Almost 40 people from Old Massett and Skidegate will travel to Chicago next Friday (October 10) to recover the remains of 132 ancestors from the Field Museum, Heidi Bevington writes.
It’s the latest in a series of repatriation trips to museums around North America where Haida ancestors have been kept since they were taken from the islands about a century ago.
Repatriation committees in Old Massett and Skidegate have been working on this project since all year, beginning with a trip by four members last February to determine how many ancestors would travel back to the islands, and how many cedar boxes would have to be made for their re-burial.
Lucille Bell of the Old Massett committee says they have raised all the money needed for the trip, although the committee is doing a few small catering jobs to raise a little extra money.
Most of the cedar boxes needed for reburial have been built, but all 45 need to be painted, and Ms Bell hopes community members will volunteer to help with this part of the project. “We’re hoping to get some GMD students to help with the painting,” she says. Anyone interested in helping can contact Christian White or the Haida Rose CafÃ© for more information.
As well as boxes, committee members have been organizing regalia. Each member who travels to Chicago will wear a butterfly vest. The group will dance three times, so all the necessary masks, blankets, vests, and aprons must be gathered together or made before the trip.
The dancers also plan to borrow regalia in the Field Museum’s collection-the first time it will have been used for dancing since it was taken from the islands. Museum staff are checking the regalia to make sure it’s safe to use because it was treated with harsh chemicals when it was originally taken.
The Skidegate repatriation committee has also been busy organizing last minute details to prepare for tomorrow’s trip. It met Oct. 2 for one last time to check over their itinerary.
“We just have to go and do it,” says committee member Andy Wilson. “Everything is booked and arranged. We’re all really tired. It was a lot of work this summer to prepare.”
Since last spring, both committees have been coordinating with each other, government officials, and museum employees. Travel plans have also taken time as transportation, food and hotels must be booked. Meanwhile at home, cedar boxes and regalia have been made by committee members, volunteers and students.
The media also takes up a lot of time, says Mr. Wilson. Since the last trip to New York and Washington, there’s been steady interest in the committee’s work across North America. Primitive, a production company creating a documentary about the repatriation process, will travel to Chicago with the committee. News organizations including CBC, CTV, City TV, the Vancouver Sun and the Chicago Tribune will all send representatives to cover the event.
Fundraising by the Skidegate committee is almost finished, but it still has work to do on the cedar boxes needed to bury the ancestors. 25 boxes remain to be made, says Mr. Wilson. The project has been delayed by a lack of cedar planks. Some finished boxes are waiting at the museum to be painted, and volunteers are welcome to help.
“We’ll do it,” says Mr. Wilson. “I’m not worried. When people realize what we need, they come out.”
The Skidegate group will wear headbands specially embroidered with a butterfly as well as button blankets. The butterfly symbol was chosen because it is symbolic of wandering spirits and the repatriation process, says Mr. Wilson. The rest of the Skidegate group’s regalia will come from the Skidegate Haida dancers, many of whom are also repatriation committee members.
The ancestors will be individually wrapped in cloth and packed in a secure crate. Back on the islands, they will be transferred to button blankets and laid to rest in their bentwood boxes. Public burial services will be held in both communities. All are welcome to attend, but no recording devices are allowed. After the burials, feasts will be held. Ceremonies are scheduled in Old Massett on Oct 25 and in Skidegate Oct 26.
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