What is a family? Is it your blood relations, or those who you choose to spend time with? The Royal BC Museum (RBCM) explores this question in Family: Bonds and Belonging. The feature exhibition celebrates B.C. families, including First Nations, early settlers, and immigrants who began their families in this province.
Martha Black, RBCM Curator of Ethnology says that this display “gives us an opportunity to bring some cultural treasures out of storage that are very rarely seen.
“One of them is the Tahltan diving raven tunic,” Black said.
“It’s a tunic from Telegraph Creek with an image of a diving raven on it, and in the belly of the raven is a fish.”
The tunic was part of a collection purchased by the museum from an American dealer in 1976. It was then spotted in a photo at the museum that was taken by a man called A. J. Stone at the end of the 19th century.
Stone was an American biologist and naturalist, who took many pictures as he visited the northwest.
“Including a photograph of a man standing outside a house in Telegraph Creek, wearing a Chilkat robe, and a hat, and a Chilkat style dance apron, and just underneath the robe, you can see the top of the diving raven tunic,” Black said.
“The documentation on the photograph doesn’t say very much. It just says ‘Indian dancers’ but we know, from other documentation around the photograph, that this is somebody called Dr. Sinkoots.”
Sinkoots great-great-grandson is First Nation carver Dempsey Bob. Some of his carvings are in the Museum’s ethnology collection.
“It’s interesting to think about the connections with families for these objects, because quite often there aren’t any recorded, and yet they really do still exist,” Black said.
“The people today in Telegraph Creek are still connected to this tunic, and it’s really interesting to see how just one photograph can open up all that documentation and make those family connections. Part of our work is to make sure that we work on making those family connections come alive.”
The Family, Bonds and Belonging exhibition continues until Oct. 31.