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An opportunity to return to honor

By Mary L. Stephenson


August 30, 2017
Wednesday AM

By the time William H. Seward was born in 1801, Russia’s empire included Kodiak and Sitka.

In 1867, Seward, as President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state, negotiated the Alaska Treaty of Cession in 1867. Two years later, the retired public servant began traveling around the world – first to Alaska.

After visiting Sitka and Wrangel, Seward stopped at Fort Tongass military post and village for the Tongass Tribe. Diplomatic exchanges occurred first by Seward inviting Ebbets and his large family on board the Active for a stately dinner.

Chief Ebbets then honored Seward with a potlatch complete with lavish gifts, cultural entertainment and food. Ebbets expected Seward to return to the village to host a potlatch to replenish Ebbet’s wealth, thus retaining the chief’s social status.

Chief Ebbets died in 1880, and Seward, who had not returned, became the object of a shame pole that was raised in 1885. Hoping that Seward’s absence was only a misunderstanding, that his descendants would acknowledge the forgetfulness, the pole was one of many left on the shoreline of the Tongass Village was abandoned.

During the 1940s, the Civilian Conservation Corps replicated the first pole, and stories continued the folklore feud.

Aanseet, Chief of all Women, and her husband, Chief Ebbets, had six children.

In a 1990 Ketchikan Daily News article, Saxman Mayor Forrest DeWitt and elders with surnames of Denny, Shields, and Utterberg offered suggestions to residents of Seward, Nebraska, to return the Secretary Seward pole to one of honor.

Israel and Sue Shotridge, in a 2005 Times Hearld Record article, noted that “a new pole must be carved as an Honor pole if the Shame pole is replaced.”

Carpenter ants stepped in, toppled the second totem in 2014, and shook up the stagnant conversation. Now after 132 years, an event could be planned around the original intent of the pole as an honor pole. Reflecting on the successful 2000 Harriman Expedition Retraced, the whole community could rally around the Ebbets clans again as they sought recompense.

In 2015, carver Stephen Jackson got started replicating the totem. The Ebbets and Seward families were notified of a possible reconciliation. Phone numbers were exchanged. Sixteen months passed, when I inquired about the events’ progress, Richard Jackson, the Tongass Tribe Brown Bear representative wrote in a December 2016 email that “they did not approve or sanction the event and, if involved, it would be totally a Tongass Tribe protocol”.

Unpublicized, the historic once-in-our-lifetime event Seward Shame number 2 pole raising occurred on April 29th. In a Daily News story, Willard Jackson stated: “Seward never returned the potlatch.”

That can no longer be an excuse, as some of his siblings and clan elders were suggesting “what needed to be done” since 1990.

The City of Saxman is custodian of the Seward Shame pole; it has a financial interest in maintaining the totem. Saxman, in a nonpartisan way, should hold public meetings for participants to untangle the stories, let genealogists offer the whereabouts of siblings, and discuss our options.

I urge people to get involved and be the change. Call the City of Saxman and request the public meeting as soon as possible.

Mary L. Stephenson
Ketchikan, Alaska

About: Mary Stephenson has worked as a tour guide for the past 25 years, and has been a resident of Ketchikan for the past five years.

Was the text of this letter edited by the SitNews Editor: No


Received August 27, 2017 - Published August 30, 2017



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