Snuneymuxw First Nation repatriates nearly 100 items from the Royal BC Museum

Snuneymuxw First Nation repatriates nearly 100 items from the Royal BC Museum

A special ceremony was held on the Snuneymuxw First Nation near Nanaimo on Thursday as it repatriates close to 100 artifacts from the Royal BC Museum.

It’s part of the Nation’s effort to collect its art and artifacts that have ended up in museums around the world.

Snuneymuxw First Nation members got their first look at the items after the Royal BC Museum transported them from Victoria.

“We just visited a past we haven’t seen, only what we’ve heard, and the feeling I got is, here – I feel the ancestors are here, finally,” said Lolly Good, Shxuysulwut, a Snuneymuxw elder.

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Chief Michael Wyse says it’s a significant occurrence.

“It’s an exciting day to know that the history that was taken is being returned to our community,” he said.

The objects include a range of carved stone and bone jewellery, along with photographs, spindle whorls and food processing technology such as a herring drying stick.

The First Nation says many of the sacred objects haven’t been dated, but many are archaeological materials, so likely thousands of years old.

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Some of the repatriated items are shown. (CHEK News)

“Happy that we were able to support the work and really, really deeply happy to see the cultural belongings back in Snuneymuxw,” said Sophia Maher, general manager of the Nanaimo Museum.

Maher has helped Snuneymuxw over the past year to facilitate Thursday’s repatriation.

She says how the museum got the items doesn’t enter the discussion regarding their return.

“Any items that were taken during the potlatch ban are considered taken under duress, even if there was money exchanged for them. That was a very trying time and many things went missing and were taken at that time,” said Maher.

The First Nation says the objects have come from former Snuneymuxw communities that are now in downtown Nanaimo, Departure Bay, Gabriola Island, Cedar, Duke Point and the Nanaimo River.

Five members of the Royal BC Museum attended the ceremony and say it’s an important step in the museum’s relationship with Snuneymuxw.

“This is just the start of a long relationship-building and the returning of belongings, and it’s just a real exciting process to be a part of,” said Elizabeth Peterson, director of Indigenous Collections and Repatriation at the Royal BC Museum.

The Nation’s chief says there are big plans for all the art and artifacts once the Nation repatriates all of their cultural pieces from the Royal BC Museum and other museums from around the world that have Snuneymuxw artifacts.

“We want to construct, hopefully, our own museum, a cultural centre where we can display and share with rest of the world who we are and where we come from,” said Wyse. “I know that’s important to our people and our elders of the community.”

Wyse says potential locations have already been identified. As for the value of the returned items, Wyse says they’re priceless.

RELATED: Totem Pole begins repatriation journey from RBCM to Nuxalk Nation: ‘Our ancestors are rejoicing’

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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