we to come now where are we to go as you have flown higher

Leaving hearts broken but not broken worn but not worn


Where you come from to where you go we will follow in our due time

Upon that cosmic slipstream bearing your name our names forever named


—Clarissa R.  in honor of Danielle C.



Clarissa’s Interview for New Mexico PBS “Colores”

Clarissa weaves "Copper Man" Ravenstail ceremonial dance robe - 2006

Clarissa weaves “Copper Man” Ravenstail ceremonial dance robe – 2006

The New Mexico PBS “Colores” television series recently posted their youtube video clip on me and my work.  Most of the film clips was shot by my son, Kahlil Hudson, with in-studio interview by KTOO radio station in Juneau, and most of the still shots of my Chilkat and button blanket robes were photographed by Jeff Laydon.   The video clip is about 8 minutes:  

Northwest Coast Artist Gathering


What is an artist gathering without breakfast!? L to R: Teri Rofkar, Diane Douglas-Willard, Delores Churchill, Allison Bremner, David Boxley, Jr., Nathan Jackson, Wayne Price, Jerrod Galanin, Israel Shotridge, Sue Shotridge

What is the purpose of a small group of large egos coming together in a cozy space  for two full days have to do with creating art?


L to R: Lily Hope, Sue and Israel Shotridge, Wayne Price, Jeremiah James, Allison Bremner, David Boxley, Jr., Delores Churchill, Gordon Greenwald, Deborah Head, Da-ka-xeen Mehner

The Sealaska Heritage Institute sponsored it’s first Northwest Coast Artist Gathering to seek advice from approximately 26 Sealaska shareholder (or descendants of shareholder) artists for their Native Artist Program.   Some of the programs include:  the SHI Retail Shop, the Native Artist Market held during the bi-ennial Celebration, the Apprentice/Mentorship Program, and the most recent proposal of the Dugout Canoe Project.


L to R: Allison Bremner, Crystal Worl, David Boxley, Jr., Wayne Price, Nathan Jackson, Da-ka-xeen Mehner, Clarissa Rizal, Steven Jackson, Jeremiah James, Preston Singletary

I think that I can speak for most if not all of us, that it was an honor for all of us to be in the presence of one another while we touched upon a number of subjects having to do with the creation of art, the passing on of the knowledge, and the marketing of our work while still maintaining a sense of balance in our lives within the basis of our Native spirituality.  I think all of us had a good time getting to know one another since we come from many different backgrounds and communities along the Northwest Coast of this continent.  I know that all of us felt that natural high of being in the same room with one another and having the opportunity to share ideas and inspire one another during our breakfasts and lunches together.  Thank you to Sealaska Heritage Institute for putting together a fine Gathering.


Wayne Price explains the method to his madness of his adz work in the new Walter Soboleff Center  to: Steve and Nathan Jackson, David Boxley, Jr., and Da-ka-xeen Mehner

Back in 1981, I was hired (as the 5th employee) of Sealaska Heritage Institute as their Scholarship Coordinator.  There was Executive Director David Katzeek, Secretary Lisa Sarabia, Scholarship Coordinator Mary McNeil who was training me to take her position, and my Aunt Katherine Mills who was recording our language and many of the Native stories and songs that eventually Dick and Nora Dauenhauer transcribed and translated into written books published by SHI.  The Bi-ennial “Celebration” had not even been created yet, though in 1981 there was a gathering of the elders who at that time felt there needed to be an event which provided an opportunity for the sharing of the oratory, the stories, history and legends, and the song and dance.  Hence, Celebration began in 1982.


Guest Artist, Aleutique carver Perry Eaton explains the invite to the French exhibit in 2016,   L to R Rosita Worl, Preston Singeltary, Holli Churchill, Lily Hope and Rico Worl.

Rosita Worl has been at the helm of Sealaska Heritage Institute for the past 17 years.  I have watched SHI grow into the institute that it has become.  As I said in my introduction at the gathering, although I don’t agree with some of Rosita’s business  tactics, I commend her on the dedication she has towards making things happen at SHI, not to mention her dream of creating the beautiful Walter Soboleff Building that now houses the inner workings of SHI with all of its language, art and culture programs, publications, retail shop, exhibit hall, simulated clan house and archives.

1981 was nearly 35 years ago.  I was a kid, really.  I was going through the motions of being a responsible young parent, a young artist, a young mind full of ideas, hopes and dreams.  I’m still kind of like that, but now I am facing another type of dream which includes more responsibility than I thought I had 35 years ago.  I feel a responsibility towards our younger generations.  There are many of us who are not going to be around much longer; many of us in our 50s and 60+ are beginning to feel like we have to pass on our knowledge before our time is up!  And it’s not just the technique we teach, it is our Native values and our process of being in how we pass on our knowledge.  No Westerner is going to be able to teach what we know spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.  It is next to impossible because they don’t “have the connection” – that DNA that innately is passed from one generation of a people to the next.  For example, it would be impossible for me to teach the African weavers how to weave their style with their ways because I was not born to that bloodline or landscape or culture; nor would I want to take away from their livelihood.


Right side of the room: Closest to furthest away…Sue Shotridge, Israel Shotridge, Wayne Price, David Boxley, Sr., Allison Bremner, David Boxley, Jr., Chuck Smythe, Gordon Greenwald, Konrad Frank, Deborah Head, Nobu Kock (w/camer) and Da-ka-xeen Mehner

So when SHI talks about their “Formline Curriculum” (which was just published at the disappointment of many of our artists), and their idea of partnering with the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau to create the Northwest Coast Art Academy, to inspire and teach our younger generation of artists and scholars, then judging by this most recent past and the fact that the formline curriculum was drafted (by non-Natives with the token Native advisers), printed and distributed, and SHI puts our Non-Native scholars up on a pedestal and is not in the habit of employing our own Native scholars, advisers, teachers and artists, then what makes us believe and think that our own Native teachers will truly be at the helm of the Native Art classes offered at UAS to give the “stamp of approval and credit” that now we have taught and created true “Northwest Coast Native artists?”


Lunch time with Perry Eaton connecting with several of the Northwest Coast artists

The teaching of Northwest Coast Native Art taught in an academic setting by non-Native art instructors is a big concern to some of us Native artists.  Big concern, though many of us do not voice our opinions about it for a number of reasons.  Why?  Fear.  There is a possibility we get ousted out by SHI and UAS and ousted by other fellow artists who are “part of the academic circle” — we are accused of being racists, we fear to be ousted out by grant organizations, other art institutions, galleries, cultural centers, etc. etc.


Notice the small binder provided for every artist attending the NWC Artist Gathering: each binder was personalized with the artist’s name.  Like how cool is that?

None of us want to be accused of racism, or not have the opportunities that other Native artists have in the art world, or not be able to provide for our families because we fear that eventually there is no support for us, and we find ourselves alone because even our fellow Native artists may shun us.  It’s a horrible feeling to THINK about these things.  So what do we tend to do?  We keep our mouths shut.  There are many of us who will not speak up about our disappointments in how the non-Native artists, academics and cultural centers such as SHI have not hired our own people for prominent jobs.  Why not?  Some of the reasons may be because they feel that the non-Native have more experience at teaching in the academic arena, or are “better” teachers, or that the non-Native is more knowledgeable about the topic(?).  Of course, that is how it is going to be.  We are not of the western mind-set and do not necessarily teach in the same way that is for sure, however, this is no excuse, because as studies have shown, Native people learn in an entirely different manner than non-Native so therefore, it is only sensible that a Native person teach our own Native students, right?


Two artists of the younger generation: Jerrod Galanin and Crystal Worl


SHI Art Director Kari Groven, Sealaska Chairman of the Board Joe Nelson, basketweaver Delores Churchill and silversmith Chilkat weaver Darlene See share a moment of laughter as they stage their interaction for the camera!


Two buddies, Clarissa Rizal and carver Wayne Price


Weaver Teri Rofkar and carver Wayne Price discuss the politics around mountain goat hunting

Sure we have the Artist Gathering to provide advice and guidance to assist SHI (and other institutions for that matter).  And we touched upon all kinds of topics to assist them in assisting us.  But truly, how many of us Native artists will directly benefit from donating four days of our precious time  to SHI (two days of prep/travel and two days of actual gathering time)?  We each gave SHI and our communities 4 days of our time; in a culture where reciprocity is important, how will those four days be reciprocated?  And how many of our younger generation of artists will benefit from the advice we gave to influence the actions and decisions of SHI, and eventually UAS and other institutions that say that they are here to help us preserve and perpetuate Native art, language and culture?  How much of the advice we provided will these institutions actually use?  The answers will remain to be seen.


After breaking out in three working groups, each group presented their advice for the topics at large (some of the comments are written on the large Post-It notes on the wall. Listening are: Preston Singletary, Holli Churchill, Rico Worl, Ronnie Fairbanks, Deborah Frank-McLavey, Diane Douglas-Willard, Nathan Jackson, Steven Jackson, Teri Rofkar, Jerrod Galanin and Crystal Worl

How come the topic of Native indigenous hire as opposed to non-Native hire was not ever brought up during the gathering?
Because all of us know this is a topic of “hot” discussion and no one wanted to rock the boat; this was not the purpose of this gathering, yet the topic is something that many of us are passionate about.   No one brought it up because many of us have the same fears and we don’t speak up for reasons named above.  And the topic was not discussed because both SHI (and UAS)  know that they will not be able to live up to the idea, let alone the promise or written agreement, that no matter what, they will always hire the Native over the non-Native.  Bottom line.


Crystal Worl presents her design method concepts to the gathering

If we do not bring these “hot” subjects up at artists’ gatherings, and many of us feel that we are not being “heard” elsewhere, then how do we go about presenting the issue so that those who need to hear it are actually listening without being defensive?  How do we propose the concepts of Native hire, and the buying of Native art and product over the overseas-made “art” and “product”?  How many times, how many ways, how many places, and how many people need to hear these are really big issues for the Northwest Coast Artists before they BELIEVE us, BELIEVE IN US?


Holli Churchill, Gordon Greenwald and Deborah Head in action…

So with all that I have said here, then you may ask:  what was the true purpose of this SHI Artists Gathering?  As I mentioned earlier:  we came together invited by SHI’s Native Artists Committee to provide advice to SHI for their various projects to help them work out the bugs to advance their offerings to help advance the careers of their Shareholders who are artists.  We are all in this together; there is no “us” and “them.”  What affects one, affects us all.


Parting: Sue Shotridge, Deborah Frank-McLavey, Diane Douglas-Willard, Teri Rofkar


Alaskan Authors Whale-Watching Cruise


100 audience members on board the Allen Marine whale watching tour included 15 Alaskan authors and 3 illustrators, of which Clarissa was one…

I was born nearly 60 years ago in Juneau and it’s only recently twice in less than two weeks I have been invited on a whale-watching cruise; both trips were something new to me since 1) we weren’t fishing? 2) we didn’t have a port destination, and 3) it didn’t cost me a penny.  And both trips were during the stretch of amazingly fine weather we had the entire month of May so it made whale watching all the more enjoyable!


Leaving the Auke Bay boat harbor on a fine early evening: 6pm. — The Mendenhall Glacier is at the base of the snowcapped mountains…

Every year in conjunction with Allen Marine, Hearthside Books hosts their “Alaskan Authors Whale Watching” tour/sail open to the public.  $59/person you receive all the appetizers you can eat and a chance to hang out with friends you hadn’t seen in awhile.


Lots of appetizers including salmon spread on croissants, fresh fruits and veggies, chocolate eclairs, etc.

Even though Nobu Koch and I are not authors, we were invited guests because we are the co-illustrator’s of Hannah Lindoff’s children’s book “Mary’s Wild Winter Feast” recently published in the Fall 2014.  To order a copy of the book, and check out other blog posts about this book:  Click here to read about “Mary’s Wild Winter Feast.”


Hannah Lindoff, author of children’s book “Mary’s Wild Winter Feast” introduces her illustrators, Clarissa Rizal (left) and Nobu Koch


Alaskan author Heather Lende, introduces her latest book “Find the Good”


Humpback whale


Ishmael Hope reads a requested poem from his book of poetry called “The Courtesans of Flounder Hill”


Chief Editor Jeff Brown introduces his latest edition of “Real Alaskan Magazine” which he publishes annually on April 1st.


Kim Heacox introduces his latest book “Rhythm of the Wild”

Alaskan Whale Watching Cruise - fluke

Alaskan Whale Watching Cruise – fluke


Writer Hannah Lindoff, Illustrator Nobu Koch, writer/poet Ishmael Hope


Hannah Lindoff, Nobu Koch, Clarissa Rizal


Author Mary Lou King introduces her latest “90+ Short Walks Around Juneau”


Authors Peter Metcalfe and Kathy Ruddy introduce “A Dangerous Idea”


Children’s book author Sarah Asper-Smith and her husband, illustrator Mitchell Watley introduce their book “I Would Tuck You In”


Sea lions cluster along a rock slab coastline of Admiralty Island


Many enjoyed the back deck in the second consecutive week of sunshine!


Last but not least, Juneau author Stuart Archer Cohen introduces his 4th novel “This Is How It Really Sounds”