All three parties of final agreement gather for ceremonial transfer of artifacts
Members of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation are celebrating the return of some culturally important artifacts today.
Drumming and a song, about canoeing in the same direction, lead the procession of band members holding the artifacts into the Alberni Athletic Hall.
For the first time in decades Huu-ay-aht First Nation members are once again carrying pieces of their art as part of their return from the Royal BC Museum to the band’s land.
“Awesome. This is incredible,” says Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr.. “This is really something to see our people come out and witness the return of some of their treasures.”
The repatriation stems from the Maa-nulth Final Treaty completed in 2011. This ceremonial celebration is recognizing the return of the first 17 cultural treasures of 51 identified at the BC Museum. The others will be returned when the band is ready for them.
“Through the treaty negotiations this was a really important chapter of what we negotiated between the three parties, Canada, British Columbia and the Huu-ay-aht people,” says John Rustad, BC’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation. “It is really tremendous for us now to see this follow through and see these artifacts returned to this nation.”
Some of the pieces Royal BC Museum were preserving for the band but others were taken from the First Nation during the dark chapter of residential schools.
“We were being stripped of our identity and our culture our tradition and we’ve never forgotten it,” says Hereditary Chief of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation Derek Peters (Klisshin). “And now it’s coming back full circle again. It’s a really really good feeling to be a part of.”
The cultural pieces will end up on permanent public display at the Huu-ay-aht government office near Bamfield.
The largest of the bunch has been featured at the Royal BC Museum for decades.
“Inside the museum it has been what I called the Michelangelo, the Leonardo da Vinci of First Nations art,” says Jack Lohman, Chief Executive of the Royal BC Museum. “I’m so pleased it’s come home and I’m so pleased we have the partnership going.”
The signing of the transfer will be given a cedar seal just as it was with the earliest Huu-aya-aht documents.
Band leaders say this recognition of the past and reconciliation is helping the first nation as it moves optimistically into the future.