Preparing to Bring Our Ancestors Home

March 10, 2023
Photo: Neil Hanna
Photo: Maxine Bulloch

A panel discussion recently hosted at the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver focused on the specifics of the Ni'isjoohl Pole Memorial Pole re-m/patriation, especially in relation to the wider international contexts of law, culture, governance, education, and decolonizing mandates and actions in colonial institutional systems.

The event followed the historic decision by National Museums Scotland to return the long-stolen pole to the Nisga'a Nation in northwestern B.C.  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 panel discussion was made possible with support from the Nisga’a Lisims Government, Nisga’a Museum, UNESCO Canada, SFU VP External Relations, SFU Research Centre for Scottish Studies and Cassidy Centre for Educational Justice. The event began with the Spiritual Guidance of Owii`lo`ly`eyum`gaudlth`ni`Ki`insque (Halayt Mr. Bruce Robinson, Nisga’a Peoples) and was moderated by Barbara Fillion, Culture Programme Officer for UNESCO Canada.

The House of Ni'isjoohl was represented by Sim’oogit Ni’isjoohl (Chief Earl Stephens), Sigidimnak Noxs Ts'aawit (Dr. Amy Parent, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Education & Governance, Faculty of Education), Hlgu Aama Gat, Donald Leeson (Chief Councillor for the Laxgalt’sap Village Government), Apdii Laxha (Andrew Robinson, Industry Relations Officer, Nisga’a Lisims Government), and Theresa Schober (Director and Curator, Nisga’a Museum, Nisga’a Lisims Government). The National Museums Scotland representatives included Dr. John Giblin (Keeper Department of Global Arts, Cultures & Design) and Chanté St. Clair Inglis (Head of Collections Services).

Two members of the FoE community generously offered their reflections on the event:

Photo: Maxine Bulloch

Kau’i Keliipio, doctoral student: “I witnessed an event that was truly instructive, informative, and poignant. To observe how Dr. Amy Parent was being supported by her colleagues from the Cassidy Centre for Educational Justice actively spoke to protocols of care. Taking note of the stories shared by the panelists, revealed the collective commitment and illustrated what is right and just in the seeking of restitution and the re-m/patriation of the Niʻisjoohl Pole. 

Having witnessed this Indigenous professor enacting her, kuleana, responsibilities of working with/in her community, conveys to me as an Indigenous Hawaiian graduate student, that justice, care, reciprocity and love/respect for the land and for the people they feed, prevails.”

Dr. Brenda Davis, Associate Director, Community Graduate Programs: “As Dr. Parent shared with the gathering that night, there is no guidebook for bringing back a stolen totem pole to the People. The traditional view of academic work - teaching students, writing articles and attending conferences - is being expanded to include community-directed initiatives. Dr. Parent demonstrated this new way forward when she sought guidance from her community and used her knowledge, skills and abilities (and tenacity) to further their aims by charting out a new path forward in the re-m/patriation of this totem pole. All who attended the dialogue came away with a better understanding of the importance of this work and the urgent need for museums in the present to address the theft of culture in the past.”


Further knowledge mobilization materials (panel discussion recording, background and other pedagogical resources) will be made available from the Cassidy Centre for Educational Justice’s curriculum library.