A totem pole that was taken from the Nuxalk Nation in 1912 is beginning the journey of repatriation Monday as it is transported from the Royal BC Museum to Bella Coola.
The museum has displayed the totem pole, carved by Louie Snuxyaltwa, in the Totem Hall on the third floor.
“I feel teary eyed right now, and I’m happy and sad at the same time,” said Hereditary Chief Snuxyaltwa. “My spirit is guiding me, this is just the beginning but to be at the beginning we’re having, I can tell our people are just full of joy and our ancestors are rejoicing.”
“Oh my goodness when it came down and it landed, I felt it, I felt it in my chest and in my heart, it was so powerful,” said Melissa Evans, a family member of the original carver Chief Louie Snow.
Jack Lohman, the former CEO of the museum had said in 2019 the totem pole had been purchased, but Clyde Tallio, a teacher of traditional Nuxalk culture, who said an item of such significance would never have been sold, according to CBC.
Lohman resigned from the museum in 2021 following the First Nations Leadership Council expressing concerns about reports of “ongoing systemic racism and toxic working conditions” within the Royal BC Museum.
In October 2019, four Nuxalk Hereditary Chiefs and supporters from the Nuxalk First Nation went to the museum and requested that the totem pole be returned, as well as another totem pole and other cultural artifacts. But with no action, last year the nation filed a lawsuit.
“It’s been a struggle, we had lots of struggles during this time, it’s unfortunate we had to go through the court system to get their attention,” said Snuxyaltwa.
“Moving forward we have to do it better, we have to do it more quickly, we have to learn from what’s gone on to this point. COVID definitely slowed us down by a couple of years and I think that is a problem, but in the future I hope we don’t have that obstacle in the way and we know what to do, I think we’ve created a path now that will make it more effective going forward,” said Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin.
“The totem poles were taken from their home land South Bentick (Talleomy) when they were forced to relocate after a smallpox epidemic in the early 1900s,” according to a news release from Nuxalk First Nation.
The museum agreed to repatriate one of the totem poles, but the Nuxalk Nation is still calling for the return of the second totem pole and the artifacts.
-With files from CHEK’s Dean Stoltz