Royal B.C. Museum returning totem pole to B.C. First Nation
The Royal B.C. Museum is returning a totem pole to a First Nation on the mainland following a years-long process.
The totem pole comes from the Nuxalk Nation near Bella Coola, B.C.
The museum says it purchased the pole for $45 in 1897.
The totem pole was built by Nuxalk Nation hereditary chief Snuxyaltwa's great grandfather, Louie.
"He’s stuck there on that totem pole. His spirit is stuck there," Snuxyaltwa told CTV News on Wednesday.
The hereditary chief says it took four years and a lawsuit for the museum to finally arrange sending the totem pole home.
"They promised it in 2019. It's now 2023," he said.
While the museum first agreed to return the pole in 2019, Snuxyaltwa later had to file a lawsuit because he says staff stopped responding to his emails.
Once communication resumed, he dropped the suit.
Janet Hanuse, vice president of engagement and DRIPA implementation at the Royal B.C. Museum says the delay in returning the pole was due to necessary research.
"It’s assessing the pole and ensuring the integrity of the pole is maintained, that takes a long time," she said.
"Finding the story, making sure we’ve got the right information, making sure it goes to the right family, that’s where the time is taken up," said Hanuse.
Snuxyaltwa says he's looking to get other Nuxalk First Nation artifacts returned as well, but hopefully on a faster timeline.
"You can’t repatriate them one by one. It’s going to take us 200 years to do that at four years apart," he joked.
It won't be an easy task to remove the five metre, or 16 foot, pole from the third floor of the museum.
Third floor walls and windows are coming down so the 680 kilogram pole can start its journey back home on Feb. 13.
Transporting the totem pole involves "a lot of bubblewrap, a lot of custom crating, a lot of building and a lot of deconstruction," said Hanuse.
Two cranes will load the pole onto a truck, before it's driven hundreds of kilometres back to the Bella Coola area.
Snuxyaltwa says he and other Nuxalk members will be in Victoria on Feb. 13 to celebrate the return of the totem pole, which will see the open sky for the first time in more than a century.
"We’re making changes for a lot of people here. Not only Bella Coola on the coast here but all over the world," he said.
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