The Tlingit nation (meaning “People of the Tides” in the Tlingit language) is indigenous to the US Pacific Northwest, and its art features some of the most iconic motifs associated with Native American cultural production. Cedar poles and canoes, as well as shamanic objects and adornments, are all known to feature carved and painted formline representations of important totem animals, including the raven, wolf, bear, eagle, and others.
Now, for the first time in recorded history, the US Postal Service has debuted a stamp designed by an Alaska Native person: Tlingit and Athabascan artist Rico Lanáat’ Worl. Worl is a well-established working artist with his own art and accessory brand, Trickster Company, as well as a teacher and social designer with Juneau-based Alaska Native arts nonprofit Sealaska Heritage Institute.
Worl’s forever stamp is titled “Raven Story” and takes one of the signature characters in Tlingit lore as its subject. Though Raven appears in many Tlingit stories, the stamp’s image features the Trickster-spirit within a field of gold stars, holding a round sun in his beak, referring to a specific tale. In an interview with Mary Louise Kelly for NPR, Worl translates the story as “Raven and the Box of Daylight,” the Tlingit iteration of the light-bringing story that pervades the mythologies of many cultures.
“It is a story that is a gateway for learning about Tlingit culture for a broad audience, for a national audience,” Worl said to Kelly. He continued:
[…] Raven is all black on a white background. His feathers are kind of stretched out backwards. He’s got a hand — a human-shaped hand kind of jutting out from one part of his body, indicating that moment of transformation. Raven is in a moment where he’s stealing some stars from this clan leader, and he’s kind of bringing stars out to the world to share with the world, to share with everyone in the world.
Though the stamp’s release was delayed, like so many things, by COVID, it is slated to come to market sometime this year. Just as Raven the Trickster took it upon himself to bring light to humanity, Worl’s Trickster Company is bringing a fundamental image from his Tlingit heritage to light for the wider public.