A Tribute to Mark Jacobs (1923-2005)

A Tribute to Mark Jacobs (1923-2005)

My Dear Friends and Colleagues, my Tlingit relatives:

I would have liked very much to address you in person but important family responsibilities are keeping me on the East Coast this week.

First of all, I would like to thank all the good people who have helped organize this wonderful conference, and especially my partners: Steve Henrikson, Andy Hope, and Peter Metcalf. Special thanks to the National Science Foundation for its generous funding and to all the other organizations who have helped make this event possible.

Special greetings to our hosts, the wonderful people of Sheetka Kwaan—thank you for your hospitality. Aatlein gunalcheesh!

The idea of this kind of conference fist came to my mind in late 2005, when, like many of you, I was still trying to come to grips with the loss of a dear friend, wonderful man, outstanding Tlingit leader, head of the Dakl’aweidi Clan, World War II veteran, and a lifelong Sitkan, Mark Jacobs Jr (Saa.aat’, Gushteiheen, etc.).

Having known Mark for over 25 years, I wanted to find a proper way to pay tribute to him, my teacher and adopted older brother, who had been a friend to so many of us.

Having grown up surrounded by family members and relatives, who were fluent speakers of the Tlingit language and very knowledgeable about traditional Tlingit culture, Mark was truly a natural-born historian. He was always seeking new information about his own people—their history, customs, ceremonies, oral traditions, and modern-day politics. Yet he was also very interested in world history, American politics, and other peoples’ customs and beliefs.

With his strong voice and strong convictions, he was also a fine public speaker, whether he was addressing an ANB convention, a Dartmouth College class, or the “opposite side” in a Koo.eex’ (memorial).

He often repeated that traditional Tlingit customs, and especially the koo.eex’, had to be maintained as a guarantee and a key manifestation of the survival of “Tlingit law” and, hence, the Tlingit nation. It is not surprising, then, that he was so dedicated to passing the knowledge of these subjects to the next generations of his own people.

But what was most special about Mark - for me - was his generosity with the knowledge he possessed. If he trusted someone (native or non-Native alike) and felt that he (or she) was sincere and serious about wanting to learn and understand Tlingit culture and would treat this information with care and respect, Mark would open his “box of knowledge” for such a person.

His generosity extended to many non-Native researchers—anthropologists, archaeologists, museum professionals, college instructors, Forest Service and National Park staff, and others. I am delighted that quite a few of them are taking part in our conference.

From the very beginning of our friendship and collaboration, Mark was determined to give me detailed information on a variety of subjects. As he put it, “it is very important that the written record of Tlingit culture and history is as accurate as possible.” I will never forget our first “joint project”—reviewing John Swanton’s 1908 account of Tlingit customs. Mark agreed with many of this early anthropologist’s assertions, while correcting or rejecting a number of them. He clearly enjoyed this work, just as he enjoyed working with me on identifying Tlingit old-timers mentioned in the Russian Church records or depicted on historical photographs.

Mark’s detailed answers to my questions have been incorporated in most of my publications and college courses. I still consult his letters, which first reached me in the fall of 1980 and stopped appearing in my mailbox only a few weeks before his death.

Mark had touched many of those who knew him. He had so many friends in the Native and non-Native communities. And so, in a way, I was not surprised when Steve Henrikson contacted me some time in 2006 and spoke about his own wish to organize a southeastern Alaska Native conference, which would be a tribute to Mark. We all know how close Steve was with Mark and that he too was adopted by him into the Dakl’aweidi clan.

As they say, “the rest is history.” I am truly impressed with the number of presenters and participants in this conference and must admit that the scope of this event has surpassed all of my expectations. I am especially happy about the fact that our participants come from so many different backgrounds and walks of life. “Sharing Knowledge” was something Mark took very seriously and so I hope that we will continue meeting, talking to each other and sharing our knowledge. I am also certain that Mark would have very much liked to be with us this week and that his spirit is indeed here.

Best wishes to all of you! Gunalcheesh, ho ho!

Sergei Kan
Dartmouth College
March 14, 2007

Funded in part by the National Science Foundation
Sponsors include the Southeast Alaska Native Educators Association and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0636203. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Last modified: Wednesday, February 8, 2012, 12:56 PM