British Columbia

B.C. museum returns Indigenous poles in spirit of repatriation

Two Indigenous poles that have long stood at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria are being returned to the communities that inspired their creation.

'When their lifetime is done they are laid to rest,' says repatriation specialist

Mungo Martin, assisted by his son David Martin and Henry Hunt, carved the Kwakwaka'wakw house post replica in 1954. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Two Indigenous poles that have long stood at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria are being returned to the communities that inspired their creation.

The replica Haida and Kwakwaka'wakw poles have been part of the museum's Thunderbird Park for decades.

But a recent seismic and structural assessment found they had suffered internal damage due to exposure to the elements and were at high risk of falling on visitors.

The museum has worked with First Nations groups to ensure the poles are taken down in a culturally proper manner.

"We are going to undertake a process where the poles will return to the earth as they would have in traditional times," said Lou-ann Neel, a repatriation specialist with the museum.

"We don't keep putting them back together so they can keep standing. When their lifetime is done they are laid to rest, just as any of our ancestors would be."

Lou-ann Neel is a repatriation specialist with the Royal B.C. Museum. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Mungo Martin, assisted by his son David Martin and Henry Hunt, carved the Kwakwaka'wakw house post replica in 1954 and the Haida mortuary pole replica in 1955.

Chief David Mungo Knox of the Kwakiutl First Nation, the great-grandson of Mungo Martin and the hereditary title holder of Wawadiťła (Mungo Martin House), will help determine the next steps for the poles on their journey.

The Kwakwaka'wakw post will travel to Quatsino where members of the Quatsino First Nation will decide how to lay it to rest. 

The Haida mortuary pole is expected to stay in Fort Rupert where it can serve as a reference for carvers while Chief Knox continues discussions with the descendants of the Haida clan from which this pole originates, the museum said.

"As some of these monumental poles near the end of their life cycle, we propose to return them to their source communities, for whom they have the greatest cultural significance," said Jack Lohman, CEO of the museum, in a statement. 

The Kwakwaka'wakw house post replica, right, will be removed Friday morning. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

"We are transferring their ownership and guardianship in the spirit of reconciliation."

The museum expects it will return other poles on the property to Indigenous communities as they also reach the end or their lifespans.

It plans to work with Indigenous experts to develop recommended protocols that can serve as a template for other museums with poles in their custody.

The ceremony to remove the Kwakwaka'wakw house post will be held on Friday, May 31 at approximately 9 a.m., and the public is welcome.

The Haida mortuary pole replica will be taken down during the week of June 3, pending final confirmation from the communities involved, the museum said.

 

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