WATCH: B.C. Premier Christy Clark says she hopes to “persuade” museums and institutions around the world to return culturally significant First Nations items taken without permission. April Lawrence reports.
Elders from the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations helped mark an important announcement from B.C. Premier Christy Clark on National Aboriginal Day.
Speaking at the Royal BC Museum, Clark said her government will work with B.C. First Nations and the museum to find cultural items and ancestral remains, taken without permission, that are currently being displayed in museums and institutions around the world.
“Sometimes they were straight out stolen and many times they were taken without the permission of the leadership of the First Nations in those communities,” said Clark.
Items like a canoe on display in New York’s American Museum of Natural History.
“It is one of their premiere displays, that may take us longer to get back,” she said.
Clark said she is writing a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama asking for his support, and will begin with American museums, before expanding the repatriation efforts globally.
B.C. First Nations leaders applauded the announcement.
“On this day my spirits have been lifted knowing that our First Nations, working with the Province of B.C. and the museum, to witness our ancestors returned home,” said Shane Gottfriedson, Regional Chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations.
The initiative won’t impact the Royal BC Museum, which has an extensive ‘First Peoples’ exhibit.
“These objects are here by permission, if you like by agreement of our First Nations, so they will not change,” said Jack Lohman, Royal BC Museum CEO.
The work to not only locate B.C. First Nations objects around the world, but to bring them home will take time, likely years.
But those at the announcement said it will have a big impact, especially on young people.
“I think it’s really important that they see the length of our history and our strength and where we come from because often our youth feel very uprooted or they don’t have a direct connection,” said Toni Williams, who works with First Nations youth.
Once the cultural items are returned, they will either be stored at the Royal BC Museum, or returned directly to the First Nation they were taken from.