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John Harvard's Journal

Kaats and Bear Arrive

January-February 2002

Railroad tycoon Edward Harriman financed a scientific expedition to the coast of Alaska in 1899 and went along on it with his family. When the expeditionary forces came to Gash village at Cape Fox, they thought it abandoned, and so they loaded various artifacts, including six totem poles, onto their steamer. Harriman gave one of the poles to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. It depicted a bear peering out of its den. Bear-paw tracks climbed the pole, which was surmounted by a large loon. Except for the time it left town in 1970 to attend the Japan World Exposition in Osaka, the pole charmed and instructed visitors to the Peabody. But on May 29, 2001, under the mandate of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the pole, which depicts the brown bear crest of the Tlingit clan Teikweidi, began the return trip to its regional home in Ketchikan, Alaska.

In anticipation of its return, the people of the Cape Fox Corporation at Saxman, where many Teikweidi now live, gave Harvard in May 2000 a stout red cedar tree from which a new pole might be fashioned. "It is a fine gesture," Ruby Watson, director of the Peabody, said at the time, "and one that symbolizes a new bond between the descendants of Gash village and the museum." The Peabody then commissioned master carver Nathan Jackson, a Tlingit and resident of Ketchikan whose work has been widely exhibited in North America, Asia, and Europe, to carve a new pole.

That pole is named Kaats and Bear Pole, Kaats being the name of a Tlingit hunter. It was officially dedicated at the Peabody on November 19. Jackson and representatives from Saxman danced and offered a blessing.