The Shaming of William Seward

Our ever-classy (classless?) LtGov Byron Mallott put up a new large format photo (art work) in the LtGov’s office a few weeks ago week.  This “art” was a large, color enhanced photo of the Tongass People’s “shaming totem” raised in front of the Saxman Tribal House ridiculing William Seward’s failure to reciprocate a potlatch given in his name in 1869.

The current pole is new, and is the third version erected over the last 135 years.  If you do the math, it took the tribe a full 13 years to decide that they were dissed and start carving totems in response, as the visit was 148 years ago.  Perhaps in this case absence did not make the heart grow fonder.

The second pole was erected in the 1930s as part of an FDR-era CCC project.  It lasted until 2014 when it was taken down as rotted and unsafe.  It took a local “craftsman” three years to replace it.

That’s kind of a long time to hold a grudge.  But for our tribal neighbors, channeling their best imitation of generations’ long blood feuding between Hatfields and McCoys 150 years ago, any slight, perceived, or real, is enough to kick around a guy who has been gone from this earth for over a century.

So, the new pole goes up, photos taken, and a good time was had by all, celebrated for all to see by our esteemed LtGov.

The article out of the Ketchikan Daily News of the totem being raised last April quoted one tribal member saying that “He never returned the potlatch, he didn’t understand the honor, and that’s why the pole went up.”

It is not clear in either article whether or not Seward or anyone in his entourage even knew local traditions associated the potlatch or their responsibilities afterwards.  It is not clear that any member of the tribe relayed the associated protocols and responsibilities for accepting attendance at a potlatch to Seward or his entourage.  Nothing like playing I’ve got a secret with distinguished visitors and then blasting away for nearly a century and a half at someone who was totally clueless about local custom.

For his part, Mallott claimed that the totem is an admonishment to all visitors that all people should be treated with respect, everyone that is except William Seward.  Where I come from, respect is earned.  Trashing someone in effigy for nearly a century and a half is hardly a way to earn respect.

If this is ancient native wisdom, perhaps it is good that we don’t have more of it.  Problem is what the elders are teaching the young, not unlike the Hatfields and McCoys did 150 years ago.

Mallott and his tribal buddies ought to be ashamed of doing this, reveling in it, trashing the memory of someone who isn’t around to respond or return the favor.  Leadership from tribal elders?  Not observed.  Good old fashioned Christian forgiveness?  Not observed either.

Much more fun to mumble pseudo-serious words about respect or the lack thereof.

LtGov Byron Mallott demonstrates once again that he is a small minded, intolerant, vindictive, nasty, unforgiving, little man, none of which is a surprise to this writer.  One bit of old time wisdom from my culture for his consideration is the observation that when you point a finger at someone, there are 3 fingers pointing back at you.

Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He is a small business owner and Information Technology professional.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.