Alaska Native Artist Spotlight: Hanna Sholl (Sugpiaq)
6 mins read

Alaska Native Artist Spotlight: Hanna Sholl (Sugpiaq)

About the Author: Samantha Phillips is Tlingit – Kaagwaantaan, the Klukwan eagle/brown bear, grew up in Yakut. As a young woman, she learned of her Tlingit grandmother’s suffering from severe discrimination and mistreatment during her boarding school years. Sharing her grandmother’s experiences publicly was a powerful lesson for Samantha that Native voices need to be heard. With a focus on making a difference, she passionately poured her storytelling skills into her various writing pursuits. When she’s not writing in her current home of Madison, Alabama, Samantha creates memoirs through her life’s work—her six children.

“I bring sleeping traditions to life,” says Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) artist and teacher Hanna Sholl. The look of focused determination, determination, is palpable as she speaks about her culture. Hanna clearly has something to say, not only in her voice, but her hands dance, illustrating her passion.

According to Hanna Sholl, many of her Sugpiaq traditions were put to sleep during the colonization of Alaska. It wasn’t until the 1980s that these traditions slowly began to emerge from their slumber. In many ways, Hanna’s life is similar.

Born in Kodiak to a Sugpiaq mother and a French-born father, Hanna’s childhood consisted of traveling back and forth between her two families when her parents split. Raised most of her life in Portland, Oregon, Hanna felt a longing for her ancestral homeland, a connection she couldn’t quite grasp. She recalls one instance, when she was about ten, when she returned to Kodiak and physically felt a sense of “home.” Hanna exhales loudly at the memory, a soft smile warming her face.

As the oldest of six, responsibility came naturally to Hanna. Alone at 17, ambitious and determined, Hanna graduated from cosmetology school, worked night shifts at McDonald’s, and even got married at 18. When her mom asked her and her new husband to drive her van up the Alaska Highway, Hanna jumped at the chance. Once in Kodiak, Hanna quickly decided she never wanted to leave!

When Hanna settled in Kodiak, her mother suggested she dance with the Alutiiq dance group. The dance group gladly accepted her. Once she started dancing, she felt a connection that she says was rooted in her DNA. Dance actually opened doors of learning and self-discovery for Hanna.

Talking about the meaning that traditional Sugpiaq dance has brought her, Hanna is filled with passion, her hands expressively repeating the words. “I was trying to fill these gaps… and I dance, and I sing… and I want to know what I’m singing, so I’m learning the language. And I want to dance my own thing, so I’m learning how to make headdresses, I’m learning how to make regalia, and all of that is filling in. I felt like I was starting to have this fire—like, if this is so effective for me, and we’re not teaching it to our children… what a difference that could make! All of this heartache could have been avoided! If I had been given validation in my art and my herbal practice, along with the cultural elements that my body was craving at a DNA level.”

“It tore out parts of me that were essential to my existence, so I had to fill them with other things. It became clear to me that this could help. This could change lives. This could change something. This could change our world or our Sugpiaq nation.”

Hanna began a practice of immediately teaching everything she learned, without worrying about first becoming an expert. She wanted to spread the knowledge she was receiving as quickly as possible. Hanna attributes this to the guidance of many amazing mentors who fed her thirst for knowledge. Her mission has expanded to the point where she teaches classes and creates materials to help people of all ages use art as a healing medium.

This passion for sharing has fueled her mission to create a space for cultural healing through art. Hanna’s classes are designed for all ages, from curious preschoolers to seasoned seniors. She is passionate about teaching Sugpiaq patterns, traditional crafts like oil lamp carving, and the stories woven into each artistic expression.

Hanna emphasizes, however, that she is not just an instructor; she is an animator of cultural revival. Her oil lamp carving course illustrates this perfectly. While the practical skills of carving are important, Hanna delves deeper into the subject, sharing the history and traditional uses of the lamps. She connects the past with the present, suggesting appropriate modern oils and wicks, and even incorporates language translations and songs into the learning experience. Her goal extends beyond the classroom; it is to revive traditions in Sugpiaq homes, cultivating a sense of cultural identity in everyday life.

Hanna’s artistic expression extends beyond the educational realm. Her murals adorn the walls of Kodiak and even reach the Sacred Medicine House in Seattle. Collaborations with organizations like the Alutiiq Museum further amplify her message. Together, they create educational coloring books for children that combine cultural knowledge with artistic exploration.

Hanna’s message to visitors to Alaska is simple: Learn about indigenous communities before you arrive. By understanding the Sugpiaq people and their history, visitors can create a more meaningful connection to the land and its people. Supporting local businesses, like Hanna Tungiutaa’s store in Kodiak, ensures that authentic cultural experiences are accessible to all.

Hanna Sholl’s story is one of resilience, artistic expression, and a burning desire to heal herself and her community. Through her art and dedication, she awakens dormant traditions and paves the way for a future where cultural healing thrives.

Hanna invites guests to her Tungiutaa store in the Kodiak Shopping Center and encourages them to follow her on Facebook and Instagram.