Historic treasures were reclaimed by the Huu-ay-aht First Nation from the Royal BC Museum at a repatriation ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Alberni Athletic Hall.
More than 100 years has passed since some of the objects left Huu-ay-aht’s territory.
An initial physical and legal transfer from the Royal BC Museum took place 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 significance, to Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr., of having his ancestors’ artwork returned is in many respects beyond description.
“When you look at our motto—ancient spirit, modern mind—we’re bringing back the ancient spirits of our people.
“We’re bringing back artwork that was done by our ancestors,” he said.
“It’s an incredible feeling to have your history come back here… to have those artworks come back.”
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 will be taken to the Nation’s traditional territory for permanent public display at the Huu-ay-aht Government Office in Anacla, near Bamfield.
“It will be a good thing for tourism and a chance to see the history of Huu-ay-aht and some of the things that are a hundred years old,” Dennis said.
The return of the objects is important to Huu-ay-aht elder Marjorie White, who said the treasures will help the nation regain their identity.
“I think it’s very emotional in that the artifacts have been gone from our nation for so long and of course losing our artifacts, it kind of loses our identity as well,” White said.
Most of the returned items were previously on display at the RBCM in Victoria, including the ceremonial screen which was historically used to record by the Huu-ay-aht people.
“This was a very creative and important community, still is, and today we’re returning the most spectacular, the most significant of all those objects,” said CEO Prof. Jack Lohman of the Royal BC Museum.
The screen, Lohman said, is equivalent to a Michelangelo in his culture.
After the unveiling of the ceremonial screen, John Rustad, minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, said during a speech that returning these objects is a major step for the Huu-ay-aht people.
“There have been many chapters in Canadian history that quite frankly we can be ashamed of. We’re trying to set a new path and walk a new journey together,” Rustad said.
“That is recognizing the past, recognizing the future and finding that path together.”