December 21, 1927 – February 14, 2006
Agnes Bellinger was the daughter of my Chilkat weaving teacher, Jennie Thlunaut. I first met Agnes in the early 70s in her Juneau home. I was a teenager interested in learning more Tlingit songs and dances since I had been learning the Yakutat Mt. St. Elias Tlingit songs from the late Harry K. Bremner, Sr. Though eventually I became distracted from learning the songs, Agnes’ newly-formed dance group, the “Eagle Raven Dancers” would become one of the most well-known Native dance groups to represent the peoples of the Northwest Coast. More than 35 years later, the dance group continues to teach and inspire the young people, currently led by Agnes’ adopted daughter, Atricia Hill Makaily.
In 1985, I attended Jennie Thlunaut’s last Chilkat weaving workshop for two weeks in Haines. A year later, Agnes called me unexpectedly and said: ‘Clarissa, my mother wants you to apprentice with her; she wants to continue teaching you how to weave…as you know, two weeks is not enough time to learn all there is to know about Chilkat weaving…my mother is coming to town tomorrow; can you start then?” Since the apprenticeship, which was held in Agnes’ house on West 11th street in Juneau, for years Agnes continued to encourage me to weave because she knew that most people who learned how to weave would eventually feel discouraged and quit altogether.
Three months before Agnes’ passing, I had the privilege to assist Agnes through a detox program at the Optimum Health Institute in San Diego, California. Agnes had a rare form of cancer and was willing to try alternatives to healing. During the intense three weeks of cleansing, we spent many hours conversing about her life and family, our culture, and of course my role in being a teacher of Chilkat weaving. She said “Like my mother, I have always believed in you…you will continue to do good works…”
Agnes Martha Thlunaut Bellinger passed away at her home at 7:00am February 14, 2006. She was born on December 21, 1927 to John (Lunaat’) and Jennie (Johnson) Mark (Shaax’saani keek). A Kaagwaantaan of the Wolf House, her Tlingit names were Yaanshawti and K’indzei, she was the “Commodore” of the YaanWaa Shaa after her mother, Jennie Thlunaut. She was Lukaax.adi yadi and a Chooshgadachxan (her own grandchild, the same clan as her paternal grandfather). Her mother, Jennie, was a Gaanaxteidi yadi, the daughter of Mathew Johnson (Yaandakin yeil) of the Frog House in Klukwan whose wife Ester (Kaakwdagaan) was a Deisheetaan yadi by a man named Shaadaax’. The wife of Shaadaax’ was Kuseeyi. The father of Mathew Johnson, X’ajoosa was also Kaagwaantaan and his wife was known as Kooleet Tlaa.
Agnes was raised to know the Tlingit way of life, she shared her knowledge openly with others. She was officially bestowed the honor of Kaagwaantaan Naa Tlaa at Koo.eex’ in Haines/Klukwan in August of 2001. She was preceded in death by her sisters Katherine (Hammond), Edith Thompson, and Edna Land, and her late husband Leo Jacobs Sr. (of the Coho clan) and second husband Donald Carroll Bellinger (adopted by the Lukaax.aadi clan).
Agnes started a dance group, Eagle Raven Dancers, shortly after moving to Juneau in 1969. Agnes’ knowledge and generosity in sharing the Tlingit way of life reached many community members through the years giving sprout to other dance groups including: Yun Shu Ka, Yees Ku Oo, Children of All Nations, and many other dancers of Southeast Alaska. Agnes encouraged continued-learning and was willing to share with many who were interested in the Tllingit way of life. She continued her own education by earning her Bachelors of Arts Degree in Anthropology from the University of Washington. Upon graduation she was presented with a graduation gift – A Chilkat Naa xein made by her late mother, master weaver Jennie Thlunaut.
She began her job careers by working at the Haines House Laundry. She was not hindered by being legally blind and went on to receive the handicap of the year award in 1976 for her exceptional ability, speed and proficiency in typing skills and administrative organization under the employment of the U.S. Forest Service. She continued her work after receiving her degree by working for Sealaska and serving the Juneau School District as a cultural specialist. In later years, Agnes enjoyed her role of sharing the beauty of the Tlingit way of life with visitors to Juneau by working as a docent for the Alaska State Museum and an elder knowledge-bearer sharing with visitor groups organized by Goldbelt tourism. During her work with cruise line companies, she received the official honorary badge as crew for America West Steamboat Company.
Agnes was fortunate to receive the tutelage of her Tlingit elders in her younger life. She believed in sharing her knowledge and Tlingit heritage with many who were interested in order to impart the beauty, love and respect of the Tlingit ways. She encouraged young people to learn their native language and heritage. The Lukaax.aadi, Agnes’ father’s people, are bestowed the honor of Agnes’ wish to be cared for in the Tlingit manner.
Pallbearers are designated as Peter Marks, Raymond Dennis, Jr., Jeff David Jr., Smitty Katzeek, Levi Thompson and Kevin Thompson.
Honorary pallbearers are Johnnie Marks, Emma Marks, Nora Dauenhauer, Cyril George, Nathan Jackson, Florence M. Sheakley, David Light, Joe Winders, Austin “Ozzie” Hammond, Jr.
Agnes is survived by her children Leo Jacobs, Joe Jacobs, Marianne Jacobs, Donna Bellinger, grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.