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National Museum of Scotland to meet with First Nations leaders to discuss stolen artifact

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A historic meeting is scheduled between leaders of the Nisga’a Nation of British Columbia, Canada, and the National Museum of Scotland.

Scheduled for Monday, it will be the first meeting between the two sides to discuss the return of the Ni’isjoohl wooden memorial pole which was stolen 93 years ago.

“This will be the first time in living memory that members of House Nis’sjoohl will be able to see the memorial pole with our own eyes,” said Chief Earl Stephens. “This visit will be deeply moving for all of us.”

The totem pole was taken by Canadian anthropologist Marius Barbeau in 1929. He sold it to the National Museum of Scotland 23 years later.

Hand-carved and erected in the 1860s, the cultural treasure tells the story of Ts’wawit, a Nisga’a warrior who was to become chief when he was killed in battle against a neighboring nation.

“The Pole is a priceless asset that our respected hereditary leaders have rightly called a cultural treasure,” said Amy Parent, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Education and Governance at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

“It tells of our home’s relationship to the land and our people. To have it removed is to have removed a piece of our cultural identity and an integral part of our nation’s history.

Like many other totem poles carved in the Nisga’a tradition, this one is meant to hold knowledge in its carvings while serving as a touchstone for the next generation to learn about its history and way of life through the traditions. oral.

The memorial pole was stolen at a time when it was common for settlers and anthropologists to take away the possessions of Canada’s Indigenous peoples to build their collections. Barbeau, a controversial figure who has been heavily criticized for misrepresenting Indigenous peoples, took the pole without the consent of Ni’isjoohl House, one of 50 Nisga’a Nation Houses.

“The UK has voted in favor of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And it would be a historic and vital act for the implementation of this resolution,” Parent said.

The 2007 UN declaration states that “States should seek to allow access to and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in collaboration with indigenous peoples concerned”.

The delegation will consist of three members of the House of Ni’isjoohl — Stephens, Parent and Shawna McKay, as well as other Nation witnesses.

There is no guarantee that the meeting will end with the return of the memorial pole to the House of Ni’isjoohl.

There has been only one instance where a First Nation totem pole has been returned by a European institution. After 15 years of negotiations, the Swedish Museum of Ethnography officially returned the Haisla G’psgolox pole to the Haisla tribe in Canada.

Updated: August 17, 2022, 2:09 PM