VICTORIA – Drummers and dancers helped reawaken the spirit of a totem pole Monday in preparation for a lengthy repatriation journey to its ancestral home more than 100 years after it was taken from a British Columbia First Nation.
The totem, which has been on display at the Royal B.C. Museum, will be placed on a truck Wednesday and followed by a convoy of vehicles on its way to Bella Coola, located almost 1,000 kilometres northwest of Vancouver.
About 50 Nuxalk people from Bella Coola travelled to Victoria for two days of ceremonies and will journey back to the central coast with the totem.
Part of the ceremonies on Monday involved the transfer of the totem by museum and B.C. government officials to Victoria-area Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, who then transferred the pole back to the Nuxalk.
“Our history is embedded in these polls, a great history, and when they’re taken, it’s almost as if it’s like our children were taken,” said Nuxalk member Charlene Schooner. “These belong, they are part of our history.”
Chief Deric Snow said the totem was carved by his great-grandfather Louie Snow in the mid-1800s as an entrance pole to a longhouse and later was designated as a grave marker for a member of his family.
It was taken in 1913 and became part of the Royal B.C. Museum’s collection.
Snow said his great-grandfather’s spirit remains inside the totem and it will not be at rest until it is returned to its home in Bella Coola.
The Nuxalk Nation has been trying to get the totem and other artifacts back since 2019, he said.
The museum has taken a historical step in the right direction with the totem’s repatriation, Snow said, but other Nuxalk artifacts, including canoes and totems, remain at the Royal B.C. Museum and other museums around the world.
Schooner said the totem pole is a symbol of the culture and traditions of her people and bringing it home is a historic moment.
“It’s something our families have been waiting for, waiting to be honoured and remembered in a good way and to be treated with dignity and respect, to be treated as a human,” she said.
Nuxalk member Aiyanna Blankinship said the return of the totem has been a matter of great discussion in Bella Coola by young and old residents.
“I’m very happy because the totem is finally going back home,” she said.