After nearly a century in the National Museum of Scotland, a stolen totem pole from the Nisga’a Nation has returned home after a lengthly journey over the Atlantic Ocean.
The totem pole arrived at the Northwest Terrace-Kitimat Regional Airport on September 24 via a Canadian Armed Forces plane and is set to be celebrated with a ceremony at the national Nisga’a museum in Laxgalts’ap in the Nass Valley on September 29. It first arrived in Trenton, Ont., then landed in Terrace.
Indigenous Education and Governance Canada Research Chair Amy Parent highlighted the historical significance of this event.
“He had contacted the federal government of Canada, specifically Duncan Campbell Scott, and he gave them permission to remove our family’s totem pole,” Parent said. “Of course, we know now that Canada never had that permission to do that and we never gave him permission, so in our viewpoint and in our history, we see that the pole was stolen. It eventually made its way to the Royal Scottish Museum and arrived there in 1930.”
Parent said the effort to repatriate the pole means the world to the Nisga’a First Nation.
“It means everything to our family,” Parent said. “It’s like bringing home a dear grandparent that’s almost in their 90s and have never met that’s been imprisoned in a European museum for over 90 years.”
The totem pole, crafted in 1860, honours a member of the House of Ni’isjoohl who died protecting his family and nation. It was stolen in 1929 by ethnographer Marius Barbeau and sold to the Scottish museum.
“I don’t know why — maybe the price was right; I don’t think we’re ever going to know that, they chose ours — something that was common practice back then when museums wanted to acquire Indigenous belongings,” Parent said. “There was a belief at that time that we were going to be a vanishing race.”
Parent’s research led to discussions for its return.
“We brought a delegation of our senior leadership to the National Museums of Scotland a year ago and we went through a negotiation process that lasted approximately three months,” Parent said. “We’re really grateful for their allyship. It wasn’t an easy process.”
Reflecting on the entire process, Parent acknowledged the positive relationship they had fostered with the National Museums of Scotland and the government of Scotland, underscoring the importance of collaboration in making this homecoming a reality.
Viktor Elias joined the Terrace Standard in April 2023.