Two monumental poles return home to Haida Gwaii

The artifacts ended up in Vancouver by being taken, appropriated, stolen, or sold through the years

Two monumental poles came home this weekend after the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) and UBC’s Museum of Anthropology returned them to Haida Gwaii.

The cultural artifacts ended up in Vancouver by being taken, appropriated, stolen, or sold throughout the years.

“It’s taken over 20 years of the Haida Nation knocking on the doors of mainstream museums. It’s taken over $1 million in cash, sweat, labour, in-kind contributions to bring home and rebury just over 500 of our ancestors. Now our Nation is focusing on our belongings held in museums. How we found ourselves in this position, why we do this work, and where it is taking us (all) is a story that should be known and never be forgotten,” Nika Collison, co-chair of the Haida Repatriation Committee and executive director at the Haida Gwaii Museum, stated.

READ MORE: Restored Tsimshian totem pole, a gift from B.C., unveiled in Whitehorse

For decades, a number of sacred and culturally-sensitive belongings from the Haida Nation have been held in the City of Vancouver’s collection at MOV.

The City of Vancouver made a commitment to be a city of reconciliation, encouraging the museum to engage in a partnership with the Haida Repatriation Committee, the Council of the Haida Nation and the Haida Gwaii Museum to repatriate belongings from the collection to their original owners within the Haida Nation.

READ MORE: Aging totem pole comes down at ceremony outside Royal B.C. Museum

“As a City of Reconciliation, we’ve committed to creating long-term, systemic change and new relations based on mutual understanding and respect,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart, City of Vancouver. “With this commitment, we must do right by the Haida ancestors and people by returning these sacred items back home, where they belong.”

Before the poles and other belongings were sent back to the Haida Nation, MOV held a cultural ceremony in Vancouver, conducted with consent and involvement from each of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, to mark the repatriation.

“Our staff recognizes that we are caring for many belongings that should not be in a museum, because of their sacred nature or because they were taken under duress. We are committed to acts of redress, such as repatriation, which recognize the authority of indigenous people to reclaim their cultural treasures and knowledge, whether is for continued use in the community or whether it is time to lay these items to rest,” Sharon Fortney, Curator of Indigenous Collections and Engagement at MOV said.

READ MORE: First ever Nisga’a mortuary totem pole unveiled in Prince Rupert cemetery on Father’s Day weekend

“Despite this history, we see repatriation as a process based on mutual respect, cooperation and trust. We not only pursue the return of our relatives and treasures; we also seek positive relationships with museums. We want people to want to give our relatives back and see our treasures home. We want people to make things right and join us and join us in finding a way forward because they want to, not because they have to,”Collison added.

MOV will continue to address and return sacred items and cultural treasures currently held in the City-owned collection to their rightful owners in Indigenous communities.

Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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Vancouver Museum CEO Mauro Vescera led the delegation returning the Haida Gwaii totem poles and pole fragments.

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