In Search of Native Roots

Nov 302005
Authors: Jenny Ivy

Native Tlingit artist Carole Grant grew up searching for a history, a cultural foundation with which she could identify. For many years, she believed herself to be "lost."

A class of 2001 alumna, Grant said she finally found herself when she came to CSU.

"Growing up, I never really had the words to say 'something is missing,'" said Grant, a Juneau, Alaska native who not only graduated with a bachelor's degree in Fine Art, but with a sense of self-discovery.

Now, Grant said she is proud to be one of five artists from around the nation showcasing original artwork at CSU's Exhibition of Contemporary Native American Artists.

The exhibition opened Wednesday night in the Lory Student Center's Duhesa Lounge and marks the final culmination of a series of events during Native American Awareness Month.

"I've been lost for many years," Grant said. "I grew up not really knowing much about my native culture because my mom and dad were divorced and my dad was the native side of my family."

In 1986, Grant began attending classes at CSU, leaving her only link to her heritage with her estranged father, whom she said was never able to pass on generations of stories and history about her family's Tlingit culture.

After two years at CSU, Grant left to raise a family. Ten years and a divorce later, she came back to complete her education.

One class in particular provided Grant a chance for a breakthrough in her path to self-realization. It was what she learned in this class that made her want to uncover the roots of her own family's Tlingit traditions. She became passionate about creating works of art that could represent her own clan, the Raven clan.

"When I came to CSU, I learned about my culture from Peter Jacobs' class,"(CQ)es said Grant. "When I took Dr. Jacobs' (CQ)es class, it just sparked something in me. And I started to figure out who I was. Doing this art is just my way of keeping (my heritage) from dying completely."

Jacobs, a frequent visitor to the Alaskan region from which Grant's heritage is derived, became a mentor to the aspiring artist.

The desire to learn more about the Native American culture linked the two and Grant eventually became a teaching assistant for Jacobs, who is now an adjunct professor for the Center for Applied Studies in American Ethnicity (CASAE) and a professor of art.

"There's always a small number (of students) that stand out and make teaching a very rewarding profession to be in. (Grant) is certainly one of those people," Jacobs said. "Getting close to retiring, you look back on what you've accomplished and for me what is most rewarding is looking back at those students."

Visitors to the Duhesa Lounge can see Grant's artwork on display. She has represented her Tlingit culture by contributing to the exhibit a wooden potlatch bowl with a baby raven painted in the center.

A potlatch, as Grant described, is a feast, which dates back through centuries of family history where clans gathered together in celebration and in remembrance of ancestors who died.

"Your heritage makes you the person that you are," Grant said. "It's important for a person to know where they come from because if you don't know where you come from, then how do you know where you're going?"

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