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Changing face: masks from the British Museum
Painted wooden mask in the form of a wolf
Such clan headdresses are worn in ceremonial dances at 'potlatches' or feasts by native peoples of the Northwest Coast. Dance regalia is worn during performances and ceremonies which celebrate life-cycle events such as births, naming ceremonies, marriages and the memorial potlatches of prominent chiefs.
John Swanton, the American anthropologist working a century ago, recorded an Aesop-like fable about the origin of the Wolf crest. A member of the Kaagwaantaan clan, of the Eagle moiety or section of the Tlingit, came across a wolf. He seemed to be smiling, but looking closer the man saw that he had had something stuck between his teeth. This he removed, and the wolf disappeared, but then reappeared in a dream. Since then the Kaagwaantaan have used the wolf as a crest. The headdress would have been worn with cedar bark and mountain goat wool twined textiles; such regalia is passed down in the female line, that is from maternal uncle to nephew.