Shawgeylut "Sis" Coney, of the Tolowa tribe, Alison Osceola and Vivian McCovey, who are both Yurok, dressed in traditional regalia for a demonstration of the Tolowa Feather Dance, or Nay-dosh, at the Bear River Rancheria in September. The dance, traditionally performed near the winter solstice, gives thanks for food sources, ancestors, children and creation. According to Joseph Giovannetti, professor of Native American studies at Humboldt State University and singer for the Tolowa dancers, it is the only surviving dance of the tribe.
Many of these regalia pieces are family heirlooms, and together they represent years — even generations — of painstaking craftsmanship. Alison and Vivian, for example, wear caps woven by their great-great-grandmother, and necklaces and garments made by their mother and grandmother. Ellen Poitras, their grandmother, explains that the materials — like the abalone and olivella shells on their buckskin inner aprons and wraps, and the pine nuts and woven grasses — are still gathered here on the North Coast, though regalia makers have also started using traded or purchased beads in more recent times. The fur pieces pictured here are actually re-purposed thrift shop mink.
You can see a demonstration by the Tolowa dancers at the Intertribal Elders Gathering on Nov. 12. (See the 90-day Calendar for details.)