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First Nation on Vancouver Island gets back sacred items from Royal B.C. Museum

Repatriation ceremony was held May 23 on Snuneymuxw territory
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Snuneymuxw elder Lolly Good, far right, and Snuneymuxw First Nation community members examine the repatriated items returned to the nation from the Royal British Columbia Museum on Thursday, May 23. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin)

Snuneymuxw First Nation’s chief noted that while this week’s repatriation of sacred objects was a step toward reconciliation, there is still a long way to go.

A ceremony was held Thursday, May 23, to repatriate several sacred objects to SFN from the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.

A speaker at the event, Darren Good, said that when an object was used, the sweat and thoughts of the person who made it went into it, making it sacred as if an extension of the maker’s body.

Chief Mike Wyse added the repatriation ceremony belonged to the families and was against protocol to talk about. Members of the media were asked not to record or photograph the ceremony.

According to a release, nearly 100 objects were returned and included carved stone bowls, spindle whorls, food processing utensils such as a herring drying stick, and a range of carved stone and bone jewelry. The release added that while there aren’t dates for the objects, many are likely thousands of years old, coming from a number of Snuneymuxw locations including downtown Nanaimo, Departure Bay, Gabriola Island, Cedar, Duke Point and Nanaimo River.

“I can honestly say I went to this museum over 20 years ago … It’s 20 years of the work that has taken place to get them home. There was a lot of barriers that have stopped the process, and then had to be restarted … I’ve got a good team that are working for Snuneymuxw to bring these items home,” Wyse said. “We feel that this day is very significant for our people to not only bring the items home but the spirit of who owned them before. And the spirit lives on and the spirit will never die, so we’re going to look after them and we’re thankful for this day.”

The general manager for the Nanaimo Museum, Sophie Maher, said staff there helped SFN facilitate the repatriation, and added that while no ancestral remains are at the Royal British Columbia Museum, more objects are still there, with plans to be returned in the future.

Wyse said a space to look after the objects is currently in the works with an external partner to hopefully bring a cultural centre and possibly a museum. Looking to the future, he said there are a number of other museums with objects, including internationally in the United States and Europe, that SFN is working toward repatriating. He anticipates unforeseen barriers that may make international repatriation more difficult. However, he did note that the First Nation has a good relationship with the local museum to help with research and finding items that may have been pushed aside or forgotten about.

“This is just the beginning … this day is just one of many to come,” Wyse said.

READ MORE: Plans for old hotel in Nanaimo advance despite Snuneymuxw’s opposition