Award-winning Tlingit artist dies

Archie Cavanaugh’s battle with federal government could provide protections for Native artists

Award-winning Tlingit artist dies

Award-winning Tlingit artist and musician Archie Cavanaugh died last week at the age of 67, leaving a long legacy of ambitious and meaningful art and music.

Cavanaugh is well known for the smooth, jazzy music he has released and performed for decades. His debut album, “Black and White Raven,” was released in 1980 and blended jazz, funk and soul into a distinctive blend that earned him an audience.

He went on to release “Love Birds” and “Alaska Jazz,” and worked closely with his wife Melinda as co-lyricist, according to Cavanaugh’s website. He has performed regularly over the years, often in his signature look: an all-red outfit topped with a bright red hat.

In 2012, Cavanaugh was thrust into the news in a very odd, unexpected fashion. Just months after winning first place in the Northwest Coast customary art category at the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s juried art show for an “Eagle Man Mask,” Cavanaugh was told by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that some of his artwork violated federal laws.

According to reports at the time, federal agents told Cavanaugh his use of feathers in his artwork were in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. He had used raven and flicker (a relative of a woodpecker) on a hat and headdress, respectively.

He ended up paying a fine, but the battle over the use of these feathers in Native art continues. SHI has advocated for the creation of federal laws that protect Native artwork. Progress is slowly being made. In April of this year, a bill with specific protections for Native artists was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee.

In a statement, SHI lamented that Cavanaugh will not be present to see the bill reach its completion.

“We envisioned a future ceremony after the amendments passed when we would restore the feathers to Archie’s pieces,” SHI’s statement read. “In our vision, Archie placed the flicker feathers back on his headdress and the raven feathers back on his hat. Now he will be with us in spirit.”

Cavanaugh was a Raven from the Gaanaxteidí clan of the Xíxch’I Hít (Frog House) in Klukwan.


• Have a story or thoughts about Archie Cavanaugh? We want to hear it. Email reporter Alex McCarthy at amccarthy@juneauempire.com.


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