The Royal BC Museum in Victoria is home to thousands of artifacts, but the Indigenous Collection on the now closed third floor remains a point of serious dispute for First Nations that want their pieces back.
That includes a totem pole that was taken from the Nuxalk people, near what is now Bella Coola in 1912.
“Where it’s standing now is in somebody else’s territory and that is against our traditional law as well as the local traditional laws,” said Hereditary Chief Snuxyaltwa, also known as Deric Snow.
Snow’s great-grandfather Louis carved it in the mid-1800s. It was originally a house post then became a grave post.
Records indicate $45 was paid for it to go to the museum, something Snow doubts considering how significant the totem pole would have been at the time.
“We have a hard time believing that because grave posts are grave posts in our tradition and we always have to take care of our people that have passed on,” Snow said.
The museum verbally agreed in 2019 to return the pole but it was never moved.
“At one point I said even bring it to the door and we’ll go get it and pay for it ourselves,” Snow added.
Only when he initiated legal action early in February 2022 did things get moving and he was finally notified two weeks ago that his family’s totem pole would be going home.
“I would like to be happy but when it’s on that truck I’ll really be celebrating. That’s the best way I can put that,” he said.
The pole will be put on a truck at the museum Feb. 13 and it should arrive in Bella Coola two or three days later.
“We’re all very excited to be getting this pole back. It’s been a long hard fight for the family,” added Jeffrey Snow, Deric’s cousin.
The museum is paying for the move to Bella Coola but Snow says it was orginally taken from a site about 50 km away by boat.
He maintains proper repatriation of the totem pole would be a return to the original location.
The Royal BC Museum says it is committed to repatriation and has a dedicated team employing a collaborative approach that is led by the community seeking repatriation.
“We work with communities, and in partnership with the provincial and federal governments,” reads a statement sent to CHEK News.
“All repatriations are different, but most are complex. We have been working closely with Chief Snow since September 2022 to create a logistical plan that ensures the safety of the pole, and the people involved at all stages.”
“We have consulted with a team of engineers, conservationists and other experts both within and outside the museum, and have provided Chief Snow with bi-weekly status reports to keep him apprised of the activities involved in the process. As reported, we will be implementing this plan and completing the repatriation in mid-February.”
“As with all repatriations, we will be very happy to see the pole returned home.”
A GoFundMe page has been started to raise money to assist family and community members to be in Victoria for the celebration.