In January of this year, the Royal BC Museum announced the creation of the First Nations and Repatriation Department, to help the museum move in a new direction.
Lucy Bell is the head of this new department.
“Museums all over the world have been collecting ancestral remains for well over 100 years,” Bell said. I first learned about ancestral remains in museums here, at this museum, 25 years ago when I was an intern.
“I first learned about ancestral remains in museums here, at this museum, 25 years ago when I was an intern. When I took the message home, I just was told by my community, ‘go and do it, go and get them back.’ And it took over 20 years of hard work, and community work, to do that.”
Bell has now helped her Haida community repatriate more than 500 of her ancestors.
“I’m really hopeful, and really looking forward to working with the communities in B.C. that have ancestral remains here, and sending them back home for a proper re-burial, or whatever the communities decide to do.”
Bell’s department is also tasked with the digitization of the museum’s audio/visual collection.
“We recently digitized about 75 tapes for one community. That collection of tapes had songs, and stories, and language. And that community needs that. Every community needs that,” Bell said.
The team will also refresh the First People’s Gallery.
“When you look around the gallery, you’ll see that some of the labels are outdated. You don’t really get a sense of contemporary indigenous people, and there’s not much for today’s Indigenous voice,” Bell said.
The next installation will focus on the museum’s Skedans Haida village model.
“If you look at the model now, you don’t get a sense that there’s Haidas around. That we survived. That we’re thriving. And the people that come from Skedans are a pretty powerful clan,” Bell said.
Bell and members of her team recently travelled to Haida Gwaii.
“And we went to the village of Skedans with the new Chief Guujaaw and his grandson Tian, and they introduced us to the village,” Bell said.
“We’ll use some of that footage here in the gallery, and we’ll use some of it online, for the online totem gallery.”
Bell is pleased with the Royal BC Museum’s decision to move in a new direction.
“In Haida, we call it “yahgudanggang” – when you’re doing things respectfully, good comes with that,” Bell said.