Chilkat weaver Lily Hope is one of 15 people to win a $100,000 SHIFT award. The Transformative Change and Indigenous Arts Award is a new program from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.
Hope is mentoring weavers and addressing Indigenous land sovereignty in her project and will split the funds with her partner organization Goldbelt Heritage Foundation.
KTOO’s Sheli DeLaney sat down with Hope to find out more about her project.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sheli DeLaney: Hi, Lily.
Lily Hope: Hi, thanks for having me.
SD: Would you please tell me about the grant that you were recently awarded by Native Arts and Culture Foundation?
LH: My project is “Protecting the Material Sovereignty of Our Indigenous Homelands.” And my work is to find someone to fill my shoes, but also to navigate the climate change and hunting restrictions that we have here in Southeast Alaska — with the cedar stands that are freezing to death, essentially, and the mountain goat that we can only hunt during a short window of time, with a smaller volume of hair. We have been making Chilkat dancing blankets for hundreds of years, using mountain goat hair and cedar bark. It’s pretty difficult to hunt a mountain goat, that’s one thing. But the other part is that we are allowed to hunt in the fall time before our mountain goats have built up a winter bulk of hair, which means we have to kill more goats to get the same volume of hair that we would have gotten if we killed a single or two in the springtime. So my hope is that we can negotiate with the powers that be to allow us and Indigenous hunting rights outside of our Department of Fish and Game parameters.
SD: The other part of your project will focus on mentorship. Who are the weavers that will be learning from you?
LH: That isn’t public knowledge yet. There are a couple of weavers who have pretty much proven themselves in self drive. And I’ll say that that is one of the top things that I look for now in apprentices. Those two weavers are working every day in the art form in Chilkat, and I’m excited to partner with them.
SD: So how does this award, this grant, rank among some of the other accolades you’ve received in your career?
LH: It is the largest dollar value grant that I’ve ever received. It’s blowing my mind, and I spontaneously break into gratitude tears on the regular.
SD: What are some of the challenges you foresee as you complete your projects?
LH: Accessibility and sheer volume of hours of processing the work. Not just getting the hide off the mountain, but how many hours are we going to spend fermenting the hide and then hand-pulling it off of the hide and then brushing it, washing it, carding it — like, all the things. My impetus to go back and try out mountain goat — because I haven’t done it in my lifetime, that I know of, in this life — my impetus to go back to that mountain goat and really make a whole Chilkat dancing blanket purely of mountain goat and yellow cedar is that Teri Rofkar’s DNA robe that she finished in 2016, 2014? The robe she finished that was completely made of mountain goat has a second skin feeling when you drape it on your shoulders. It wants to be danced, it wants to be worn by human beings, it wants to come alive.
SD: Do you think that is something that you will achieve as an outcome of this project? Or maybe just get a step closer to?
LH: I’m not going to add anything else to this project. But yes, I hope that we secure enough hunting allowances and protect enough cedar, or amass enough cedar, I don’t know, to make that a possibility in the next five years. And if we if we can’t secure the goats that we need, what is the alternative? Is there one?
SD: Do you expect pushback or resistance from some of the bureaucracies that you’ll have to engage with?
LH: I don’t anticipate a lot of pushback. I think of myself as a pretty decent negotiator and/or listener. And I believe in the goodness of people, and that when we’re asking for things, we’re really expanding our relationships as we move through this work. So I feel like Teri Rofkar has already built a relationship and that the precedent has been set for her and a couple of other hunters in Sitka, Alaska to go up and get these goats. So I feel like it’ll be kind of like picking up where my clan sister left off. Hopefully. I’m hopeful. I’m Lily Hope, and I’m hopeful.