Local artist's illustrations win American Indian Youth Literature award
In the news: Petersburg Pilot reporter Brian Varela interviewed Haida illustrator Janine Gibbons about the recent American Indian Library Association Picture Book Honor award for the Baby Raven Reads book "Raven Makes the Aleutians."
Sealaska Heritage Institute's book "Raven Makes the Aleutians" was awarded a picture book honor award from the American Indian Library Association. The illustrations in the book were done by local artist Janine Gibbons.
The story was adapted for children from the works of the late Nora and Dick Dauenhauer, who transcribed it from Tlingit Elders Susie James' and Robert Zuboff's oral accounts.
The book was published in 2018 as part of the Baby Raven Reads series. The books promote literacy to native children five-years-old and younger, through complex and engaging native stories.
“All the books in the series are creating a foundation for all people to understand Indigenous storytelling from our region,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons has also illustrated two other books for the Baby Raven series: "The Woman Who Married the Bear," adapted from a traditional Tlingit narrative by Frank Kaash Katasse, and "The Woman Carried Away by Killer Whales," adapted from a Haida story.
Baby Raven Reads book wins award with Petersburg artist’s work
Jan 30, 2020
The American Indian Library Association is honoring a 2018 children’s book with illustrations by a Petersburg artist. “Raven Makes the Aleutians” is part of the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Baby Raven Reads series. It was named an honor book by the association for 2020. It’s one of three in the series illustrated by Janine Gibbons of Petersburg. Her work helps tell a Tlingit oral tradition story about what happens after the great flood and raven creates land.
BABY RAVEN READS BOOK WINS AMERICAN INDIAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION AWARD
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January 27, 2020
Sealaska Heritage Institute’s (SHI) Baby Raven Reads book Raven Makes the Aleutians has won a Picture Book Honor award from the American Indian Library Association (AILA).
The AILA, an affiliate of the American Library Association, announced winners of its biennial Youth Media Awards today in Philadelphia, calling the selected books “the best of the best in children’s and young adult literature.”
“There were more excellent books submitted than ever before, including some from major U.S. publishers,” said Lara Aase, 2020 chair of the American Indian Youth Literature Awards. “We chose books that appealed to the young readers we know, and we were thrilled to see writers address contemporary as well as historic and traditional topics.”
“All of us grapple with issues of identity; we are grateful to see authors and illustrators represent the myriad identities of young Indigenous readers,” Aase said.
Raven Makes the Aleutians, which was published in 2018, was adapted for children from the work of the late Nora and Dick Dauenhauer, who transcribed it from Tlingit storytellers Kaasgéiy Susie James and Shaadaax’ Robert Zuboff’s oral accounts. Raven stories are complex, humorous and sometimes filled with raucous adventures, said SHI President Rosita Worl, who is Tlingit.
“Raven the Trickster is found in oral traditions throughout North America and elsewhere in the world and teaches people how to exist in society,” Worl said.
In Raven Makes the Aleutians, after the flood, Raven falls from the sky far out to sea, and he can’t get back to the mainland. With the help of a friendly sea otter, Raven comes up with a plan to reach the shore. Ultimately, Raven’s ingenuity leads to the creation of Alaska’s Aleutian Chain. The story was brought to life by illustrator Janine Gibbons, who is Haida Raven of the Double-Finned Killer Whale clan, Brown Bear House. Gibbons said she felt tremendous pride upon hearing the news.
“There were many times during the process of illustrating Raven Makes the Aleutians that I felt my ancestors guiding me. This honor solidifies that they really were always there, that their spirits are alive and helping guide the way,” Gibbons said.
“Our ancestors prayed for this day when they walked the earth and when there were so few of us left. Like Raven created islands out of thoughts we each individually have the capability to change the world with vision, willpower and friends. The Baby Raven Reads program is living proof that together we can change the course of history through telling our stories.”
Janine Gibbons grew up in Petersburg and graduated from the Art Institute of Seattle as well as Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. In trying to find herself, she studied everything from education to philosophy to biology to religion but finally settled upon what she has been doing for her entire life, which is art. She finds artistic inspiration in the colors and patterns of nature and in the meticulous work of her Haida ancestors.
Raven Makes the Aleutians was also chosen for an annual “best-of-the-year” list for 2018 compiled by the nationally known literacy group The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), along with Raven and the Tide Lady, illustrated by Tlingit artist Michaela Goade, and Raven Loses His Nose, illustrated by Tsimshian artist David Lang.
SHI’S BABY RAVEN LITERACY PROGRAM WINS LIBRARY OF CONGRESS AWARD
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September 1, 2017
The Library of Congress has selected Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Baby Raven Reads literacy program for its 2017 Best Practice Honoree award, making it one of only 15 programs in the world to receive the honor this year.
The Library of Congress Literacy Awards honor organizations that have made outstanding contributions to increasing literacy in the United States or abroad and encourage the continuing development of innovative methods for promoting literacy and the wide dissemination of the most effective practices. The program was founded by philanthropist David M. Rubenstein in 2013.
RioPro Profile: Janine Gibbons
With ancestors hailing from Finland and the ancient Haida people of Haida Gwaii, Alaska native Janine Gibbons is a born storyteller. As a Haida Raven of the Double-Finned Killer Whale Clan, Brown Bear House, Janine credits her indigenous heritage for her impressive work ethic and respect for the earth. She says Haida culture is based around meaning, respect and reciprocity; you give and receive gifts a lot, always trying to be kind, generous and thoughtful of others. This way of life has taught Janine to have a lot of pride and good intention in what she creates. She is always trying to create beauty and connection that will lift peoples’ spirits.
While pursuing a college degree in elementary education, she began experiencing frequent seizures that prohibited her from completing her degree. Janine had always had a love for jewelry, but after taking her first jewelry class at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, she decided to make a career of it. Starting out with beading, wire wrapping, and silver work, she eventually made her way into enameling, which is what she is now widely recognized for.
Drawing on inspiration from her ocean heritage, Janine’s enamel work is reminiscent of biomorphic forms in nature. While maintaining an active jewelry studio practice in Alaska, Janine also works as a photographer, sculptor, painter and as an illustrator for children’s books about the indigenous cultures of the Haida and Tlingit people of the Northwest Coast of North America...
This July 4th, Native rights leader Elizabeth Peratrovich gets a new mural in Petersburg
July 2, 2020 by Corinne Smith, KFSK - Petersburg
At a time when monuments of colonizers and enslavers are being debated and removed across the country, a mural is going up this July 4th in the birth place and on the birthday of a Native civil rights leader. The new mural in the Southeast Alaska community of Petersburg celebrates Elizabeth Peratrovich, her legacy as a Native Tlingit woman, and voice for equal rights.
Elizabeth Peratrovich was born on July 4, 1911, in Petersburg to a Tlingit family. At that time, being Native meant facing segregation and discrimination. Now, one 109 years later – to the day – Peratrovich will be memorialized with a new mural on the state courthouse building to honor her life and civil rights legacy.
“Elizabeth Peratrovich had a real gift with language and articulating the situation,” says Malena Marvin, who serves on the Petersburg Arts Council, which helped organize the funding for the mural. “And using her words to help make change at a really pivotal time in Alaska’s history.”
In 1945, as a 34-year-old mother of three, Peratrovich was an advocate for Native rights, and organized with the Alaska Native Sisterhood in Juneau. She testified before the Alaska Territorial Legislature – talking about her life, her friends, her children, and being barred from buying a home in Juneau – and advocating for an end to discrimination and equal rights for Native people.
Alaska Native people were barred from workplaces, buying land and living in certain neighborhoods. Signs in some storefronts read “No Dogs, No Natives.”
“Here’s the woman that, you know, 20 years before Martin Luther King did what he did, we have a woman that you know, her testimony was instrumental to the first anti-discrimination law that was passed in the United States of America,” said award-winning Haida artist Janine Gibbons, who painted the new mural. “And this woman was from Petersburg, Alaska.”
Many people say her speech inspired the passing of the anti-discrimination bill. Then-Alaska Governor Ernest Gruening signed the landmark legislation on February 16, 1945 – now celebrated as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. The law effectively banned discrimination based on race.
The U.S. Treasury announced in fall of 2019, that its 2020 Native American $1 dollar coin would feature Peratrovich and honor the 75th anniversary of her famous testimony. People took notice. Organizers came together in Petersburg to commission a mural in her honor and raised about $7,000 from donations around the state.
“In the painting she kind of, (it’s) like a classic Native Southeast look. We all have very prominent eyebrows,” Gibbons said with a laugh. “You can say a lot with just your eyebrows. It’s kind of Mona Lisa-like. She kind of has one eyebrow a little bit arched – like she’s asking a question. And then the other eyebrow is a bit softer so kind of like she’s listening and questioning at the same time. That was the look I wanted to have.”
In a nod to Petersburg cultural history, Gibbons merges both Native and Scandinavian aesthetics into the background. In the process of painting the mural, Gibbons had to dive into the historical record, but also says she was immersed in the emotional experience and the generational trauma of Native communities.“It’s really intense. Most people are not fully aware of what happened to people,” she said.
Native people faced discrimination in all sectors of society – even children.
Schools – especially boarding schools – removed Native children from their family, homes and heritage. “You had to give up all parts of who you were as a Native person,” Gibbons said. “You had to give everything up to go to a public school, right. It was segregated. And people really had to disguise themselves, to fit in.”
The system left many Native children without families. At a young age, Peratrovich herself suffered that fate. She was adopted by a white family and grew up in Ketchikan, but maintained a connection to her Tlingit heritage.
Gibbons relates to Peratrovich’s story deeply, as she and many of her friends growing up also came from generations of orphaned people. “One of my best girlfriends, her grandmother and all of her siblings were born out at Blind Slough,” says Gibbons. “There was nine of them, and each one of those kids was taken legally, from their parents, and shipped to nine different parts of the country.” The trauma of those experiences were rarely talked about, yet continue to reverberate through families and communities. “So they were sent to boarding schools,” she explains. “They didn’t want shared knowledge. They took away your language, cut off your hair, they did the worst possible things you could imagine. And you know, people come back, and it’s like well, why didn’t my grandma teach me this or do that, and it’s like well they were tortured, you know, a lot of them. So it’s a big weight to carry.”
The vice president of the Petersburg Indian Association, Brenda Norheim was a lead organizer on the mural project. For Norheim, seeing Peratrovich honored on the courthouse is an important representation for Native cultural history. “I can’t even put it into words,” Norheim said. “Thinking of what my grandparents went through, and my mom. It’s like when we put the totem poles up downtown years ago, it was a powerful, emotional moment that I never anticipated – just because of the heartache that people in our past had to go through. The suffering.”
Arts Council member Malena Marvin says organizers hope the mural will inspire dialogue and reflection on the lessons from the past, which are [particularly significant now, as the U.S. grapples with the history of racism and colonization, and many Confederate monuments are coming down. “We’re at this time where we’re having a big national conversation about what we put in public, how we remember our history,” said Marvin. “And there are so many ways to remember our history. We just wanted to see the special gifts that Elizabeth Peratrovich brought to the conversation on race relations in Alaska.”
Organizers will continue to raise funds to add a carved Tlingit artisan frame around the mural and an educational plaque and create a website with more information and media on Peratrovich and her contemporaries.
Due to coronavirus concerns, the large celebration for the mural unveiling had to be scaled down. A short program will be held at the courthouse in Petersburg on Saturday, July 4. People are invited to come in person with masks and socially distanced, or watch on a livestream on Petersburg Arts Council Facebook page.