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Repatriating family history: Totem pole returned to Nuxalk Nation
Chief Snuxyaltwa of the Nuxalk Nation drove 12 hours and took a ferry to come to Victoria. He’s looking to see family, and cultural, history.
He smiles as he tells reporters he only recently found out a totem pole at the Royal BC Museum was carved by his great-grandfather in the mid-to-late 1800’s. But there’s also hurt.
"It's a house entrance pole. This pole was bought and purchased and it was on the gravesite and it really, really hurts our family."
The community says smallpox nearly wiped out the entire population, from somewhere in the tens of thousands to just a few hundred. After a village in South Bentnick near Bella Coola was deserted, the pole was apparently sold.
In a ceremony, members of the Nuxalk Nation and supporters heard how the pole told the story of the first born and creation.
"I'm hoping to bring my grandfather's spirit back home from where it has come from," explained Chief Snuxyaltwa whose English name is Derrick Snow.
The nation asked the museum to help bring the pole back home. Royal BC, considered a leader in repatriating cultural items stolen or taken from first nations, agreed.
The province will be asked to help cover costs. Actually getting the pole to Bella Coola may mean either taking it by ship, or by road. Plus, there’s the issue of getting it out of the museum in the first place.
"The gallery is quite full so it may mean moving other poles which we want to do respectfully as well," said repatriation specialist for the museum Lou-Ann Neel.
Neel said she would be in contact with other communities about how to move other poles.
The museum says its repatriation policy was motivated by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and the United Nations’ Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples.
For Snuxyaltwa, the request goes to the heart of family.
"It's important that our people and our families and our people who have passed are able to continue their journey in their life after death."