2011 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award
Honoree: Nora Dauenhauer
Nora Marks Dauenhauer (Tlingit) is honored as a 2011 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award finalist for her decades of work as an internationally recognized linguist, responsible for significant fieldwork, transcription, translation, and explication of Tlingit oral literature. Working with the Sealaska Heritage Foundation in Juneau, Alaska, where she served as Principal Researcher in Language and Cultural Studies, Nora has tirelessly documented the Tlingit language, collecting stories and folklore from elders. In books and articles, first person accounts of this rich heritage are now preserved and available for new generations of non-Tlingit speakers. Her creative writing — fiction, memoir, essay, poetry, and drama — has been widely published, anthologized, performed, recognized, and honored. Currently semiretired, Nora continues her research, writing, consulting, and volunteer work with schools and community.
Nora Dauenhauer was born in Juneau, Alaska, and raised in Juneau and Hoonah, as well as on her family’s fishing boat and in seasonal subsistence sites around Icy Straits, Glacier Bay, and Cape Spencer in Alaska. Nora’s first language is Tlingit. She began to learn English upon entering school at the age of eight, finishing a G.E.D., and going on to receive a B.A. in Anthropology from Alaska Methodist University. In 2001 she received an honorary Doctor of Humanities from the University of Alaska Southeast in recognition of her work as a linguist, creative writer, and teacher.
Nora and her husband, Richard Dauenhauer, also a writer and a former poet laureate of Alaska, are responsible for a lengthy list of articles and books that have appeared over the course of the last thirty years. Nora has worked with museums around the world to insure that accurate translations of the Tlingit language, and thus culture, are available. Tlingit Artist Teri Rofkar has best expressed the extraordinary value of this service, “Art and oral history were a traditional way of recording everything, from historic events, to the sciences. With Nora’s work I am able to investigate and research with help from the past. She gives me the “First voice” connection to continue rather than restart cultural knowledge.”
As an emissary of her people, Nora has told her own life story within the context of her community’s history, in many creative forms. Her Raven plays have been performed nationally and internationally, including at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. She has given innumerable poetry readings, lectures, and seminar presentations around the country and has received numerous awards for her creative writing, including Humanist of the Year (Alaska Humanities Forum, 1980), Alaska Governor’s Award for the Arts (1989), and twice won the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award (1991 and 2008). Her writing has appeared and been anthologized by major publishers including Cambridge University Press, Graywolf Press, Harper and Row, Houghton Mifflin, Random House, Rizzoli, W.W. Norton, and many academic presses in the United States and Canada, as well as by many small and regional presses.
Nora Marks Dauenhauer is married to Richard Dauenhauer and lives in Juneau, Alaska. They have four children, twelve grandchildren, and fifteen great-grandchildren. The fruit of Nora’s labors as a translator, collector of oral traditions, and writer ensure an essential link to the wisdom of her people’s past for current and future generations.