Research the masks of the Tsimshian and other cultures. Create presentations about masks from various cultures around the world.
Study a variety of birds and animals. Have students design and create masks that represent these animals.
Lead a discussion with students about how the dance traditions of the Eastern Band of Cherokee and the Tsimshian of Alaska were nearly lost. Discuss how traditions are passed from generation to generation and have them brainstorm ways this can be disrupted. Ask students to brainstorm knowledge and skills in their own families and community that are in danger of being lost. How could these be preserved?
Compare this dance to the Git-Hoan Raven Dance and other Native American dances.
The Git-Hoan Dancers perform the dances and songs of the Tsimshian, whose descendants live on the Northwest coast of northern British Columbia and in southeastern Alaska. Git-Hoan means “people of the salmon,” referring to the culture’s connection to the sea and its resources. Much of the traditional knowledge of Tsimshian ways has been lost due to the early influence of missionaries and settlers. Many of the dances performed by the group are only references to Tsimshian history, developed from remaining materials such as film reels, recordings, and artifacts.
In Tsimshian culture, there are two main divisions, the Raven and Eagle clans. The Eagle Dance is performed to honor the Eagle clan. It involves the use of a large mask with movable parts and movements that reflect the spirit of the eagle.
Many Tsimshian ceremonial dances are theatrical dramas that tell stories and act out beliefs. The music, dance, and regalia—particularly the masks—work together to tell the stories. In Tsimshian culture, there are various types of dance masks. A mask that is worn on top of the head so that the person’ face is visible use used to tell the wearer’s clan membership. A mask that is worn over the face allows the dancer to take on the spirit of the mask and become one with the spirit the mask represents. A transformation mask is worn over the face but has two layers to tell a story of how one creature transformed into another being. The Tsimshian have many transformation stories.
Because so much of the traditional culture has been lost, the Git-Hoan Dances are also mask makers and song writers. David Boxley, leader of the group, and his son study the ancient masks of their people in museums and carve masks using those designs.