Nora Marks Dauenhauer
Nora was well loved by nearly everyone who knew her. It's because she had a gentle heart and cared deeply about the Tlingit community. It's hard to mention her name without mentioning Richard Dauenhauer since they collaborated with so many publications and teaching projects together. Here is a screen capture notice of her passing from the Sealaska Heritage Institute on Facebook from September 25, 2017.
Some of my memories of Nora are of her and my mom Anita Brown McNeil sitting at the kitchen table conversing in Tlingit over mugs of coffee. They were friends since they were little girls and had a natural way of interacting together; sometimes mysterious and funny, sometimes serious and forthright. Later I'd ask mom what their little joke was about, and she said they were reminiscing about being rascals as young girls and getting away with it because they were clever and could reply quickly to the elders by using Tlingit wordplay. At other times, they had very involved conversations and she'd describe discussing the the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS) and the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) with their respective political strategies through the decades. Or maybe the conversation was about the beautiful beadwork on a new vest and my mom would ask if I'd get my camera out and make a photo of a new pattern they were sharing.
At any rate, Nora would sometimes call me out of the blue about a project she was working on at the moment. "Hi Larry, do you have any photos of the _____ dance group at Celebration in 1984?" Or "Larry, we're working on a new book and need a photo of your Uncle Judson! We can't find one that fits the story right now..." Or "Hey Larry, we're looking for a nice photo of Jennie Thlunaut, can you send us a photo from the March 1985 Chilkat Weaving Symposium?"
I did like the casual phone calls from Nora about her books. I was very happy to be helping our mom's good friend, and since the Chilkat Valley (Haines area) is really a small place, I'm sure that we're likely related in some way. Maybe seven generations removed, but if you're from that area, chances are you've got a half dozen common relatives going back to somewhere. Our dad worked with one of the elder Marks in the 1940's fishing salmon, so I know that even though our dad was Nisgaá, he worked with some of their elders back in the day.
Back in 1994 I was very busy as a teacher at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. It was nearly always grueling, but very rewarding. Nora called when I was in the midst of faculty evaluations and I described how crazy the schedule was. She apologized for taking up time, but I returned the apology and mentioned that if I had a choice I'd much rather be up there in Juneau making photos for her upcoming book. And that payment could be in dryfish and hooligan grease if she wanted, which reminded both of us that barter was how we did a lot of business back in the day. I told her that I could send her two photos; one of uncle Judson and another of Jennie Thlunaut with the group of Chilkat weavers. She asked about costs and I replied that a book would be a perfect payment. The following week I went into the darkroom and printed them for her. Photographs for black and white publications sometimes had to have a little less contrast than a usual print, so they were printed specifically for her book.
Nora and Richard were working on the "Haa Kusteeyí Our Culture, Tlingit Life Stories" text. I made the photographs on pages 130 about our uncle Judson Brown, and the photograph on page 600 with Jennie Thlunaut at the Chilkat Weaving Symposium. Nora and Richard were ever mindful about assisting scholars with their own work and wrote me a letter acknowledging my contributions to their text. When scholars are undergoing their annual evaluations, it helps to have letters such as this for their promotion and tenure books. It was also heartfelt, because they thanked contributors for their good will and generosity. This was also about Native scholars helping each other with their careers when we needed it in order to advance our careers in academia, and to have our research fully acknowledged within the larger world of mainstream academia. So this letter had a signifiant value with assisting Native scholarship, especially since my own area of research is with Native American Photography.
I remembered back to when I was young and witnessing the nice friendship between my mother Anita and Nora, so how could I refuse their requests? It simply wasn't possible. Gunalchéesh Nora and Richard Dauenhauer, you were both cherished and loved by the community for your generosity, thorough research and how you passed on the gift of learning the Tlingit language to new generations.