Kwakwaka’wakw artist Lou-ann Neel is shown in this undated handout image. Countless treasured Indigenous cultural objects and ancestral remains are held by museums in Canada and across the world, and local communities and human rights experts say it’s time they are returned according to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Royal B.C. Museum

Kwakwaka’wakw artist Lou-ann Neel is shown in this undated handout image. Countless treasured Indigenous cultural objects and ancestral remains are held by museums in Canada and across the world, and local communities and human rights experts say it’s time they are returned according to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Royal B.C. Museum

Indigenous repatriation projects get new funding from BC government

Royal BC Museum in Victoria changed its policies last year to no longer collect or study ancestral remains

The British Columbia government says it’s providing financial support to Indigenous communities that want their ancestral remains and cultural objects returned.

Countless Indigenous pieces of art, artifacts and human remains are held by museums around the world and many local communities and human rights experts have said they should be returned home.

Jodi Simkin, president of the BC Museums Association, said Europeans collected evidence of Indigenous culture even as they tried to erase it.

“There was sort of a colonial treasure hunt that began when Europeans arrived here,” said Simkin, who is also director of cultural affairs and heritage for the Klahoose First Nation.

“Policy was designed to eradicate and amalgamate First Nations Peoples into the larger community and there was a sense that if anthropologists and archeologists didn’t preserve those pieces and those ancestors for later study that the communities would just disappear because they would have been acculturated or assimilated,” she said.

The work going on today builds on generations of Indigenous leaders and their allies working to bring ancestors and cultural treasures home, she said.

The collections aren’t limited to Canada or to museums. Simkin is part of a repatriation working group with the Association on American Indian Affairs and said the organization estimates between one million and two million ancestors and related cultural patrimony are sitting in museum collections around the world.

“Why that number is significant is that it does not include what’s being held in private collections, so that number could be exponentially higher,” Simkin said.

The government is providing $500,000 to the BC Museums Association to provide a range of grants to support communities at various stages of the process.

It will help some of the 203 First Nations and 23 cultural centres in the province bring home more of their loved ones and belongings although there’s never really enough funding for such a large undertaking, she said.

The funding will support repatriation planning, building capacity to take on such projects and encouraging collaboration with cultural organizations.

Dan Smith, chairman of the museum association’s Indigenous advisory committee, said the funding allows museums, archives and Indigenous peoples new opportunities to work together toward decolonization and realizing the goals set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“True, meaningful and lasting reconciliation must include the return of Indigenous culture back to Indigenous communities,” Smith, who is a member of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation, said in a statement.

READ MORE: Victoria museum releases more than 16,000 historical images of Indigenous life

The government has previously provided $2 million over three years to the Royal BC Museum for repatriation activities, including a symposium, granting program and the creation of a repatriation handbook.

The Royal BC Museum in Victoria changed its policies last year to no longer collect or study ancestral remains.

The museum also announced that anything it acquired from Indigenous Peoples during the anti-potlatch years, from 1885 to 1951, will be considered eligible for repatriation because it was obtained at a time of duress.

During those years, the federal government banned potlatch ceremonies, which were important social events where valuable gifts were given to show generosity and status over rivals.

During a repatriation seminar at the University of British Columbia in March, experts said repatriation is costly and the onus is mostly on communities to come up with the necessary funding.

Lou-ann Neel, a Kwakwaka’wakw artist and repatriation specialist at the Royal BC Museum, told the seminar it’s exciting to find art and cultural artifacts in museum collections but it’s also heartbreaking to know they’ve been withheld from generations.

Repatriation is crucial to healing and fostering a sense of identity, she said.

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

British ColumbiaIndigenous

Just Posted

Graduating students at Esquimalt Secondary School will have a rolling grad ceremony this Saturday (June 19). (Black Press Media file photo)
Esquimalt High School’s graduation a driving experience

Second annual car rally and drive-through diploma pickup on tap for Saturday

Wanted man Michael Bruce was arrested Wednesday in Langford. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore RCMP find wanted man hiding under mattress

Michael Bruce had multiple warrants out for his arrest in Sooke and the West Shore

Brian Korzenowski rides with Athena, left, and Venus who are safely strapped in and goggled up with the wind in their fur. (Zoe Ducklow - Sooke News Mirror)
Double-dog motorcycle sidecar brings smiles to Sooke Road commuters

Athena and Venus are all teeth and smiles from their Harley-Davidson sidecar

A lift on marine border restrictions by next summer would bring an economic gain to Greater Victoria through the cruise industry. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich calls for opening of marine borders by summer 2022

Council to ask feds to end restrictions in time to allow planning for next cruise ship season

There were 255 babies born in Victoria in May 2021. (Black Press Media file photo)
Pandemic baby boom makes for a busier Vancouver Island Father’s Day

Victoria’s 255 babies born in May up almost 10 per cent over last year

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of June 15

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum speaks at a press conference in August 2019 about provincial government approval of the city’s change to a municipal force, joined by councillors (from left) Mandeep Nagra, Allison Patton and Doug Elford. Members of the National Police Federation claim there is still no transition plan in place although Surrey RCMP’s contract with the city is due to end March 31.(File photo)
Elections BC approves petition application for referendum on Surrey policing transition

Application was filed under Recall and Initiative Act by the widow of a Surrey murder victim

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko, a Vancouver lawyer, has been suspended from practice for two months after admitting that his firm mismanaged $44,353.19 in client trust funds. (Acumen Law)
High-profile B.C. lawyer suspended over $44K in mismanaged client trust funds

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko admits to failing to supervise his staff and find, report the shortage

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they celebrate the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that creates a new federal holiday to commemorate June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people after the Civil War, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden to sign bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

New American stat marks the nation’s end of slavery

Kimberly Bussiere and other laid-off employees of Casino Nanaimo have launched a class-action lawsuit against the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
B.C. casino workers laid off during pandemic launch class-action lawsuit

Notice of civil claim filed in Supreme Court of B.C. in Nanaimo against Great Canadian Gaming

Most Read