Nuyumbalees seeks repatriation of Assu posts

Cultural Centre wants to swap replica poles for originals held in storage by Ottawa museum

The Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre on Quadra Island is trying to recover property it says belongs in the centre but which an Ottawa museum is refusing to give back.

The items, two of Chief Billy Assu’s house posts, complement a new exhibit dedicated to the life and legacy of Chief Assu.

Jodi Simkin, executive director of the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre, said because the original posts are on the other side of the country, community carvers in the Village of Cape Mudge decided to replicate the house posts in order to complete the exhibit.

But recently, Simkin said, staff at the centre learned that the two original poles have been disassembled and put away in storage at the Museum in Ottawa.

“When we learned this, we quickly offered to exchange the replicated poles with the originals,” Simkin said. “Unfortunately, the museum declined this offer.”

Simkin said they were told to file a repatriation request – a process which will likely not produce the poles until well into next spring.

Simkin said in spite of the time delay, Nuyumbalees has initiated the formal repatriation request. Simkin also travelled to Ottawa last week to present a letter requesting the poles be returned. That letter was supported by MP John Duncan, MLA Claire Trevena, the Strathcona Regional District, the Kwakiutl District Council, the Laich-Kwil-Tach Treaty Society, the We Wai Kai First Nation and the City of Campbell River whose council voted at its July 6 meeting to lend its support.

Coun. Charlie Cornfield said he has seen the exhibit honouring Chief Assu, a leader of the We Wai Kai for nearly 60 years, and the replicated poles, which are printed on full-size fabric.

“To request the return of their property is the appropriate thing,” Cornfield said. “You can’t take something made of wood and put it on a two-dimensional piece of fabric. It’s just not the same.”

Simkin said Nuyumbalees is the rightful place for the poles.

Chief Assu’s son, Chief Harry Assu, was the first elected chief of the We Wai Kai Nation and Harry’s son Chief Donald Assu, is the president of the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre.

“Donald has been an amazing inspiration to the community, sharing freely his traditional knowledge which in turn has helped ensure the strong cultural traditions that have defined his peoples since time immemorial,” Simkin said. “Donald is now an elder who has recently faced significant health challenges. We, as a community have a shared responsibility in trying to retrieve the poles and bring them home to Cape Mudge so that he can rest knowing that this important milestone was realized.

“We have a strong and powerful voice which hopefully will encourage the museum not to just return the poles because it is a good thing to do, but rather because it is the right thing to do.”