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YAKUTAT BOROUGH - SURFING CAPITAL OF ALASKA (REALLY!)
BIOGRAPHIES
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HERBERT BREMNER
Pfc. Herbert Bremner, Tlingit, of Yakutat, Alaska, has been given the Bronze Star for heroic action in Holland in WWII.

"While the Anti-Tank Platoon which was supporting the assault battalion was moving its weapons forward to engage four enemy tanks which were holding up the progress of the battalion, two of the prime movers were damaged by intense mortar and machine gun fire, and it was necessary to repair them before they could be used to move the weapons into position without regard, for his personal safety. Private Bremner manned the machine gun, which was in an exposed position on top of one of the vehicles. His determined, accurate fire forced the enemy tanks to withdraw, thus permitting the battalion to advance to its objective. The high standard of courage of Private Bremner was a large factor in enabling the battalion to gain its objective and is a distinct credit to this soldier and the military service."

FREDERICA DE LAGUNA
Frederica "Freddy" de Laguna  
Knud Rasmusse
The Life of Frederica de Laguna - Part 1
1904-2004
The career of Frederica de Laguna, Freddy, as she was called by her friends, spanned more than 70 years. She began her anthropological studies in 1927 at Columbia University, went to do research in France, England and Denmark, then started fieldwork in Greenland.

She was one of the anthropologists / archeologists who worked to establish archaeological and ethnological research in Alaska in the 1930s doing ground breaking field work among the Alaskan people from Prince William Sound with the Chugash and the Eyak, then the Tanaina and Ingalik and other groups of the Yukon Valley; she began working with the Tlingit people doing archaeological work, then included the Atna of the Copper River Valley.

Freddy repeatedly visited the Tlingit community of Yakutat for the monumental ethnographic work for which she is best known. Under Mount Saint Elias: The History and Culture of the Yakutat Tlingit, her groundbreaking holistic study of the archaeology, ethnohistory and ethnography of one culture, was published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1972.

She was to be honoured later for her Yakutat work at a potlatch in 1997 which became the focus for a documentary about her work: Reunion Under Mount Saint Elias directed by Laura Bliss. Meanwhile, she had begun teaching at Bryn Mawr College where she established and developed an anthropology program until it became a full fledged department (1967) with its own graduate program. She served on a number of professional associations and her work was recognized by colleagues and native communities alike.

Freddy continued her beloved research work until the last days of her life. She completed the manuscript for a new edition of the three volumes of Under Mount St Elias. At the time of her death, she was also working on the biography of a Tlingit woman whom she had known in Yakutat, and on a new series of books for students (Northern Encounters), including a presentation of the Eyak people of Alaska, and another on the Greenlandic people. She was still in touch with colleagues, students and friends and was also busy managing her small independent academic press, the Frederica de Laguna Northern Books, started in 2001, with three titles already in press.

Until the end, her activities spanned the Northern regions to which she had devoted her life, and the various fields of enquiries which composed her well known holistic perspective on anthropology as the specific discipline located at the crossroad of many social and human sciences. She continued to be involved in the fulfilment of what she regarded as a main duty of the anthropologist, communication with both the communities under study and the public at large.

Freddy's story begins with her father, Theodore Lopez de Leo de Laguna and mother, Grace Mead Andrus, who had both received Doctorates from Cornell. In 1907, they came to Bryn Mawr College, where both were to teach philosophy. Freddy, born in Ann Arbor (Michigan) 1906, was then one year old. Freddy was home-schooled until she was 9. In 1914-15, she went with her parents and her baby brother to France where she witnessed the start of the First World War. She would go back in 1921-22 and spend 6 months in a French “lycée de jeunes filles” at Versailles. Her parents actively supported her work, and her mother, a renowned scholar herself, was to accompany Freddy during several of her field work experiences.

After graduation,Summa Cum Laude, in 1927 from Bryn Mawr College, Freddy studied at Columbia under Franz Boas, and took classes with Ruth Benedict and Gladys Reichard at Barnard (1927-31). In 1928, she also studied prehistory in a summer field school in France under George Grant McCurdy of Yale. She visited prehistoric sites such as the cave paintings at Altamira in Spain. She met the Abbé Breuil in the cavern of the Trois Frères where he was sketching the remarkable frieze of horses below the “sorcerer” on the rock walls of the cavern. She wrote that bare foot prints and hand marks of prehistoric adults and children were still fresh in the mud. That fall in Paris, she studied Palaeolithic art with the Abbé Breuil and took lessons with Marcellin Boule at the Institut de Paléontologie Humaine and Paul Rivet, curator of the Musée d’Ethnologie, in the old Trocadero building.

Then she went to London to read at the British Museum, and in 1929, she matriculated at the London School of Economics where she signed up for, among other courses, a seminar on “Magic, Science, and Religion” given by Bronislaw Malinowski. She then went on to study Palaeolithic and Eskimo collections in European and Scandinavian museums. In Denmark, she met Kaj Birket Smith and Therkel Mathiassen. The later asked her to be his research assistant on digs of Eskimo archaeological sites in Arctic Greenland (the Inuksuk site contained Norse artifacts as well). Instead of staying for the projected six weeks, she served a six month apprenticeship (1929). While there, she met Knud Rasmussen and other polar explorers. This first fieldwork experience marked a decisive moment in her career: she decided to devote her life to anthropological research and she maintained an interest in the Arctic and especially in Greenland to the end of her career. In 1979, she returned there for fieldwork after having taken lessons in Danish and renewing her friendship with colleagues in Denmark.

In 1930, before even completing her PhD, she had began her career in Alaskan archaeology with a survey of potential archaeological sites in Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet. Kaj Birket-Smith who was supposed to head the expedition fell sick and Freddy persuaded the Museum to let her go by herself. She received her PhD in Anthropology (Columbia 1933) in absentia while doing fieldwork in Alaska for the University of Pennsylvania Museum, WPA. Her excavations in 1931-32 established the basic sequence of prehistoric Pacific Eskimo (Alutiiq) cultures, including that now known as the “Kachemak Tradition”. During this period, she encountered, then identified, the Eyak Indians as a separate linguistic community.

In 1933, Freddy was joint leader with Kaj Birket-Smith of an archaeological-ethnological investigation of the Eyak Indians; the outcome was a joint publication, The Eyak Indians of the Copper River Delta, Alaska (Birket-Smith and de Laguna 1938) and a double publication on the Chugach Eskimo of Prince William Sound: he wrote their ethnography (1953) and she dealt with their prehistory and mythology (1956). In 1934, the University Museum published the results of her Alaskan excavations, The Archaeology of Cook Inlet, Alaska, with a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies (second revised edition, 1975, Alaska Historical Society).

A couple of years later, in 1935, Freddy led an archaeological and geological expedition on the middle and lower Yukon drainage. She traveled more than 2000 km through the interior of Alaska, in the hopes of discovering traces of the First American, or Paleo-Indians. Though this wish was thwarted, the group collected data on potential archaeological sites in the Yukon Valley and Freddy accumulated ethnographic data on the Athapaskan Indian people. The report on these archaeological activities in the Yukon Valley, The Prehistory of Northern North America as Seen from the Yukon (1947), had to wait until after the war to be published. The ethnographic data was not to be read by others until much later with the publication of Tales from the Dena (1995) and Travels Among the Dena: Exploring Alaska’s Yukon Valley (2000). Her survey of “Matrilineal Kin Groups in Northwestern North America,” Proceedings: Northern Athapaskan Conference, 1971, vol. 1, 17-145 (1975) also derives from the information she began collecting at that time.

The Depression cut short her trips to Alaska but allowed her to go to the only other area in North America where real archaeological sequences had been established: the Southwest. Thus she was able to make personal contact with members of many different western American aboriginal communities from British Columbia to California as in 1936, she and her mother embarked on a trip to visit sites, museums and colleagues, as well as North American Indian communities. Her introduction to these people was often with the guidance of the leading scholars who knew them best: Alfred Kroeber and Ruth Benedict with her writings on patternings in psychological terms, as the ethos or personality of a culture became major influences in her thinking. She also befriended Ruth Underhill, Harold Colton, Gladys Reichard, Erna Gunther, Viola Garfield, Marian Smith, William Fenton, Harlan I. Smith, T.F. McIlwraith and Henry Collins, Irving Hallowell and his wife among others.

In 1939, Freddy was elected president of the Philadelphia Anthropological Society (1939-40) and in 1941, she became Assistant Professor at Bryn Mawr College. The U.S. entry into the Second World War, however, led to a detour in her career. In September 1942, Frederica de Laguna joined the Naval Reserve as a lieutenant (junior grade), becoming one of the first teachers at the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School for Women on the Smith College Campus at Northhampton. Her specialty was communications (codes and ciphers). The following year (1943), she was transferred to Naval Intelligence in Washington D.C. where she eventually reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander just after Japan's surrender.

After the end of the war, Freddy retired from the Navy, but left with a deep respect for the Navy, an enduring interest in ships and naval history from the time of Captain Cook to the present, and a strong contempt for institutions that were uanble to recognize the potential of women.

Freddy returned to her own field, planning an ambitious project that combined archaeological, historical and ethnographic disciplines into a comprehensive study of Tlingit culture. She hoped to trace the development of a recognizable Tlingit pattern from the culture's early appearance to modern times. In 1949, she began surveying Northern Tlingit communities on the Gulf Coast of Alaska including Yakutat. That same year, she was elected vice-president of the Society for American Archaeology (1949-50). In 1950, Freddy brought a team of researchers to Angoon, Admiralty Island in Southern Alaska where she joined efforts with Viola Garfield. This collaboration led to the writing of The Story of a Tlingit Village: A Problem in the Relationship Between Archeological, Ethnological, and Historical Methods (1960) which laid the methodological foundations for her later research.

With the collaboration of Catharine (“Kitty”) McClellan, one of her graduate students who had become her close collaborator, she moved from Angoon back to Yakutat. There, the research later published as Under Mount Saint Elias: The history and culture of the Yakutat Tlingit (Smithsonian contributions to anthropology) (1972), took shape as Freddy came back every time she could, becoming more and more attached to the community. The resulting 3 volumes were hailed both by both the scientific community and the Yakutat people themselves. In fact, the Yakutat people rewarded her with a special celebration during a potlatch in 1997. Her return ahd the celebration became the topic of an award-winning documentary by Laura Bliss, Reunion Under Mount Saint Elias: The Return of Frederica de Laguna.

It was during this time (1965-1967)that Freddy and Kitty began to work on the Atna, Athabaskans of the Copper River, and their neighbours on the upper Tanana. At the same time, Kitty conducted additional research of her own in the Yukon territory. Together, they perfected research methods in ethnography with Freddy moving toward a perception of research as a dialogical enterprise.

In 1965, Freddy became president of the American Anthropological Association (1965-1966), She was re-elected in 1966 (1966-1967). In 1975, Frederica de Laguna and Margaret Mead became the first female anthropologists elected to membership in the National Academy of Science.

 

 

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