House of Ni’isjoohl Memorial Pole Comes Home after 94 Years

September 28, 2023
Image Credit: Duncan McGlynn

On September 29th, the Nass Valley in Northwest British Columbia will witness an event of profound significance. The House of Ni’isjoohl memorial pole will return to its homeland, embraced by the arms of its ancestral community. This initiative is the culmination of a year-long dialogue and close collaboration between the Nisg̱a’a Lisims Government (NLG) and National Museums Scotland (NMS).

The decision came after a historic visit to Edinburgh in August 2022. Led by Chief Ni’isjoohl (Earl Stephens), Sigidimnak Nox̱s Ts’aawit (Dr. Amy Parent, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at SFU and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Education and Governance), and Shawna Mackay from the House of Ni’isjoohl, this visit marked the first time anyone in the family had seen the memorial pole in over 90 years.

“We are grateful to collectively tell a new story that turns the colonial gaze onto itself,” said Dr. Parent. “By acknowledging the complexities of our pole’s theft, its intergenerational absence from our community, and the persistence needed to ensure that justice for our ancestors prevails." 

Together, Dr. Parent, and the Nisg̱a’a Ni'isjoohl Memorial Pole Rematriation team, requested the pole’s return from the NMS on behalf of the Nisg̱a’a Nation.

“Since the transfer of the Memorial Pole was agreed last December, our teams have been planning the complex task of carefully lowering and transporting it in what is the first return of its type by a UK national institution,” stated Dr. Chris Breward, NMS Director.

After months of careful planning for the delicate lowering and transportation of the pole from Scotland and following a closed spiritual ceremony attended by delegates in August 2023, the pole was sent back to its rightful home in the Nass Valley. 

The term "rematriation" has been integral to this process, fundamentally reframing the conventional notion of "repatriation". It embeds the act of reclaiming cultural artifacts in Indigenous law, reflecting the Nisg̱a’a matrilineal societal structure and infusing the effort with profound cultural significance.

Now that it has been returned, the pole will become part of a larger research project to explore the philosophy and practices of the Nisg̱a’a carving tradition. The 37-foot, hand-carved pole will be housed at Hli G̱oothl Wilp-Adoḵshl Nisg̱a’a - the Nisg̱a’a Museum. A public arrival ceremony will be held at Hli G̱oothl Wilp-Adoḵshl Nisg̱a’a on September 29, with the pole still enclosed within its protective box with a Nisg̱a’a feast to follow. The pole will be raised in the following days and available for the public to view later in October 2023.

“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,” states Dr. Parent. “Justice for our ancestors will prevail.”

Follow the Pole's Journey