The Tlingit natives of Cape Fox call themselves the Saanya Kwaan, or the “People of the Southeast Wind”. They migrated from Asia across the Bering Land Bridge thousands of years ago and established a permanent village at Cape Fox in the Alexander Archipelago―a small chain of wind stripped islands off the coast of the Alaska Panhandle―53 miles southeast of Ketchikan.
Around the turn of the twentieth century the Cape Fox Tlingit, along with members of the Tongass Tlingit, left the original Cape Fox village and settled in Saxman in southeast Alaska. The new settlement was named after the Presbyterian missionary, Professor S.A. Saxman, who had been sent to the area to build a school and a church to help Christianize and educate the Tlingit people.
Years later, railroad magnet Edward Harriman decided to take his family and a group of famous scientists on a trip to Alaska―known as the Harriman Alaska Expedition. His reasons for the voyage included: taking an educational family vacation; examining the potential for extending a railroad line across the Bering Strait to Russia; hunting for Kodiak bears; and increasing America’s scientific knowledge of this rather unknown territory. To that end, Harriman had a ship outfitted specifically for the voyage, and invited many renowned and promising naturalists, artists, writers, and scholars to join him. The voyagers set sail from Seattle in late spring 1899, and traveled as far as the Bering Straits before returning. On the way back, the team decided to visit the original Cape Fox Village that had been abandoned years before.
Upon arrival at the village, the expedition found 24 immense totem poles, cultural head gears, masks, and various other artifacts. Believing the village to be deserted, the expedition looted the village and later distributed the relics to various museums and universities across the United States. It wasn’t until May 29, 2001, under mandate of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, that the Tlingit Clan finally received nearly all the items taken by the Harriman Expedition.