B.C. First Nation calls on province to allocate part of $789M museum upgrade funds to repatriating artifacts

·2 min read
The Royal B.C. Museum will close this September for seven years while it undergoes a complete rebuild. (Mike McArthur/CBC - image credit)
The Royal B.C. Museum will close this September for seven years while it undergoes a complete rebuild. (Mike McArthur/CBC - image credit)

A B.C. First Nation has written an open letter to the province suggesting a different approach to planned upgrades for the Royal B.C. Museum.

Rather than spending hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild and redesign that building, they want to see the museum focus on repatriation of Indigenous cultural items.

In May the province announced it would spend $789M over the next seven years to build a new museum, dealing with seismic issues and making it more accessible.

The plan received backlash right away, forcing tourism minister Melanie Mark to defend the decision, saying the current building is seismically unsafe, filled with hazardous materials like asbestos and lead, inaccessible to people with disabilities and structurally insufficient to maintain its current collection or host major exhibits.

Tseshaht Elected Chief Councillor Ken Watts said while he understands those issues, he wants to see some of that money diverted toward returning artifacts to First Nations, and helping them build their own museums or cultural centres to house those artifacts.

"I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't get up and speak on behalf of not just our people, but the people who made those items that they have in the museum, you know, ancestors who aren't here anymore," he told All Points West guest host Kathryn Marlow.

He said the first step would be for the province to engage with each First Nation about what they'd like to see happen with their items. In the case of the Tseshaht, Watts said they'd like their items to be returned to their community.

"That alone is empowering our people to know that those once sacred items are returning back to where they belong," he said.

The Tseshaht First Nation has an array of cultural items in the museum, including carvings and harpoon points.

"That harpoon point isn't just a harpoon point," he said.

"It was maybe carved by one of our current community members' great-grandfather."

Watts said Friday he had not yet heard back from the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture about his suggestion.

In an emailed statement to CBC, the ministry agreed that returning ancestral remains and cultural items is important for reconciliation, and said the Royal B.C. Museum has been repatriating Indigenous collections for "decades."

"Indigenous belongings and ancestral remains will continue to be available throughout the project for the purpose of repatriation," the ministry said.

LISTEN | Tseshaht First Nation propose different approach to museum upgrade funds

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