Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: November 18th, 2021

Free event to be offered virtually, in-person on Nov. 22


Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a lecture on Monday on Raven as a literary symbol as part of a series on Southeast Alaska Native history in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

The talk, Retelling American Literature through Raven’s Song, will be given by Dr. Sarah Rivett, a professor of English and American studies at Princeton University.

In the European tradition, the raven became known for disobedience in Genesis 8.7. Eighteenth-century theologian Jonathan Edwards called the raven a “type of devil.” Edgar Allan Poe refers to the raven in his titular poem as a “thing of evil,” Rivett wrote.

In her talk, Rivett will unsettle European labels for the raven with a case study of a Tlingit box from the 1880s Yakutat, Alaska, now housed in the Princeton University Art Museum.  For more than one hundred years the box has been displaced, but it demands reconsideration of the complexity of the Raven as literary symbol, she wrote.

Rivett interprets the box in the context of oral Raven literature told by Kuchéin Frank Italio, the oldest recorded Tlingit storyteller. Kuchéin was born in Yakutat in the 1860s into the same L’uknax̱.adí clan that created the box, and his stories and the box itself offer new ways of thinking about the raven in The Book of Genesis, as well as in subsequent literary history.

Kuchéin’s Raven story reveals a connection between the European dismissal of the raven as devil and the fabrication of the origins story on which United States power depends. The Tlingit Raven cycle highlights what has been ignored in the Genesis story: godless authority and a contra-teleological presence. The Raven repudiates the myth of origins upon which US settler colonialism depends, she wrote.

The lecture is scheduled at noon Alaska time, Monday, Nov. 22. All lectures will be streamed at 12 pm to the Sealaska Heritage YouTube channel. This talk will also be presented in person in SHI’s clan house to attendees who show proof of vaccination cards. A Q&A session will follow.

About the Lecturer

Dr. Sarah Rivett is the author of The Science of the Soul in Colonial New England (2011) and Unscripted America: Indigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation (2017). She is currently writing a book on ravens in American literary history.

This program is provided under the Preparing Indigenous Teachers and Administrators for Alaska Schools (PITAAS) program and funded by the Alaska Native Education Program.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Kathy Dye, SHI Communications and Publications Deputy Director, 907.321.4636,

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