The University of Alaska Southeast mourns the passing of retired faculty Richard “Dick” Dauenhauer.
Dauenhauer passed on from inoperable pancreatic cancer the morning of August 19, 2014 at the age of 72. A Russian Orthodox service was held at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Juneau August 28 followed by burial at the Alaska Memorial Park. A celebration of his life and contributions to Alaska was held August 30 at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.
As President’s Professor and a former Alaska Poet Laureate, Dr. Dauenhauer was instrumental in developing the Alaska Native Language program and inspiring creative writing at UAS. He was the 2013 recipient of the University of Alaska Foundation’s Edith R. Bullock Prize for Excellence, the largest single award made annually by the UA Foundation’s Board of Trustees. Dauenhauer began teaching at the university in 1984. He was jointly appointed President’s Professor of Alaska Native Languages and Culture at UAS and UAF in 2005. He retired from UAS in 2011.
During his tenure he designed and taught courses leading to the Tlingit language minor. He created several joint educational programs between the university and Alaska Native tribal organizations in an effort to preserve Alaska Native languages and cultures. Dauenhauer served as the state’s poet laureate from 1981 to 1985, an honor his wife Nora holds through 2014. They are the first couple in Alaska to have both been named state writer laureates. Dauenhauer was recognized twice with the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award for Anóoshi Lingít Aaní Ká, Russians in Tlingit America: The Battles of Sitka, 1802 and 1804 and Haa Tuwunáagu Yis, for Healing our Spirit: Tlingit Oratory.
In an obituary in the Los Angeles Times, writer Jill Leovy writes, “Dauenhauer made recording, transcribing and advocating for the Tlingit language his life's work. He trained a cadre of teachers and translators to continue his efforts. He sought not just to revive the fast-disappearing tongue, largely relegated to the thoughts of a few surviving tribal elders, but to win acceptance for its use.”
Dauenhauer gave Tlingit oral history the status of literature, "the same as the highest forms of English literature," according to Alaska Native languages faculty and program head Lance Twitchell.