Return of Totem Teddy?
Students trying to raise funds for second totem pole
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Updated: Saturday, July 25, 2009 16:07
He has traveled many miles in his life and has been a symbol of culture and tradition for thousands of years.
He has been kidnapped, gone missing, been vandalized and forgotten - all in one long lifetime.
His native name is Kaats' Eeti Gaas', but students at the University of Northern Colorado knew him as Totem Teddy.
For 89 years, Totem Teddy stood over the UNC campus until he was returned to his Alaskan home in 2003. And now, a group of UNC students are working to build a new Totem Teddy and restore UNC pride.
The totem pole disappeared from Angoon, Alaska, Totem Teddy's hometown, in 1908. No one really knows what happened to it, but in 1914 the U.S. Commissioner of Education for Alaska and 1897 UNC alumnus, Andrew Thompson, gave UNC the totem pole as a gift.
"He presented the totem to the college with the hope that it would be the beginning of a natural history art collection," Michael Sheehan, 1963 alumnus, said.
Sheehan was one of the many students in his time to find true appreciation for the totem pole.
"I remember seeing the totem for the first time, completely enchanted by the colors and the size of it," Sheehan said.
Totem Teddy is the reason UNC adopted its mascot and nickname as the Bears, in 1925. The totem stood at multiple locations on campus including buildings across what is now Central Campus and at the University Center. According to Sheehan, Totem Teddy was even placed in storage in 1959 when UNC was known as Colorado State College.
Petitioning to bring it back out in the open, Sheehan gathered over 1,000 signatures for the return of Totem Teddy.
Throughout the years, the original wooden brown bear on top of the totem was vandalized by students at competing colleges and worn by weather and termites. The original bear was reconstructed with cement in order for it to be preserved.
In 2003, Totem Teddy was taken from UNC and returned to Alaska. Peter Corey, a UNC alumnus, was working at the natural history museum in Sitka, Alaska as a curator when he came across an 1890 photo of a missing totem pole. He immediately recognized it as Totem Teddy and notified the Tlingit (KLINK-it) Tribe.
Under the Repatriation Act of 1990, which helps tribes reclaim archaeological objects with religious or cultural significance, UNC had to give back Totem Teddy.
"It was interesting when the Tlingit Tribe came down here (to UNC) they asked us if there were a lot of bears here," Solomon Little Owl, Native American student services, said as the Tlingit Tribe recognized our mascot as the bears.
Students who embraced the totem pole as a part of UNC tradition the way Sheehan had were not happy Teddy Totem had to leave, but understood.
"There is tradition no matter what, with or without Totem Teddy," said Little Owl. "I don't think that a mascot symbolizes tradition. I think tradition is to graduate from UNC."
Without many students left on campus who remember Totem Teddy, he has become but a memory in the minds of UNC alumni.
Many students do not realize that Totem Teddy is still on campus. He is in the form of the Ghost Totem, located by the food court in the lower west end of the UC. The artist of this embossed version of the original totem is Sheehan.
The Ghost Totem is but a memory of the original, which was about 22 feet tall and the cement bear alone weighed about 600 pounds. It took an hour and a half to load the totem into a moving van during repatriation, about 10 workers to lift and maneuver it and two days at the rate of 65 miles per hour to get it to the docks in Seattle.
"I just couldn't imagine how they got it here in the first place. I don't think just one horse could pull it," said Little Owl, who drove Totem Teddy to Seattle.
Thanks to a group of current students, there is hope after all for the return of Totem Teddy. It will not be the original totem that previous UNC students had come to love and cherish, but it will be a replica.
The project, Bringing Back the Spirit, was started in April 2007 and if all goes according to plan, the new totem should be completed by the end of the summer in 2008.
Holly Schroeder, senior business marketing major and volunteer for Bringing Back the Spirit, has contacted people in Seattle and Alaska about constructing a new totem pole. The cost would be about $1,000 per foot. She hopes to get a 15-foot pole, which would bring the estimated total to $15,000.
"I just want students to realize what it meant to both the tribe as well as the rest of UNC," said Schroeder. "We are just trying to bring back the memory."
In order for the replica to be funded, Schroeder is seeking any clubs, students, organizations and alumni to help bring back the spirit.
"I think we need a lot more tradition and a lot more spirit," Schroeder said.