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Episode 5: Art & Cultural Appropriation

To explore what cultural appropriation means for Alaska Native cultures and Alaska Native artists, we interview Melissa Shaginoff and Crystal Worl.

"It's this idea that these notions can be adopted by somebody and that they can, in some way, have ownership over them and have ownership of these ideas that are based in Indigenous culture. but the truth is these ideas of Indigenous culture are communal ideas. They don't belong to one person. So why do you think as a one person you can cherry pick, you can take these ideas? That seems really problematic." - Melissa Shaginoff

Melissa Shaginoff is part of the Udzisyu (caribou) and Cui Ui Ticutta (fish-eater) clans from Nay'dini'aa Na Kayax (the log over the river or Chickaloon Village). She grew up on the southern coast of Alaska where she learned the lifeways of her cousins the Dena’ina peoples. Shaginoff is currently the Curator of Contemporary Indigenous Art and Culture at the Anchorage Museum. As both an Artist and Curator her work revolves around identity and representation. Working within institutions Shaginoff sees her work as an act of making space. Space for others, space for change and space to be present. She has participated in the Sheldon Jackson Museum Artist Residency in Sitka, Alaska as well as the Island Mountain Arts Toni Onley Painting Residency in Wells, British Columbia. Shaginoff has work collected by the Institute of American Indian Arts, the Palmer Museum, and the Pratt Museum. Check out her website here:

"It's our intellectual property, our designs, because we've been using them as clan crests, as our libraries, our documentation. All of our art is encoded with all of our information. Our ancestors used this as our reading and writing, and our tools of survival, our tools of identifying who someone is, who their family is, where they're from and our relationship to that person. So they have these deeper meanings that go way back before time immemorial." - Crystal Worl

Crystal Rose Demientieff Worl is Tlingit Athabascan from Raven moiety, Sockeye Clan, from the Raven House. She is a child of a Thunderbird and from the Chilkat region in Southeast Alaska. From her mother’s side, she is Deg Hit’an Athabascan from Fairbanks Alaska. Raised between Fairbanks and Juneau, she was introduced at a young age to her traditional arts, practices, and storytelling. In 2013 Crystal earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Art in Jewelry Metals and an Associate’s of Fine Art in Moving Images from the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Crystal experiments with kiln-cast glass, printmaking, painting, and silversmithing. She recently began working with fish skin, seal gut-skin, and furs. Crystal studies traditional Tlingit formline design and Athabascan beadwork patterns. She experiments applying her designs within mixed media and performance, including aerial dancing. She practices the recreation and modernization of her Clan’s stories and Raven stories from home. Her work explores the relationships and bonds between her people, the land, and the animals.

Today Crystal lives in Juneau, Alaska working as a co-owner of Trickster Company with her brother Rico Worl. Trickster Company promotes innovative indigenous design focused on the Northwest Coast art and exploration of themes and issues in Native culture. Check out Crystal and Rico Worl's online shop here:

The guide from Simon Frasier University referenced in the episode:

Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage Project, 2015. Think Before You Appropriate. Things to know and questions to ask in order to avoid misappropriating Indigenous cultural heritage. Simon Fraser University: Vancouver.

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