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

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

Just Posted

An algal bloom similar to one found on Shuswap Lake in the summer of 2020 has been discovered on Wood Lake in Lake Country. (Shuswap Watershed Council Photo)
Algal bloom found on Lake Country’s Wood Lake

While most algal blooms are harmless, some species have the potential to produce toxins that can be harmful to humans

Scott Moran, foraging. (Photo: Scott Moran)
Kelowna forager shares new concept for steady food production

Scott Moran sells his wild greens at the Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
54 more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty-two people in the region are in hospital with the virus, 11 of them in intensive care

City of West Kelowna. (Phil McLachlan - West K News)
West Kelowna approves 2021 budget with 4.05% tax hike

Increase equates to around $84 for the average West Kelowna homeowner

(Aaron Hemens - Capital News)
UPDATE: Kelowna crews responding to smoking boat at downtown marina

Witnesses reported seeing a boat smoking as it was coming in off the lake towards the Kelowna Yacht Club

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

Virtual meetings are taking a toll on local governance, according to multiple mayors in the North Okanagan. (Headway photo)
Virtual meetings leave North Okanagan politicians out of touch

More than a year of Zoom has led to a disconnect between officials, according to local mayors

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Nick Trask, 36, and Ryan Ellison, 35, died in a boat collision on Osoyoos Lake in 2019. (Facebook photo)
Meth, excessive speed found as factors in 2019 Osoyoos boat crash deaths

Nick Trask, 36, and Ryan Ellison, 35, died in a boat collision on Osoyoos Lake in 2019

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

B.C. Premier John Horgan announces travel restrictions between the province’s regional health authorities at the legislature, April 19, 2021. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sees 862 more COVID-19 cases Wednesday, seven deaths

Recreational travel restrictions set to begin Friday

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
‘I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident wants the Columbia River better protected

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson is photographed following her budget speech in the legislative assembly at the provincial legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. budget lacks innovative drive, vision during uncertain times, say experts

Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s budget sets out to spend $8.7 billion over three years on infrastructure

Most Read