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Nisga’a Nation’s stolen memorial pole to be returned by the National Museum of Scotland in historic decision

December 02, 2022

The Nisga’a Lisims Government has announced that as of December 1, 2022, a long-stolen memorial totem pole will be returned to the Nisga’a Nation in northwestern British Columbia, following a historic decision by National Museums Scotland. This Ni’isjoohl memorial pole is the first totem pole successfully repatriated from the United Kingdom, and the second to be returned from a European museum.

The decision came after a historic visit to Edinburgh in August. Led by Chief Ni’isjoohl (Earl Stephens), Sigidimnak Nox Ts’aawit (Dr. Amy Parent, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Education and Governance), and Shawna Mackay from the House of Ni’isjoohl, the visit was the first time anyone in the family had seen the memorial pole in more than 90 years. This visit allowed the delegation to not only view the memorial pole but to proceed with a formal request to transfer the pole to Canada.

“Our hearts have been moved with the commitment to return our family’s cultural treasure, which enables us to create a new story to re-right a colonial wrong with the honour, dignity and solidarity of the Scottish Peoples who are walking beside us on our decolonizing journeys”, says Parent.

The memorial pole belongs to the House of Ni’isjoohl from the Ganada (frog clan) in the Nisga’a Nation. Commissioned in 1860, it was stolen in the summer of 1929 by Canadian colonial anthropologist Marius Barbeau, who removed the pole from the Nisga’a village of Ankida’a without consent and sold it to the Royal Scottish Museum (now National Museum of Scotland), where it has been housed since 1930.

When returned, the pole will become part of a larger research project to explore the philosophy and practices of the Nisga’a carving tradition.

“The repatriation of the Ni’isjoohl memorial pole to our family and Nation brings important legislation, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to life in a powerful way”, Parent added.

“We hope that our story inspires our Indigenous relatives around the world to know that the impossible is possible when challenging colonial structures for the repatriation of our stolen cultural treasures. Justice for our ancestors will prevail.”

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