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i u a pi pu pa ti tu ta ki ku ka gi gu ga mi mu ma ni nu na si su sa li lu la ji ju ja vi vu va ri ru ra qi qu qa ngi ngu nga lhi lhu lha

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Nuxalk Nation celebrates return of totem pole after more than a century

CBC News | February 20, 2023

Categories: news

Nuxalk Nation celebrates return of totem pole after more than a century

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Pole travelled from Victoria to Bella Coola, about 1,000 km northwest of Vancouver

CBC News · Posted: Feb 20, 2023 9:00 AM EST | Last Updated: 5 hours ago

People in a gym surround a totem pole.
Members of the Nuxalk Nation welcome back a carved totem pole that was taken from their community more than 100 years ago. (Wawmeesh Hamilton/CBC)

Honking horns greeted a long line of vehicles winding along the snowy highway leading into Bella Coola, about 1,000 km northwest of Vancouver, on B.C.'s central coast last week.

At the helm was a truck carrying precious cargo: a Nuxalk totem pole, taken from the community more than 100 years ago, at long last returning home to its rightful owners.

The honking continued as the convoy made its way into the community, having travelled along the highway after taking the ferry from Victoria, where the totem had been in the Royal B.C. Museum since 1913.

"It's kind of surreal," said one onlooker who captured the moment on video. "Home on Nuxalk territory."

WATCH | Celebrations in Bella Coola following return of totem pole


Celebrations In Bella Coola, B.C., after the return of the Nuxalk Nation's totem pole

The Nuxalk Nation is welcoming back a carved pole that was taken from the area more than 100 years ago. A ceremony is being held in a school gymnasium to welcome the pole back to the community. The totem pole was repatriated from the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria. It will spend 12 months on display at the entrance to the school before it's placed in a permanent location on traditional territory.

"It was one hell of a trip, but we got there," Hereditary Chief Snuxyaltwa (Deric Snow) said when he was speaking to The Current host Matt Galloway about the journey.

Snuxyaltwa said about 200 people were in Bella Coola to celebrate the pole's return with blessings and celebration Thursday.

The journey home was long in both distance and time — a mission Snuxyaltwa started several years earlier when he formally requested the pole's return from the museum, and later when he threatened legal action because the process was so slow.

Snuxyaltwa said the pole was carved by his great-grandfather, the late Louie Snow and former owner of the Snuxyaltwa title, in the 19th or early 20th century. It was placed outside the family longhouse in Talleomy (South Bentinck).

The backs of three people in First Nations regalia, watching as a crane lowers a pallet out of a building.
Members of the Nuxalk Nation watch as a crane takes their totem pole out of the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria to begin the journey back to their home in Bella Coola, about 1,000 km northwest of Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It was lost in the early 1900s when Nuxalk members, seeking to evade the smallpox epidemic, relocated about 35 km north to Bella Coola.

It ended up in the Royal B.C. Museum's collection around 1913.

Due to the pole's size, walls and windows of the museum had to be removed and a crane had to lift it out.

WATCH | A convoy of vehicles follows the totem pole into Bella Coola:

Convoy of vehicles brings totem pole back to Nuxalk territory on B.C.'s Central Coast

A long line of vehicles followed the truck transporting a Nuxalk totem pole back to the community on Feb. 16 after it had been taken more than 100 years earlier.

Two days of ceremony followed, and then the trek back to Nuxalk territory began; it travelled by truck, on the ferry to the mainland and up through the province's Interior to Bella Coola. 


The chief said the return is a good first step because his great-grandfather's spirit remained inside the totem pole and could not be at rest until it was returned home.

"The circle of life is we never pass away," he said.

"We're just here for a visit and once that visit's over, we go on to another journey and my [great-grandfather] wants to continue that journey."

WATCH | Hereditary Chief Snuxyaltwa speaks about the importance of the totem pole:

'My grandfather's coming home': Nuxalk chief celebrates return of totem pole

More than 100 years ago since it was taken from their land, the Nuxalk Nation on B.C.'s central coast is celebrating the repatriation of a totem pole carved by the late Hereditary Chief Snuxyaltwa (Louie Snow). His great-grandson, Deric Snow, who now holds the Snuxyaltwa title, says it's an emotional day.

"Our history is embedded in these poles, a great history, and when they're taken, it's almost as if it's like our children were taken,'' Nuxalk member Charlene Schooner told The Canadian Press.

"They are part of our history.''

On Monday afternoon, the Nuxalk Nation hosted a ceremony at the Acwsalcta School gymnasium in Bella Coola to celebrate the return of the pole. 

Hundreds gathered at the gymnasium to mark the occasion with song and dance, followed by a feast in the evening. 

The totem pole will be on display at the school's entrance for 12 months before it's moved to a permanent location on traditional territory.

"There is a really warm feeling in my heart," said Mara Pootlass, who was there on Monday and has family connections to the pole.

"I could feel the spirit."

A crane lowers a totem pole belonging to the Nuxalk Nation out of the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria, British Columbia on Monday February 13, 2023.
The Nuxalk Nation totem pole has been in the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria since around 1913. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The museum is paying for costs associated with returning the pole, but was unable to confirm the details to CBC.

Snuxyaltwa said the response from people around the world has been overwhelming.

"They like how this was done in a very positive way, in a spiritual way for the people," he said. 

He said the return of the pole will be an opportunity to bring stories back to his people. 

"My family is happy, our ancestors are rejoicing," he said. 


With files from Courtney Dickson, Kathryn Marlow and The Canadian Press

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