Huu-ay-aht cultural treasures make their way home

Royal BC Museum returns several Huu-ay-aht First Nation artifacts as part of the Maa-nulth First Nations Final Agreement.

George Field

The Huu-ay-aht First Nation will celebrate the repatriation of a number of cultural treasures from the Royal BC Museum with a ceremony at the Alberni Athletic Hall in Port Alberni on Saturday, Nov. 19.

It has been more than 100 years since some of these cultural treasures left Huu-ay-aht’s territory, and it is with excitement that the Nation will re-awaken the treasures and bring them home.

“The return of these cultural treasures is a clear sign of reconciliation that will not only help us heal our ancient spirit, but it will also revive it,” explained Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. “As a Nation, we look forward to the treasures coming home.”

Objects include a wooden ceremonial screen; two Thunderbird masks and a single collection of 37 small carvings of birds; five objects associated with whaling and whaling rituals (including a whaler’s cape or charm, head band, rattle, charm and whaling float) and eight basketry objects.

The items were returned to the Huu-ay-aht on Friday, Nov. 18 as part of the historic Maa-nulth First Nations Final Agreement, completed in 2011 with the governments of British Columbia and Canada, the Huu-ay-aht will reclaim some of their cultural heritage and art from the Museum in a physical and legal transfer.

“The Royal BC Museum has held these treasures in trust for their rightful owners, who are now taking them back to their place of origin and deepest meaning, their cultural home,” said Royal BC Museum CEO Prof. Jack Lohman. “We hope that this act of repatriation will inspire other museums to do the same in the spirit of reconciliation.”

This is the first transfer of artifacts to be completed under the terms of the Maa-nulth Final Agreement. In total, 51 Huu-ay-aht cultural treasures from the Royal BC Museum collections catalogue are named in the Maa-nulth Final Agreement for return to the Huu-ay-aht.

Of the 51 cultural treasures identified, the other 34 will remain at the Royal BC Museum until the Huu-ay-aht First Nations request their transfer.

“The province is committed to work with First Nations, community by community, to create positive economic and social change,” explained John Rustad, minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.

“Huu-ay-aht First Nations’ cultural treasures play an integral role in the continuation of their culture, values and traditions, and the Province is committed to doing everything it can to reunite interested Aboriginal peoples with their cultural belongings.”

A private, invitation only repatriation celebration takes place from 12–2 p.m. at the Athletic Hall, 3727 Roger St. in Port Alberni.

editor@albernivalleynews.com