Kwakwaka’wakw artist Lou-ann Neel is shown in this undated handout image. Countless treasured Indigenous cultural objects and ancestral remains are held by museums in Canada and across the world, and local communities and human rights experts say it’s time they are returned according to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Royal B.C. Museum

Indigenous repatriation projects get new funding from BC government

Royal BC Museum in Victoria changed its policies last year to no longer collect or study ancestral remains

The British Columbia government says it’s providing financial support to Indigenous communities that want their ancestral remains and cultural objects returned.

Countless Indigenous pieces of art, artifacts and human remains are held by museums around the world and many local communities and human rights experts have said they should be returned home.

Jodi Simkin, president of the BC Museums Association, said Europeans collected evidence of Indigenous culture even as they tried to erase it.

“There was sort of a colonial treasure hunt that began when Europeans arrived here,” said Simkin, who is also director of cultural affairs and heritage for the Klahoose First Nation.

“Policy was designed to eradicate and amalgamate First Nations Peoples into the larger community and there was a sense that if anthropologists and archeologists didn’t preserve those pieces and those ancestors for later study that the communities would just disappear because they would have been acculturated or assimilated,” she said.

The work going on today builds on generations of Indigenous leaders and their allies working to bring ancestors and cultural treasures home, she said.

The collections aren’t limited to Canada or to museums. Simkin is part of a repatriation working group with the Association on American Indian Affairs and said the organization estimates between one million and two million ancestors and related cultural patrimony are sitting in museum collections around the world.

“Why that number is significant is that it does not include what’s being held in private collections, so that number could be exponentially higher,” Simkin said.

The government is providing $500,000 to the BC Museums Association to provide a range of grants to support communities at various stages of the process.

It will help some of the 203 First Nations and 23 cultural centres in the province bring home more of their loved ones and belongings although there’s never really enough funding for such a large undertaking, she said.

The funding will support repatriation planning, building capacity to take on such projects and encouraging collaboration with cultural organizations.

Dan Smith, chairman of the museum association’s Indigenous advisory committee, said the funding allows museums, archives and Indigenous peoples new opportunities to work together toward decolonization and realizing the goals set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“True, meaningful and lasting reconciliation must include the return of Indigenous culture back to Indigenous communities,” Smith, who is a member of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation, said in a statement.

READ MORE: Victoria museum releases more than 16,000 historical images of Indigenous life

The government has previously provided $2 million over three years to the Royal BC Museum for repatriation activities, including a symposium, granting program and the creation of a repatriation handbook.

The Royal BC Museum in Victoria changed its policies last year to no longer collect or study ancestral remains.

The museum also announced that anything it acquired from Indigenous Peoples during the anti-potlatch years, from 1885 to 1951, will be considered eligible for repatriation because it was obtained at a time of duress.

During those years, the federal government banned potlatch ceremonies, which were important social events where valuable gifts were given to show generosity and status over rivals.

During a repatriation seminar at the University of British Columbia in March, experts said repatriation is costly and the onus is mostly on communities to come up with the necessary funding.

Lou-ann Neel, a Kwakwaka’wakw artist and repatriation specialist at the Royal BC Museum, told the seminar it’s exciting to find art and cultural artifacts in museum collections but it’s also heartbreaking to know they’ve been withheld from generations.

Repatriation is crucial to healing and fostering a sense of identity, she said.

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

British ColumbiaIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Saanich parking ticket payments currently ‘voluntary,’ staff look at new enforcement process

Current system a waste of resources, missed revenue opportunity, councillor says

Virtual film industry career fair offers chance to talk with the experts

Experts in 11 different departments, three film union representative will be in attendance

Renowned Greater Victoria hockey player back to help with female youth teams

Micah Zandee-Hart has played for the senior national team since 2016

Victoria Flamenco Festival goes virtual for 2020 event

The show will go online from July 23 to 26

Metchosin bird card project finds its wings

On display at Metchosin ArtPod from July 10 to 12

B.C. accommodators need phone lines to light up as in-province travel given green light

Travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated the tourism and hospitality industries

300 Cache Creek residents on evacuation alert due to flood risk as river rises

Heavy rainfall on Canada Day has river rising steadily, threatening 175 properties

First glimpse of Canada’s true COVID-19 infection rate expected mid-July

At least 105,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus was identified

Annual music event in Comox Valley celebrates online instead

Vancouver Island MusicFest holds virtual celebration set for July 10

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Okanagan school drops ‘Rebels’ sports team name, citing links with U.S. Civil War

Name and formerly-used images “fly in the face” of the district’s human rights policy, says board chair

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Murals of Gratitude exhibit includes at least one portrait of Henry alongside paintings of health-care workers

In troubled times: Independence Day in a land of confusion

Buffeted by invisible forces and just plain worn out, the United States of America celebrates its 244th birthday

Most Read