Speaking to reporters on a flight yesterday from Hungary to Italy, Pope Francis was asked if the church has plans to return Indigenous artifacts to First Nations across Canada.
The pope replied the Vatican intends to return as many artifacts as it can.
During the in-flight press conference, he referenced the Catholic church’s 7th commandment: “You shall not steal,” as part of his response.
Lou-Ann Neel, a Kwakwakaʼwakw artist and former repatriation specialist at the Royal BC Museum says she was caught off guard by the pope’s announcement.
“My heart skipped a beat! I thought okay we are getting somewhere … but I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Neel.
Green Party MLA and member of the Tsartlip First Nation Adam Olsen says repatriation is complex but the government should play a role in helping these artifacts return home.
“The first role they play is funding. Part of our culture is once you start work you have to finish to the work. The second thing is that they need to get on with funding Indigenous museums across the province,” says Olsen.
B.C. is in the midst of its own repatriation process. Two months ago a totem pole taken from the Nuxalk Nation was returned after spending decades inside the Royal BC Museum.
There is no word on exactly when the process of repatriation will officially begin.
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