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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 28, 2001 - Issue 41


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Lost Totem is Back with Tlingit Indians


 Photos taken by the Harriman Expedition

KETCHIKAN, Alaska -- Two hundred painted Tlingit Indian dancers, draped with traditional robes adorned with likenesses of killer whales, eagles, ravens and bears, gave a rousing welcome home here Monday to a dozen museum artifacts taken from their ancestors 102 years ago.

The male and female dancers, ranging from 3-year-olds to a grandmotherly woman shuffling determinedly on crutches, chanted and snaked joyously through Ketchikan's civic auditorium past 200-year-old carved totem poles, house posts, grave markers and the front of a clan chief's house.

Two dozen drummers at the base of a 26-foot-high totem pole filled the auditorium, packed with tribal members and guests, with a pulsating beat that carried the dancers along.

The totem was one that for decades had been a centerpiece at Chicago's Field Museum hall devoted to Northwest Coast Indians. The likenesses of the animals adorning the dancer's costumes were much the same as those on the returned artifacts they were honoring, carved by tribal artists in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

The totems and other objects had been taken from the ancestral village of the dancers in 1899 by a scientific expedition financed and led by Edward Harriman, who made his fortune from the Illinois Central and Union Pacific Railroads.

"These artifacts have been gone for so long, it's like when one of your family members has been gone for a long, long time, and he has finally decided to come home," said Richard Shields, a Tlingit clan leader.

"We've almost lost the identity and meaning of what these objects represent."

Part of the welcoming ceremony Monday included about 500 dancers, singers and observers going to Ketchikan's waterfront to greet the ship carrying seven crates of artifacts.

 Maps by Travel

Alaska Native Heritage Center-Tlingit
The Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian (hereafter referred to as “the People”) share a common and similar Northwest Coast Culture with important differences in language and clan system.


The Harriman Expedition
Instructed by his doctor to take a vacation, railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman described his Alaska outing "as a summer cruise for the pleasure and recreation of my family and a few friends".

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