The blanket (at.óow in the Tlingit language) that Garvey gives to Cole represents trust and friendship. As Garvey explains, according to Alaskan culture, no one truly owns an at.óow; it’s tribal property, and whoever possesses it is merely a caretaker of the object. Giving his at.óow to Cole is a major demonstration of trust on Garvey’s part, especially since there’s little evidence at this early stage that Cole is worthy of that trust. At this point, Cole sees the at.óow as a symbol of his overbearing caregivers. However, during Cole’s long recovery after he’s attacked by the Spirit Bear, the at.óow begins to take on new meaning for him. While Garvey seemed overbearing at first, now, Cole welcomes Garvey’s care and concern. Especially during Cole’s second stint on the island, the at.óow serves as a reminder that Cole has people in his life who love him, care about him, and want him to succeed. Paying their care forward by giving the at.óow to Peter at the end of the novel represents the boys’ shift to becoming friends who care about each other.
The timeline below shows where the symbol At.óow appears in Touching Spirit Bear. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...head back to the shelter. Garvey offers Cole a small bundle. He says it’s called at.óow: it’s a blanket that’s been handed down in Garvey’s family for generations. Nobody owns it—the... (full context)
...special supper to celebrate Edwin and Garvey’s last night. He even makes biscuits, spreads the at.óow over a plywood table, and lights a candle. When they’re done eating, Cole hands out... (full context)
...That night, he builds a huge outdoor fire, cooks his spaghetti ceremonially, and uses the at.óow as a tablecloth. Cole thinks that tonight is special—tonight, he’ll dance the dance of anger.... (full context)
...themselves, which allowed them to become invisible and see the Spirit Bear. Cole pulls the at.óow out of his backpack and explains its significance. He says he trusts Peter and hopes... (full context)