Historic Female Adzing Team are a first for Tlingits
October 12, 2011
From left to right: Susie Kasinger, Vanessa Pazar, Tammi Meissner, Linda Churchill
Tammi Meissner left her Tlingit culture for a time as a pre-teen because of comments made by an elder about money being wasted on “blonde Indians.” Fortunately, she got back into her culture about 12 years ago and hasn’t looked back. Tammi is also a dancer and listens to Tlingit songs while adzing. The rhythms of both provide a physical connection to her culture, although she gets interrupted by people who are “overly excited about women adzers” and come to the carving shed just to see the women adze. Tammi hopes to continue to make history by working with Susie and Linda in the future on additional carving projects.
Susie Kasinger is the only non-Native woman on the adzing team. Growing up in Wrangell, she didn’t feel that there was any difference between White and Native – to her they were all one people. Susie fell in love with carving after taking a (Johnson O'Malley) JOM class in middle school and has been wanting to be a carver ever since. She doesn’t know as much as she’d like about the Tlingit culture but feels a connection with a woman elder and wants to be adopted by the elder’s clan someday.
Linda Churchill got “shivers up and down my spine” when told that their adzing team was historic. Because her father was a carver, Linda was instilled with a desire to carve and was surrounded by it at an early age. She strives to make her father proud with her carving. She wants to feel spiritually connected to him and be able to replicate some of his carvings. Linda is involved in other Tlingit art forms, taking classes in silver carving and halibut hook making. She has also taught beading for the local JOM program.
All of the women feel fortunate and honored to be part of this historic project and to learn from the more experienced crew members, such as Vanessa, and from master carver Wayne Price. They all plan to continue honing their carving skills in the future and to share their art and knowledge gained with their community.
The Shakes Island tribal house was completed in 1940 built by collaboration between the CCC, the Forest Service and the local Tlingit tribe. Except for minor repairs, no major reconstruction has taken place to the structure. Because the tribal house is listed on the National Historic register, the replacement timbers must be hand adzed. Master carvers from other communities are overseeing and training locals to complete the adzing. The old structure needs to be dismantled and then a new structure erected in its place with the hand-adzed timbers, new electrical and a new roof of split cedar shakes. The totem poles on the island also need to be refurbished. When the project is complete, a celebration of project completion will be held.
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