ROYAL BRITISH COLUMBIA MUSEUM
The earliest repatriation by the Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM), located
in Victoria, B.C., was in 1976, when they returned a number of monumental poles
that once stood in the Haida villages of Yan,Hiellen, T'aanuu (Tanu)
and K'uuna (Skedans). These poles had been cut down and taken from Haida Gwaii
at the turn of the 20th century, and eventually wound up at the Royal British
There have been three different instances of bringing our ancestors home from the RBCM. In 1990, twenty-three ancestors were returned after being removed in an archaeological dig. In 1998, seven ancestors originating from Northern villages on
Haida Gwaii were returned, and in October 2000, eleven ancestors originating from
the southern Haida villages of Kunghit Island, SGang Gwaay, Cumshewa, Ts’aahl,
Skidegate and unknown were repatriated back to the Haida. During the 2000 repatriation we were able to hold our ceremonies in the RBCM longhouse,
which was a perfect place to do our work.
The RBCM has over 2200 pieces attributed to the Haida, but many of these are contemporary artworks ranging from high end carvings to t-shirts! The Haida
have a long-standing relationship with the RBCM, including carving projects and internships. Currently we are in initial repatriation talks with the RBCM. One of
the approaches we are looking at is what was collected before 1951(when the
potlatch ban ended). There are five hundred and sixty-two very beautiful Haida treasures collected by the RBCM before 1951. This is a fascinating collection, and we’ve had a chance to view many of the pieces over the years. Recently, they
came to Haida Gwaii and presented an overview of the collection to our elders.
The RBCM also has a spectacular collection of archival photos from Haida Gwaii literally hundreds of photos from all over Haida Gwaii and Kaigani territory in
Alaska, and has recently inherited photos from the BC Archives as well.