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Harriman Expedition Retraced


Expedition Log




Expedition Log: July 23, 2001

Tom Litwin, Expedition Director

Letter from Jai, Seattle, Washington

Hello! My name is Jai and I am a member of the Saanya Kwaan Clan (GrizzlyBear Clan from the upper Unuk River). I wanted to thank you for the efforts you are going through to repatriate Tlingit artifacts and alsofor your planned filming of the ceremony. I have a few traditional objects including a halibut hook, purse and vest which I inherited from my mother. I am really looking forward to seeing the objects you are returning. I currently live in Seattle and hope to attend the ceremony with my son. My Aunt, Uncle and several cousins currently live in Saxman, Alaska, near Cape Fox and Ketchikan. Hope to see you all theret his July! And thank you again!                                                                        Jai

Headline in The Daily News, Prince Rupert, British Columbia, 19 July 2001: Raiders Return Loot!

Cape Fox Village to Ketchikan, Alaska

At first light we anchored off Old Cape Fox Village beach on Kirk Point.  My immediate challenge was finding my way through the yet unexplored Clipper Odyssey, from my cabin to the bridge, to look over the navigation charts for the day.  We were at the southern end of the 2.3 million-acre Misty Fiords National Monument, a mere eight miles from the Canadian boarder.

Scanning Kirk Bay with binoculars, it was apparent why the Saanya Kwaan had located a village on this beach.  The village site is above a crescent of sand, just off a large, protective cove. No large boulders or rock faces blocked access to the gently-sloping beach that stretched 100 yards from the low tide to the wrack line. Salmon purse seiners working southeast of the ship testified to the fish abundance in these waters.  On the cape itself, a young spruce forest has grown over the past 100 years, clearly separating the sand beach from the now wooded uplands. The young forest had consumed the old village site that arriving boats would have easily seen a century ago. 

By 6:30A.M. we were scanning the horizon for the stevedore boat that was bringing members of the Saanya Kwaan, Harriman family, and museum representatives to the ship. Just as we spotted their boat, the radio sounded, telling us that they had sighted the Odyssey. The anticipation of this moment could be felt amongst all who had gathered on the bridge; time moved quickly and the stevedore boat was alongside the ship's pilot door. As the passengers stepped aboard, Harriman Scholar Rosita Worl, in her Tlingit ceremonial dress, greeted Saanya Kwaan representatives Irene Shields and Eleanor Hadden, and Edward H. Harriman's great-great granddaughter, Kitty Northrup Friedman with her young son, Ned.  The visitors included delegates from the Burke Museum, the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, Chicago Field Museum, Harvard's Peabody Museum, and Phoebe Wood of Smith College's Board of Trustees. By the end of the day the Peabody, Smithsonian, Field Museum, Burke, and Cornell University would officially return clan objects that had left this cove more than a century ago. 

Within the hour the group moved to aft Deck 4 where the first zodiac launched for Saanya Kwaan homeland and ancestral village. Clan members in regalia were the first to step on shore, greeting the rest of the zodiac party as they entered Tlingit land. As the other boats made their way to the landing, Irene, Eleanor, and Rosita moved to the upper beach and built a ceremonial fire. They stood out against the backdrop of the trees, dressed in red, black, and yellow ceremonial robes, marking the spot where a very long journey was coming to an end.

The attention of Clipper Odyssey's party was quickly focused on the drum and song that began the ceremony. To honor the memories of Saanya Kwaan ancestors and heritage, a procession formed and each member of the ship's party put a small piece of bread into the fire as an offering. Irene and Eleanor, whose ancestors had lived in Cape Fox Village, shared with us the meaning of this day and expressed the importance of this moment. Their voices were filled with emotion and eyes with tears. On a beach between the sea and spruce woods, we suddenly found ourselves within an emotional and spiritual place much larger than any logistical detail or individual. The ceremony did not actually end, but became quiet. I felt great relief that our first effort to reconcile a controversial historical event with our actions in 2001, a century later, was making sense. A small group led by Irene and Eleanor, went into the old village site and the forest that now surrounds it. Visiting the village site with its moss covered remains and mounds, in the stillness of the forest, again proved to be a powerful and emotional connection. 

Small groups stood talking on the beach and made their way to the tide line where the zodiacs waited for the trip back to the ship. Although time seemed suspended, we had spent about two hours at Cape Fox. With a long day still ahead, the ship weighed anchor and set a course, by way of Nichols Pass, for Metlakatla on Annette Island's west coast. The charts confirmed that since leaving Cape Fox, we have been sailing within the Tongass National Forest's lush temperate rain forests that cover the dozens of islands making-up the Alexander Archipelago. 

Our goal for visiting Metlakatla Village was two-fold. We wanted to understand how this small coastal village was faring in the modern world, and we wanted to visit the Father Duncan Museum and see the tangible impact of Western values on Native culture. Without this understanding, we could not begin to understand or appreciate the importance of returning the Saanya Kwaan's objects.    

Father William Duncan's 1887 settlement of "New Metlakatla" received considerable attention in the 1899 expedition's report by George Bird Grinnell. In 1891, Father Duncan successfully petitioned Congress to turn the entire Island into the Annette Island Indian Reservation, the only reservation in the State of Alaska. After a century, Father Duncan's efforts can be seen as a mixed blessing. At a time when Tlingit and Tsimshian communities were being devastated by other Western influences, Father Duncan provided a haven for disenfranchised community members. While his intentions may have been good, his stern and restrictive methods to "civilize the Natives" led to a revolt in 1915 and a reclaiming of  some traditional cultures and rights.

As we made our way back to the ship we struggled with the history that the Father Duncan Museum represented; we were again traveling through time and trying to reconcile our contemporary views with the history and the politics that surround it. The praise the 1899 expedition gave Father Duncan's effort was sincere, a reflection of the values of the day.  Standing in the very same spot, we looked through our social lens of 2001 and could only be awed by the shift in values and sensibilities that we brought to this village. I wrestled with the trap of revised history, wondering how one society could justify treating another this way. What was the role of Harriman Retraced in the midst of all this? Some colleagues worried that we were being used in a broader Native political agenda. I contrasted this with my earlier visits with Clan representatives in New York and with Clan leaders and elders in Ketchikan. The tears, anger, outrage, hurt and sorrow I witnessed, and the scoldings received, were real. "Do you understand, Tom, that the Harriman Expedition took away our history? I can't tell my grandchildren who we are, the stories are lost?" We would truly misinterpret our situation if we saw it as one-dimensional: the tears and broader political agenda were both real, and very much part of an unfolding historical period.  And we, with our 340' long ship transporting cherished objects, had sailed into the midst of it.

We were joined at the dock by Alaska Lieutenant Governor Fran Ulmer, who sailed with us from Metlakatla to Ketchikan. Lt. Governor Ulmer, Chair of the Alaska Historical Commission and an honorary Tlingit, was Alaska's official representative to the repatriation and potlatch. The Clipper Odyssey departed Metlakatla at 2:00 P.M. for Ketchikan. We continued northwest through Nichols Passage to the Tongass Narrows, a fourteen-mile passage between Gravina Island on our port, and Revillagigedo Island to starboard.  Lt. Governor Ulmer provided an overview of the significance of this repatriation within the context of Alaska's history, and presided over a panel of museum representatives who facilitated the return of Saanya Kwaan objects from their institutions. Rosita Worl, a Tlingit, Professor of Anthropology, and expedition scholar, spoke of the important traditions and social protocols in which we were now involved.

The participating institutions and individuals were Rick West, director, and Bruce Bernstein, assistant director, of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; Felisia A. Wesson, General Counsel, Chicago Field Museum; Barbara Issac, assistant director, and Anne-Marie Victor-Howe, associate curator, Peabody Museum, Harvard University; Robin Wright, curator of Native American Art, Burke Museum, University of Washington. Again, the contrast with 1899 could not have been more vivid.  A century ago, museums were vigorously gathering Native property on an international scale and building significant exhibits to display them. Today, in Tongass Narrows, some of these same institutions had cleared legal, political, and ethical hurdles to return the same property to its Tlingit homeland.

The appearance of Pennock Island on our port signaled our approach to Ketchikan harbor and the hasty conclusion to the panel discussion. From the bridge we could see a lot of activity on the dock and a very busy port. In 1991, 15 cruise ships visited Ketchikan. Today, on average, 480 ships visit each year bringing 300,000 visitors. Quite a change for a location that originated as a Tongass and Cape Fox Tlingit fishing camp on the Ketchikan River. It was clear by the concentration of red and black Tlingit robes, TV cameras and on-lookers that the berth in the center of the City dock was where we were to tie-up. It also became apparent that we were now in a fish bowl, from how the Captain handled his ship, to how we conducted ourselves in this emotional and powerful situation.

With Rosita Worl at my side as our "protocol adviser" we approached the dock. We scanned the crowd for the group of Clan Leaders and Elders; I called to them, "Haa dei!" a Tlingit greeting and call to get attention. This traditional signal worked and the Clan Leaders where able to find us along the crowded rail of the ship. They responded in kind. Since this is Tlingit homeland, they asked who we were and why we had come. I responded that we were the Harriman Expedition Retraced and that we came in peace and friendship to return clan property that had been gone for over 100-years. They nodded, some somber, some enthusiastically, and waved us to come alongside and tie-up. There was a good deal of tension in knowing the importance of our meeting, but not knowing exactly how it all was to unfold; we had no precedent, no familiar protocol to guide us.  The smiles and waves from well-wishers and friends standing on the crowded dock were welcomed signs of encouragement. The quiet of Cape Fox beach seemed a very long way away.

The best way to describe what followed during the rest of the day and night was the touching of parallel universes. In many ways the Tlingit culture is now much Westernized, and the lines between the two blur. But today the two separations seemed clearer.  We brought our culture on an internationally registered ship. On the dock were Tlingits from throughout Southeast Alaska, hosted by the Saanya Kwaan, determined to respect their own ancestors, heritage, and cultural traditions. They were also grappling simultaneously with emotions surrounding the taking of the objects and 100-year absence, and the elation and celebration of their return. While we sympathized with the Saanya's, I'm not sure how many of us understood that many clan members saw us as cultural delegates responsible for the removal of the objects in 1899. The people who removed the Saanya's property in 1899 were our people and we had an obligation to assume responsibility for their actions.

Respect is a fundamental value within Tlingit culture, and the removal of property from Cape Fox without permission was a serious display of disrespect. The fact that it had occurred a century ago was not relevant. When we created Harriman Retraced, we created a repository for an obligation in search of a home. In earlier meetings when I was scolded, E.H. Harriman was standing right next to me. It was not really important that Mr. Harriman had passed away ninety years ago. 

Suffice to say that our historic, albeit unscripted, meeting moved through a series of huddles, consultations, exchanges of messages, and overarching goodwill. With a few fits and starts, the large crated house posts from the Burke Museum and totem from Cornell University were craned off the ship to an awaiting flatbed truck. The objects from the other institutions had already made their way to Ketchikan in time for today's potlatch.

Standing next to me through all this was Kitty Friedman, great-great-granddaughter of Edward Harriman. Her great-grandfather, Roland, was the youngest participant of the 1899 expedition, being 2-years old at the time. Fulfilling this historical role was Ned, Kitty's 4-month old son.  It had not been clear until about two weeks before we departed whether or not a member of the Harriman family would join the repatriation; Kitty's presence today was significant.

With Kitty and Ned's participation, the event could now become one of the Tlingit's most important ceremonies, a potlatch. In this case, it was a form of potlatch used for settling disputes. If a Harriman was not present, the dispute could not be settled. The Clans' property could be returned through the healing ceremony, but the 100-year old dispute revolving around the removal of Clan property without permission would remain an open wound.

Spotting Irene and Eleanor in the crowd, I flashed on the idea we used to help move our planning discussions forward: building a bridge to the future. This notion represented our understanding that there were long standing grievances, misunderstandings and powerful feelings, but if we were to make progress they had to be set aside so we could move on.  It was interesting that these three young women had been sent as their "clan" representatives, had helped construct the "bridge to the future," and were the first to cross it. The unassuming strength and courage they demonstrated were important ingredients of the day's success.

The loading complete, we left the ship and joined a procession of cars and trucks, led by the flatbed, objects, and the dozen young Tlingits sitting atop. Tourists stopped and stared. State police, their car lights flashing, blocked the intersections as we made our way through Ketchikan to Saxman. Saxman has been the Saanya home since they left Cape Fox in 1893. It is where the Saanya's clan houses are located, and it was necessary to pass them to reintroduce the spirits of the long missing house posts and totem to the spirits of the clan houses. At one clan house, the home of a clan elder, we were invited for coffee and cake. On the front lawn with a small tent. We spoke about the importance of this day. As the procession continued, cars that happened upon it joined in line and others dropped out. Horns honked, people shouted from their cars and bystanders waved and whistled.  This was an honest-to-goodness happening and regardless of one's point of view, we were "going with the flow."  If there ever was a time that parallel universes bumped, this was surely it.

The procession ended with our arrival at the Ketchikan Civic Center and potlatch. By this point I had lost all track of time, except that it was getting dark. The large hall was filled with hundreds of people--- adults, children, babies, teens, elders; standing sitting, walking, talking, hugging, shaking hands. This was not just a community event, it was the community.  Laid out in the middle of the hall were the newly united totems, house posts, and house front. People gently touched them, some stared, some quietly wiped away tears, others expressed joy. Children stood tiptoe to see over the sides of the crates. Into this gathering, on the 23rd of July 2001, "the Ship People" melted. Reactions, conversations and interactions were as varied as the people filling the crowded space we suddenly shared. Some community members were happy to see us, others were shy. Some were politely cool; a grievance that had been building up a head of steam for 100-year old was not going to disappear in a day, if ever. I happened upon my family sitting on the floor next to a totem and felt the security of the anchor they provide me. Off I went to the next, and next, and next conversation about who we were, extending congratulations, and celebrating the importance of the moment. The radio, TV, and newspaper interviews went by in a blur.

The scene shifted to the stage where the "official" activities took place. There was the formal signing of the property transfers by each institution to the Saanya Kwaan and exchange of gifts. I presented Clan leaders with a silver bowl commemorating the repatriation and friendship of the Harriman Expedition Retraced.  All eyes fixed on Kitty as she stepped out of the group and moved to center stage and waiting Clan Leaders. In her unassuming manner she extended the greetings and friendship of the Harriman family to the Saanya Kwaan. The leaders carefully watched and listened. Without hesitation she spoke of the importance of this day, and her family's happiness that the Clan's property was returning home after so many years. Kitty unfolded a quilt that had been in her family since 1895 and presented it to the Saanya leadership. They nodded at her words, shook hands, and accepted the Harriman's gift of reconciliation and friendship. In this brief exchange the circle was completed.

Where it would lead was less clear. It was an interesting moment where one very powerful set of circumstances had gone away, but it was too soon for the space to be filled by a new understanding and purpose. For lack of a better word, it was a moment suspended in "wonderment" and the thought, "Now what?" The formalities subsided into traditional dances and celebration that rose in spirit as the evening turned to night, to early morning.

It was in this state, infused with exhaustion, that I was concluding my last interview, at mid-night, with TV2 Anchorage. Behind the camera I could see a member of the expedition staff patiently waiting to get me on the last van back to the ship. The hallway out was filled with goodbyes and expressions of relief about all that was now behind us and little concern at this moment for what lay ahead. Upon reaching the ship, we were met with the news that one of our expedition team was still missing, Rosita. For a ship about to leave port, this was no small matter in the minds of the Captain and crew. Without boarding the ship, we turned around and went back to the potlatch. Back through the crowd, into the side rooms, through the parking lots: no Rosita. We gave up and returned to the ship where waiting for me was a note:  "Rosita said she is jumping ship and will meet us in Juneau, 10:20 P.M." Of course she would stay with her Tlingit relatives on this important ceremonial and historic occasion. Of course all of the expedition members had to be onboard before departure. Bump go the universes. 

(View the day's photos)




For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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