A carved stone pillar is shown on the beach in Victoria in this July 2020 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Royal BC Museum, Bernhard Spalteholz

Questions rock Royal B.C. Museum over authenticity of artifact recovered from Victoria beach

Songhees First Nation chief says museum assured him review underway after artist says work as his

The chief of a Victoria-area First Nation says he has the assurance of the Royal B.C. Museum that steps will be taken to determine how a carved stone pillar was deemed an Indigenous artifact perhaps dating back to the 1800s before a local man claimed it as his creation.

Ron Sam, chief of the Songhees First Nation, said in an interview he spoke with museum CEO Jack Lohman about the pillar that was found covered in algae last July along a beach below Beacon Hill Park in Victoria.

In a statement, Lohman said the museum’s Indigenous collections and repatriation department has been working closely with both the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations to review and update its policies and procedures, “particularly with respect to historic works that surface or are excavated as part of local development projects.”

RELATED: Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

RELATED: Greater Victoria is an archeology hotspot, but it’s illegal to collect artifacts

Sam said the museum called him on the day the 100-kilogram carving was hauled from the beach by the museum’s archeology curator and two other men who used a refrigeration dolly to move it.

The pillar was recently featured on a local news station before it would be displayed, Sam said.

But doubt was cast on the find when a local artist came forward to several media outlets claiming ownership, saying he had photos of the piece he’d been carving on the beach before it disappeared. The artist couldn’t be reached for comment.

“Somewhere, somebody in the museum made the determination that yes, it’s 110 per cent a First Nations artifact,” Sam said.

Elders would have provided input into the find but have not been able to see it at the museum due to pandemic restrictions, he added.

“We haven’t engaged First Nations elders yet because we didn’t know exactly what we were dealing with,” he said. “It’s in the museum’s hands to work with the individual and determine how the conclusion was made.”

Grant Keddie, the museum’s archeology curator, did not wish to discuss the pillar.

Last week he said it might have stood near the edge of a cliff above the beach and may have come down in a landslide. He also said it could be the same one mentioned by Lekwungen elders to German-American anthropologist Franz Boas in the late 1800s.

Lou-ann Neel, acting head of the museum’s Indigenous collection and repatriation department, said news of the carving also came to light on Keddie’s blog, which she decided should be removed from the museum’s website for now.

“We were sharing some good news stories that we have with the Songhees and the Esquimalt people,” she said.

Chiefs of both First Nations saw the pillar separately at the museum in September and seemed to suggest it could be related to other locally found items, though it was still partly covered in seaweed so its features may have been hard to identify, she said.

“We realized we probably should have waited until we talked with the elders, but based on the initial feedback from the chiefs we’re also confident that this was from their traditions and that elders could verify it, that we would continue to do the work until we knew that for certain,” Neel said.

Keddie has worked with the First Nations for many years and seemed to have good reason to suggest the pillar was from the territory, she said.

“Just the shape of the pillar itself is indicative of the kind of stone that was created in this area,” she said, adding photos will be taken to the elders before they can see it at the museum.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver. For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ron Sivorot, business director at Kennametal’s Langford site, the Greater Victoria facility that made a component being used on NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. (Jake Romphf, Black Press Media)
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover using piece made at Kennametal’s Langford site

The Greater Victoria plant’s tooth blank is helping the rover’s drill collect rock cores

A provincially appointed consultant has recommended a change to the funding formula for the VicPD that will save Esquimalt a significant amount of money. (Black Press Media file photo)
Esquimalt to save a bundle on policing costs under new formula

Provincial consultant studied funding model, resource deployment for VicPD

A rockfall closed Finlayson Arm Road and West Shore Parkway on Friday (March 5) afternoon. (Twitter/BC Transportation)
UPDATED: Malahat reopens following rockfall

Section of Trans-Canada Highway was scheduled for intermittent closures today for rock scaling work

A Victoria resident was scammed out of $1,700 after a fraudster impersonated a police officer and convinced the victim to pay a non-existent fine in Bitcoin. (Unsplash)
Fraudster impersonates Victoria police officer, steals $1,700 in Bitcoin

Phone call showed up as VicPD’s non-emergency line

The Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
Tsartlip First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA revealed COVID-19 outbreak

Chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA Adam Olsen apologizes

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

Most Read