Burke Museum Home

The return of the Tongass Sea Lion


Shortly after the Harriman Expedition in 1899, a group of Seattle businessmen, sponsored by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Seattle Post Intelligencer, went to Alaska intent on acquiring a totem pole for the city. The collectors visited Tongass in August, when most residents were away fishing. They cut down Kinninook's pole and later presented it to the Seattle City Council. While some men were sawing down Kinninook's pole, others took a large sea lion figure from the roof of a house. This sea lion was presented to the Burke Museum by E.F. Blaine, where it has remained. Plans are underway to return the sea lion sculpture to the Tongass community, the Taantakwaan ("Sea Lion People").

The Kinninook pole was raised in Pioneer Square on October 18, 1899. Forty years later, in 1938, the so-called "Seattle Totem Pole" was damaged by arson. Civilian Conservation Corps–employed Tlingit carvers, led by Charles Brown, made a replica that still stands today at the corner of First and Yesler street in Pioneer Square. For more information on totem poles, see The Enduring Power of Totem Poles.

Tongass sea lion figure, Burke Museum cat. no. 153
Tongass, Alaska, ca. 1880, photo by George T. Emmons