More than 100 people gathered in front of the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building on Friday morning to celebrate the national release of Tlingit and Athabascan artist Rico Lanáat’ Worl’s Raven Story stamp.
The stamp, thought to be the first stamp designed by a Tlingit artist, depicts popular traditional figure Raven in the story “Raven and the Box of Daylight.”
“I want to say how proud I am of our art, which has been around for thousands of years, being brought to the national stage in this way,” said Marlene Johnson, chair of the SHI board of trustees. [Rico] had a goal to tell the story of Indigenous people, the story that we are still here. We have been here for 10,000 years and we’ll be here for 10,000 more.”
Raven is an especially prominent figure in the traditional stories of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people, Johnson said.
“Rico had to tell our origin story on the smallest canvas imaginable, a canvas less than 1 inch on the longest side,” Johnson said. “Rico, I say you have done good. You have told the nation we are still here.”
A national platform
The United States Postal Service’s high-profile release of the stamp in Juneau is intended to honor the USPS’ tight relationship the isolated communities of Alaska, said David Rupert, a communications manager for the Postal Service.
“We are in Alaska and Alaska is in us. We’re committed to you,” Rupert said in an interview. “Having this ceremony here, now, is an affirmation of that commitment. It’s part of our Delivering for America plan.”
The Delivering for American plan is an organizational overhaul the U.S.P.S. is currently undertaking to modernize and streamline operations across the entire Postal Service, Rupert said. In Alaska, the Anchorage hub is currently getting upgraded sorting machinery to help make operations more efficient, Rupert said.
“We truly have a world culture and stamps allow us to weave together the diverse threads of our national tapestry,” said Jakki Krage Strako, U.S.P.S. chief commerce and business solutions officer and executive vice president, during the ceremony. “The Raven stamp epitomises the best of the U.S.A. and it always will.”
A legacy of representing
For Worl himself, representing and giving voice to an ancient tradition of art and culture was a big part of the Raven Story stamp.
“This isn’t me presenting this work, but it is thousands of years of my people and work and hustle developing this art style,” Worl said. “My sister and I have always worked hard to represent through the Trickster Company brands and that’s how this began.”
The Raven Story stamp came from a chance occurrence when stamp designer Antonio Alcalá saw some of Worl’s Trickster Company products in the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. From there, a conversation opened, leading to the Raven Story stamps due to be released in 2020, but pushed back by the pandemic until Friday, when it received its long-overdue release.
During the ceremony, Juneau playwright, actor and educator Frank Henry Kaash Katasse treated guests to a rendition of the traditional origin story.
“Art is who we are. It is embedded in our own culture. We see our ancestors,” said Ricardo Worl, marketing and development director of SHI and uncle to Rico. “It is as if Raven is flying back to bring us daylight once again.”
The Raven Story isn’t the first example of Tlingit culture to appear on an American stamp. That distinction belongs to a series of stamps from 1996 featuring Alaska Native and Native American dances, including renowned Tlingit artist Nathan Jackson performing a Raven dance. Jackson himself was present at the ceremony Friday, dancing as part of the ceremony.
“We don’t really have a word for stamps,” said linguist, University of Alaska Southeast professor and moderator of the ceremony Lance X̱’unei Twitchell, who improvised a translation meaning approximately “paper, around the paper, sticky paper.”
Want to bring the Raven Story home?
The USPS printed 18 million Raven Story stamps, Rupert said. They’re available for purchase at all post offices and available for purchase with free shipping online at the USPS online store at https://store.usps.com/store/product/buy-stamps/raven-story-S_478004.