REPORTING · 16th September 2010
Tears flowed without restraint in Greenville yesterday. Deep echoing cries howled deep into the past. Eruptions of cheers from the hundreds gathered. Sobbing came from places, in the gathered elders' hearts, previously hidden. Yesterday, September 15, 2010, the Nation of Canada and the Province of British Columbia took some very tangible steps to make amends to the great grief and hardship imposed on the Nisga’a people; they returned two transport truckloads of sacred artifacts of the Nisga’a Ancestors.
Much like the Spaniards did to the Mayan people in the early 1500’s, the early Canadians (the British) came and imposed themselves on the Nisga’a territory. Individual collectors came and took many artifacts away to be put on public display and others were taken for private collections. When the Missionaries arrived at the beginning of the 1900’s they ordered all of the native artistry; carvings, regalia, masks, rattles, everything representing Nisga’a culture and history brought into the centre of the village. There it was all set on fire, burned in an effort to destroy what the missionaries believe was demonic and evil. A blind intolerance of a culture they did not understand and did not wish to know. An attempt to eliminate the memories of a people and a thriving culture, 400 years after the Spaniards arrived at the Yucatan Peninsula and did the same thing.
It was a medical Doctor from England, Charles F. Newcombe, who in the very early 1900's, took it upon himself to gather and secure many sacred Nisga’a items. Many of these collected items ended up in the Royal British Columbia Museum and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. During negotiations for the Nisga’a Final agreement Treaty, the return of these items was a constant factor. On Wednesday, September 15, the return of the items from these museums was honoured in a significant celebration.
Except for the wrongs perpetrated by the Missionaries, all of the speeches were positive. President Mitchell Stevens spoke about how Canada is a Nation representing every culture, all peoples on Earth. Stating the Nisga’a are proud to be able to share their culture with all of Canada and the world he explained they are not keeping these artifacts to themselves but will be displaying them for everyone.
Dr. Joseph Gosnell, Sim’oogit Hleek, Chief Nisga’a Ambassador stood before the boxes and called out to his relatives long passed in guttural cries that had people transfixed. The emotions and spiritual energy overflowed during the half hour ceremony of removing the first crates from the truck. The Sim’oogit (Nisga’a Chiefs and Elders) were all circled around the crates offering prayers and thanks. The calls out to the surrounding mountains and blue skies; the cries out to the returning spirits of the Elders, the cheers of the hundreds gathered, all made for an experience few Canadians would every get the chance to witness.
It was a beautiful day; hardly a cloud in the sky. Stevens proclaimed, as the celebrations were winding down, how God must love the Nisga'a providing such a great day for the repatriation of the ancestral artifacts.
The Sim'oogit and Sigidimnak (Chiefs and Elders, male and female) gather around the crates for the blessing ceremony of their return
Nisga'a Nation President Mitchell Stevens signs the Proclamation documents making the return of the artifacts official
Copper Shield gifts were presented to the representatives of both Museums
Edmund Wright, Secretary Treasurer for the Nisga'a Lisims Government spoke with passion about this moment in the history of the Nisga'a Nation and the lives of the Nisga'a people.
Bringing Home our Acestors
Comment by Francine Gurney on 16th September 2010
what an excellent article Merv! Very well written and yes it was a very very emotional day for me. All I could think of were my grandparents, aunts and uncles while anything carved of theirs was burned and listening to Sim'oogit Hleek crying out brought me to tears hugging my ancesters and holding them in my heart and telling them they could rest now. wow what an event! Thanks Merv!