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Indigenous woman issues demands for residential school records in meeting with Royal B.C. Museum

Tuesday conversation also covered the museum’s repatriation of cultural items

A Coast Salish and Nuu-Chah-Nulth woman’s demands for the Royal B.C. Museum on June 13 got her a follow-up meeting with its officials next week.

Xhopakelxhit (hul-pakh-el-it), who characterizes herself as an Indigenous matriarch who’s been involved in activism for almost 30 years, met with the RBCM interim CEO Daniel Muzyka on Tuesday to present her list of demands. One of those included making public any and all records that involve residential schools.

Last month, the Sisters of St. Ann – the order of nuns whose members taught at the former Kamloops residential school and others in B.C. – agreed to provide access to their records from those institutions. Last month, the museum and Sisters of St. Ann said the records would begin to be made public in July. B.C. Archives, acting as a “neutral third party,” began auditing the documents on July 1.

READ: Sisters of St. Ann agree to work with Royal B.C. Museum to release residential school records

Tuesday’s meeting has led to a follow-up between the two parties set for early next week where, Xhopakelxhit said, the museum would present a strategy on sharing the records. She said RBCM was receptive about the need to reach Indigenous people on an individual level, not just through First Nations and band councils, as they disseminate that information.

In an emailed response to Black Press Media, a museum spokesperson said auditing the Sister of St. Ann holdings is an enormous task and it’s too soon for them to release timelines on when the records will become available.

Prior to the meeting, Xhopakelxhit was concerned the process of releasing the records will be drawn out and Indigenous elders will never get to see their content.

“The survivors want the documents released, they want justice,” she said.

Another of Xhopakelxhit’s calls was for the museum to issue a public apology for the “theft of cultural and religious items from Indigenous communities.” When asked about this, the museum pointed to its June 29 apology to those it has mistreated.

READ: Royal B.C. Museum releases results of racism report, apologizes for mistreatment

Sacred and ancestral items taken from Indigenous people shouldn’t be on display, and should instead be returned to the families, Xhopakelxhit said.

“The ancestors could be returned back to our land and be taken care of in a ceremonial way and spiritual way and be put to rest for real.”

The museum’s website states its Indigenous collection includes over 14,000 objects, dating from 10,000 years ago to the present. The emailed response said RBCM’s Indigenous Collections and Repatriation department is working on this “critical issue” – which includes the active repatriation and cooperative management of Indigenous collections, ancestral remain and burial belongings in RBCM’s care.

Xhopakelxhit told Black Press Media next week’s meeting will also cover the future of the museum’s Sisters of St. Ann display.

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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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