Mique’l Dangeli Puts Indigenous Art on Center Stage - Higher Education
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Mique’l Dangeli Puts Indigenous Art on Center Stage

by Pearl Stewart

When she isn’t on campus at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) in Juneau, Dr. Mique’l Dangeli may sometimes be seen at various venues around the country performing with Git Hayetsk (People of the Copper Shield), an internationally renowned Northwest Coast First Nations mask-dancing group.

Dr. Mique’l Dangeli

Dangeli, who is of the Tsimshian Nation of Metlakatla, Alaska, is one of the group’s leaders along with her husband Mike Dangeli, a Nisga’a artist and carver. Dangeli is not only a dedicated scholar of Northwest Coast culture and art; she is also an avid practitioner. Raised on the Annette Island Indian Reserve, from an early age in elementary school, Dangeli says she began learning the language, art and dances of her people. At age 16, Dangeli says, she met her mentor and adviser, Dr. Robin K. Wright, former curator of Native American art at the Burke Museum and a professor of art history at the University of Washington, who was visiting her community.

“That was the biggest game-changer for me,” Dangeli recalls. “At age 16, I didn’t even know what a Ph.D. was. … But the moment I met her and they said she had a Ph.D., I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

In her current position, Dangeli says she is working to create an environment at UAS that will encompass the creative arts that will be taught, displayed and performed there. “I want to organize the building of a center that is focused on Northwest Coast art here at UAS — that would be my immediate goal, for our carvers, our weavers and for all the different mediums …  including new media/digital technology.”

The center will house the Northwest Coast art program that Dangeli is expanding at UAS.

She says the program is currently only offered as an occupational endorsement or a certificate, but she hopes that will change soon.

“I’m building the Northwest Coast art program from its current status to a bachelor’s program and an associate program. … So we need a facility for courses we will offer and to be able to support Northwest Coast visual and performing arts.”

She adds, “Right now space is our biggest challenge.”

Dangeli is focusing on outreach to prospective donors and grant funders and forming partnerships with important institutions in the study and practice of indigenous arts are significant steps. She is also in the process of selecting adjuncts to teach in the program.

UAS Provost Dr. Karen Carey commends Dangeli’s work.

“Her research investigates the artistic processes through which composers and choreographers create new songs and dances within, and as assertions of, cultural protocols and she argues that these artistic processes are strategic acts of self-determination, deeply rooted in ancient practices and grounded in contemporary First Nations issues,” she says.

Dangeli’s dissertation, “Dancing Sovereignty: Protocol and Politics in Northwest Coast First Nations Dance,” will be published by the University of Washington Press.

Her master’s thesis on Tsimshian photographer Benjamin Alfred Haldane, who started a portrait studio in Metlakatla in 1899, was included as a chapter in Sharing Our Knowledge: The Tlingit and Their Coastal Neighbors, published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Carey praises Dangeli’s “passion for engaging with critical issues surrounding First Nation art history.”

That passion is evident when Dangeli describes the impact she hopes her program will have not just on the university, but on the entire region.

She says it “will foster the strength and vitality of our people and our cultures in Southeast Alaska and Northern British Columbia. I feel so blessed and so grateful for this opportunity,” she says. “It’s something I have hoped and worked and prayed for my entire life, and it’s wonderful to be back in Alaska.”

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