About this object

History of use

This heavy figure of a crouching grizzly bear was carved to serve as a platform on which to ceremonially break a t̕łaḵwa, or copper -- a shield-shaped sheet of beaten copper often representing great wealth -- as a challenging gesture toward rival chiefs. The bear has a steel plate bolted onto the top of its head for this purpose, but whether it was actually used in a copper breaking is no longer known. A Kwakwaka’wakw chief would display his coppers at a potlatch his family is hosting; such coppers would each have their own name and history. In the 19th and early-20th centuries, coppers were also a kind of banking system. Occasionally, a copper breaking would take place: as William Wasden, Jr., explains, “If I insult you, you quickly give me a piece of a valuable copper; I’ll have to get a copper of equal value to break it back in order to say that my words are valid or that I’m not intimidated.” [Duffek, Karen, 2019]


Before Scow family members sold this figure in 1961 (from Ernie Scow to Mayer of Muse Antiques?), it belonged to Kwikwasut̕inexw hereditary chief Peter Scow of Gilford Island. It is said to have been carved by Gayusdi’salas (Herbert Johnson), head hereditary Haxwa’mis chief of Wakeman Sound, British Columbia. The Haxwa’mis and the Kwikwasut̕inexw (Gilford Island) are two of the four Kwakwaka’wakw groups that make up the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw people; the others are the Dzawada’enuxw (Kingcome Inlet) and the Gwawa’enuxw (Hopetown). Johnson lived and worked at Gwa’yi, Kingcome Village.

Iconographic meaning

Represents grizzly bear.

Physical description

Copper-cutting figure in the form of a bear, crouching, holding a human face mask in its front paws. Teeth bared. Iron platform on top of head. Painted red, green, white, black and brown. All the teeth and claws are painted white, including the teeth of the mask.