Nora Marks Dauenhauer (Keixwnéi)

Photo courtesy of SHI. Photo by Brian Wallace.

Native American (Tlingit), Linguistics, Literature

Nora Marks Dauenhauer (Keixwnéi)


Nora Marks Dauenhauer (Ḵeixwnéi) was a Tlingit Clan Mother of the Raven moiety, Lukaax̱.ádi clan, and of the Shaka Hít or Canoe Prow House, from Alsek River, an author, and a culture-bearer whose scholarship documents and shares Tlingit culture and language through oral literature, poetry, theology, folklore, and oral traditions. Born in Juneau, Alaska, as the first child to Emma and Willie Marks, she and her 15 siblings spoke Tlingit as a first language, and traveled between Juneau, Hoonah, and seasonal subsistence hunting and fishing sites. She later learned English at the age of eight, dropping out of school by the sixth grade. She married her first husband, Antonio Bambao Floren, at age 18 and earned her GED as she taught Tlingit at the Juneau-Douglas High School, while her four children went through high school. 

Ḵeixwnéi began the Tlingit oratory project in the early 1960s by transcribing and translating speeches given at potlatch, an important ceremonial gathering in Northwest Coastal indigenous communities. By 1972, Tlingit elders chose Ḵeixwnéi for the task of documenting Tlingit culture. She then attended Alaska Methodist University, where she earned a BA in Anthropology and met her second husband, Professor of Literature, Richard Dauenhauer. The Dauenhauers formed a lifelong partnership researching Tlingit history, language, and storytelling and together produced the highly regarded four book Classics of Tlingit Oral Literature series.  In the 1980s, Kiks.ádi elders requested the Dauenhauers work with Sealaska Heritage to transcribe and translate past recordings of oral histories, resulting in more celebrated publications.

Nora Marks Ḵeixwnéi Dauenhauer’s research and life experiences were heavily reflected in her written prose and poetry. Her work was marked by linguistic playfulness and enunciates a reciprocity between Tlingit culture and the natural surroundings. Her approach recognizes oral history bearers as fellow researchers and project collaborators rather than as performers. 

After researching Tlingit language for the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, she later became the principal researcher in language and cultural studies at the Sealaska Heritage Foundation. She was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from University of Alaska Southeast and in 1986, she was chosen as a clan leader entrusted with the at.óow, the tangible and intangible rights and property, of the Raven clan. She has received many honors from tribes and the state, including being given the title, Naa Tláa, or Clan Mother, the highly respected female and ceremonial key speaker in matrilineal Tlingit society (2010) and being selected as the first Alaska Native to hold the title of Alaska’s writer laureate (2012). 

Among her publications (some with her husband), of relevance to folklore are:

Haa Shuká, Our Ancestors: Tlingit Oral Narratives (1987)

Haa Tuwunáagu Yís, for Healing Our Spirit: Tlingit Oratory (1990)

Hali Dardar