Master weaver Teri Rofkar creates a Tlingit ceremonial robe.
Too impatient to learn Tlingit weaving as a child, Teri Rofkar stepped up many years later to help preserve the culture she’d inherited. Now a master weaver, Rofkar spent some 2,000 hours creating a Raven’s Tail robe to honor the centennial of Sitka National Historical Park. (907) 747-0110, nps.gov/sitk.
Q What is a Raven’s Tail robe?
A It’s a traditional robe of my people, the Tlingit nation. It features characteristic geometric patterns that also decorate Tlingit spruce root baskets.
Q Does the robe have meaning?
A The arrowhead pattern symbolizes the National Park Service. The tassels resemble bull kelp on the beach here. And the robe incorporates a pattern from a robe worn by Chief K’alyaan, who led a Tlingit clan against the Russians in 1804. The site of the battle—then a Tlingit fort—is here in the park.
Q Does his robe still exist?
A No, but I was able to look at a Russian drawing of it in 2007, when a collection of artifacts visited Anchorage.
Q What happens to your robe now?
A People can see it at the park’s visitor center. Over the summer it will also be used in ceremonies and other events.
Q Do you have a guiding spirit?
A My ancestors—my grandmother, my great-grandmother—going back more than 5,000 years. They created weavings just like this. Not long ago my granddaughter, who’s 4, gathered up a handful of moss. “It’s for the weaving,” she said. Maybe she’ll be the one who carries on the tradition.
Photography by Tane Skultka
This article was first published in July 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.