British Columbia

B.C. allocates $2 million for First Nations repatriation efforts

The province has awarded the Royal B.C. Museum funding to develop a program with First Nations communities to return artifacts and ancestral remains to their rightful communities.

The Royal B.C. Museum will be developing the repatriation program with First Nation partners

Henry Abel Bell from the Kwakiutl Nation on Vancouver Island sold this family heirloom — a 300-year-old blanket — to the Royal B.C. Museum in 1983 to ensure its preservation. (Joye Walkus)

The provincial government has earmarked $2 million to help return First Nations artifacts from museums around the world to British Columbia.

The funding announcement follows an earlier commitment by Premier Christy Clark on June 21, or National Aboriginal Day.

Clark said that "returning cherished cultural belongings and ancestral remains is crucial for the preservation and continuation of First Nations cultures and traditions".

The Royal B.C. Museum will act as a gathering point for returning objects, although the initiative will be led and guided by First Nations partners.

Tracey Herbert, CEO for the First People's Cultural Council, will be working closely with the museum to develop a new First Nations department and repatriation program.

From left: B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Grand Chief Ed John and Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson take part in a news conference, June 21, 2016 at the Royal B.C. Museum announcing an initiative to return Aboriginal cultural items. (CBC)

Herbert said many First Nations communities have been undergoing their own repatriation initiatives, but this program will systematically catalogue what is missing, how it was taken and where it currently is.

"We hope to do it in a more organized way and to support each other within our communities with our ideas and expertise on repatriation." 

Stolen artifacts

Herbert said many of the items were taken without permission, confiscated from potlatch ceremonies or stolen from graves.

Others, like ancestral remains, require special ceremony and care.

"The return of those objects is just another way of us taking our power back and enjoying our own culture and heritage in B.C.," she said.

Hebert said not every community might want its artifacts back, either because it would prefer the museum to store it properly or it is satisfied with the prestige of having some of its pieces in the best museums in the world.

"It's really about giving communities a choice and the information they need to make decisions about ... how they want to care-take their own heritage."     

With files from On the Island

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled B.C. government designates $2M to help with First Nations repatratiation efforts