Tlingit student Gáanax Sháa Gloria Eyon on graduation day. All photos courtesy of Michael Penn.
Tlingit student Gloria Eyon has made history by being the first to graduate from an AA degree program that includes an emphasis on Northwest Coast arts.
The landmark program at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), offered in partnership with SHI, was first launched in 2020. In May, Tlingit student, Gáanax Sháa Gloria Eyon, accepted her degree.
We recently asked her about her journey, accomplishments, and future plans.
What are your thoughts and feelings about being the first AA NWC Arts graduate?
My thought about being the first one to achieve the AA degree in Northwest Coast Arts is that I would like to be a mentor to others seeking this degree. My feelings are of gratitude that this new degree is offered to be sought by a student.
What was the most rewarding part of this journey for you?
I found my authentic self being in a collective culture sharing experiences with the instructors and other students. Discovery that there is peace within, and it feels right doing Northwest Coast Formline, carving, weaving. The reflection and encouragement of the instructors supporting you to succeed is incredible. Wayne Price said, “leave everything else outside this door and we will make great art in here” and learning this nothing else interfered or mattered. All stressors were gone as the push of the pencil made Northwest Coast Formline including ovoids, trigons, s-curves, etc. as it was done time immemorial by our ancestors.
What was a challenge that you overcame?
In the indigenous performing arts class, we were required to give a speech and discuss topics. Lyle always asked who would like to go first. In realizing leadership, I always hesitated and looked at my peers then would raise my hand to be first.
I have not done a lot of public speaking, so this was and still is challenging. My favorite saying right now is, “Be Brave” for it makes me think of my grandma who was born in the mid-1890s here on the Áakʼw ḵwáan , and who was a strong brave Tlingit lady from the Thunderbird house. As I prepare to speak, I think of my ancestors such as my clan house leader Ed Kunz who said he had a hard time public speaking, yet he continued to do to find strength and his voice. I think of David Katzeek, Kingeisti who always said, “Ax Tu Yayatee”, it is within us. I then think by leading others I pass on the strength and being brave.
What are your future plans?
My future is my current plan, I was concurrently seeking a bachelors in social sciences with primary concentration in psychology, secondary in both anthropology and sociology which I am 90% complete. It is my desire to continue to graduate school. I have researched and experienced what Art therapy is like, and the grounding and peace brought by Northwest Coast Art. I would like to offer Art Therapy as a modality for healing.
I also plan to continue to take Northwest Coast Art classes to further advance my art, for I am still an apprentice and much to learn. I will continue to work on my Northwest Coast Art projects. I am hoping to get opportunities to work more with David Boxley and Robert Mills for NWC Formline.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about this accomplishment?
This degree could not be accomplished without it being created, and I am thankful for the partnership between SHI and UAS to make this happen and the scholarships available.
I could not have accomplished this degree without the incredible team of UAS instructors of specific required courses and Northwest Coast Art Classes that consisted of Alaska Native peoples. These people included: Forest Haven, Éedaa – Heather Burge, Xunei – Dr. Lance Twitchell, Xeetli.éesh – Lyle James, Wooshkindeinda.aat – Lily Hope, Mark Sixbey Sʼáḵjayéi – Yarrow Varro, Adopted Haida Weaver Kay Parker, Most Precious Master Weaver Delores Churchill, and Most Respected Master Carver and Artist Wayne Price.
Other UAS peoples that contributed to my success includes Aimee Richards, Carin Silkaitus, Ronalda Cadiente Brown, Jonelle Cook, DáxKílatch – Kolene James, Jenny Malecha, Davina Cole, Lori Kline, and Dr. Karen Carey, and others indirectly.
Thankful for this team of people that guided me to successfully achieve my AA degree in Northwest Coast Art. You know you are standing in greatness.
I dedicated the accomplishment of my degree to Wayne Price for he traveled and supported me through many different journeys including assault, stalking, traumatic brain injury, and an arson fire that he provided support and encouragement. I dedicated my graduation walk to my late mom Josephine Rener Eyon and wore my Tlingit dance blanket that we made when I was eleven.
Thankful my son came for my graduation and to all who made it memorable.
Gunalchéesh / Háw’aa / N’toyk’sn / Arigato gozaimasu / Salamat Po / Quyana / Qaĝaasakung / Quyanaqpaq / Gracias / Thank you Gáanax Sháa – Gloria Eyon
A huge thanks to photojournalist Michael Penn for capturing the moment and giving permission to us to post the images.