Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Tanis S’eiltin

By Bradley Pecore

“I hope to honor our Tlingit heritage, raise awareness and encourage dialogue that will   challenge stereotypes and deconstruct false histories.”[1]

S’eiltin asserts herself with elements of community and femininity, laying claim to her position as a Tlingit matriarch and artist. She pays tribute to her clan, L’uknaxa’di (Coho), her moiety Yeil (Raven), her ancestral grandmothers, and her mother, children and grandchildren. These positional relationships are vital to formulating an aesthetic that pays homage to past and future, while giving voice to the present.

Tanis S’eiltin received a B.F.A. in printmaking at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and later, a M.F.A. in mixed media from the University of Arizona, Tucson.[2] As Associate Professor of Art and Humanities at Fairhaven College, Western Washington University, S’eitlin researches Alaska Native, Native American, and Modern Art History, examining sovereignty, environment, race, and human rights. Her work was included in the group shows Watchful Eyes, Native American Woman Artists (Heard Museum,1994), Eewdoowata’w ag’e: Did They Rob You? (Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, 1999) and Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 2 (Museum of Arts and Design, 2005). In 2005, S’eitlin was the recipient of the Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art.

The 2006 video/installation Hit (House in Tlingit Language) at the C. N. Gorman University Museum examines the parallels between the history of an 1882 United States Navy bombing of the Tlingit village, Angoon in southeast Alaska, and the current United States occupation of Iraq. Suspended in a fifty-five-gallon glass tank of oil and water is a replica of an M-16, (the weapon of choice for the United States military) and sheer white fabric representing the bombed clan houses in Angoon. Life-sized silkscreen images of her grandmother, Mary Berries, gaze over the viewer while a neon green target casts its toxic light over the volatile temporal experience. The video paces on a slow linear path as the viewer is introduced to what appears to be an early ethnographic video still of a Tlingit motif, which then fades into the dominant industrial glow of an oil refinery.  Juxtaposed ethnographic visuals and M-16 propaganda reflect a virtual world fluent with the historical trauma of Indigenous experience. [3] S’eiltin’s work directs the visual crosshairs back towards an American imperialism that threatens Indigenous communities throughout the globe, backed by the semblance of democratic intent. Her curatorial statement surmises, “Through the guise of democratization indigenous peoples of both locations continue to lose their lands, resources and must fight to maintain their sovereignty.”[4]


[1] Tanis M. S’eiltin, “Ebuynativeart: Tanis S’eiltin,” in Ebuynativeart: Native American Artwork from the Pacific Northwest, http://www.ebuynativeart.com/Tanis/Hit/index.htm.

[2] David Revere McFadden and Ellen Napiura Taubman, Changing Hands: Art without Reservation (London: Merrell, 2002), 251.

[3] Veronica Passalacua, “All Things Bright and Shiny,” in  Making Sense of Things, C.N. Gorman Museum, http://gormanmuseum.ucdavis.edu/Exhibitions/Previous/Things/MakingSense.htm.

[4] S’eiltin, “Ebuynativeart: Tanis S’eiltin,” in Ebuynativeart: Native American Artwork from the Pacific Northwest, http://www.ebuynativeart.com/Tanis/Hit/index.htm.