Blog of Robert Davis Hoffmann on

Village Boy - Poem

Kake, Alaska

When my parents, Henry and Claribel Davis both accepted teaching jobs in Juneau in 1970 it was a dramatic shift for a "village boy." Back then it was culture shock for me. It wasn't easy. I listened to and took to heart comments about small town Natives that I should have shirked off. But young people don't have that ability. Not at a time when one is trying to establish who they are so they can figure out where they want to go in life.

It was a confusing time of life, being half Tlingit and half White compounded it. I was depressed, isolated and contemplating suicide. But today I am glad I did have to struggle through those difficulties, the comments, the lack of direction, the sorting out of identity. If things weren't as difficult, I would not have some of the clarity I gained from those experiences.

Through the struggles there were a few things that acted as "anchors" for me:

HOME. Kake. That is the place of my childhood and my coming of age. Even when I went off to college when I got homesick I would visit the places around Kake in my mind. Among us Tlingit, PLACE is so important. For me, PLACE has become interwoven with HOME. I know where I come from.ART. Our formline art has been my true love for many years. I began copying designs from my father's many books when I was in 4th grade. It has been my escape, my salvation, my freedom. During my difficult high school days, I drew a lot. I wanted to quit school, but there were two classes that made me return to school every day: Tlingit class with Cecelia Kunz, and Carving class with Peter Bibb. I am indebted.

The way our culture and our art get passed on is that it comes with some responsibilty. But those responsibilties also become rewards in themself. I was teaching at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp one year, and as it turned out, I would be teaching the grandchildren of my high school Carving teacher, Mr. Bibb! That inspired me to write this poem.

Village Boy 

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Topsy (Charles Johnson) Poem: Reconstruction

Topsy Saginaw Bay Tsaagweidi Tlingit

Last time I was in Kake, I read some poems at a community talent show, and I had told my sisters I would read my "Topsy poem" but once I was limited on time so I read shorter works.

So here is the poem I didn't get to read:


(For Uncle Topsy, Shaayaxdu.eesh - Tsaagweidi)

I thought my life was in layers

like a complex Chilkat Blanket's warps and wefts;

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© Robert Davis Hoffmann

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