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Nuxalk totem pole stuck in limbo, ‘no clear path’ to remove it from Royal BC Museum

Bella Coola’s Nuxalk hereditary chief files civil case against museum for the return of the pole
Hereditary Chiefs Aaron Hans, Jeffery Snow and Snuxyaltwa (as known as Deric Snow) visit the Royal BC Museum in Victoria which houses family poles. (Mercy Snow photo)

A totem pole at the Royal BC Museum (RBCM) in Victoria is stuck in limbo, or stuck on the third floor at least.

A hereditary chief of Nuxalk First Nation filed a civil claim on Jan. 13, 2022 against the RBCM for an order for the return of the totem pole and damages.

The pole was a part of the First Peoples’ gallery on the third floor of the museum for years, but a verbal agreement was made after a visit from four Nuxalk hereditary chiefs to the museum in October of 2019 to return the pole to the Nuxalk. Snuxyaltwa, also known as Deric Snow, filed the claim with the British Columbia Supreme Court on behalf of members of his family, against the RBCM.

Snuxyaltwa, as the plaintiff in the case, states in the claim a totem pole carved by his great-grandfather Louie Snow was originally raised as an entrance pole in front of the Snuxyaltwa family longhouse in Talleomy.

Talleomy was the hereditary home of the Nuxalk on the South Bentnick Arm, south of Bella Coola.

The community was devastated by the smallpox epidemic and the remaining community members were relocated to Bella Coola.

On or around the same time, the totem pole was taken or purchased and then ended up in the museum.

After a promise to return the pole was given in 2019, the pole remained on display until January of 2022, when the entire third floor of the museum was closed and is now being dismantled as part of an effort by the museum to “decolonize” and recreate the display with the input of Indigenous groups.

The delay in returning the totem pole is being attributed by the museum to a combination of logistics and COVID, based on a statement from the RBCM:

“From the initial repatriation request received from Hereditary Chief Snuxyaltwa Deric Snow in October 2019, the Royal B.C. Museum has sought to communicate openly about the fact that repatriation would take some time. This is due to the logistical considerations of the totem pole’s location on the museum’s third floor, and the fact that there is no clear path to remove it from the building.”

The statement reaffirmed the museum’s commitment to “dialogue and collaboration” with regards to repatriation and said that after the promise was made to return the pole, the plan was to co-develop a plan for getting it back, including a budget, transportation and a timeline.

But due to COVID and “other scheduling challenges” the meetings have yet to take place, said the museum’s statement.

Read more: Family pole begins long journey home

Read more: Great-grandson of original carver helps restore totem pole at Royal B.C. Museum

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