A convoy transporting a repatriated totem pole to the Nuxalk Nation of Bella Coola stopped near Williams Lake for an honouring ceremony on Wednesday, Feb. 15.
Around 180 people attended the event held at the Williams Lake First Nation community of Sugar Cane.
WLFN Chief Willie Sellars said it was a proud day for First Nations people.
“We wanted to hear the story of how this pole is being repatriated back to the community and how the healing journey of this totem pole is impacting the Indigenous communities all over the region, all over the province, and all over the country. It’s a big statement day and we are honoured to be a part of it.”
The event, held at the Elizabeth Grouse Gymnasium, included a brushing-off ceremony of the truck and a large wooden box containing the totem pole, drumming and singing, followed by a delicious meal and speeches.
Carved by Chief Louie Snuxyaltwa (Snow) in the mid-1880s as an entrance pole for his longhouse in Talyu, the totem pole was later designated as a grave marker to honour a prominent member of the Snuxyaltwa family.
In 1913 it was removed and housed for several decades at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria.
Since 2019, the carver’s great-grandson Nuxalk Hereditary Chief Yulm Snuxyaltwa (Deric Snow) has been fighting for it to be returned home, even taking his case to the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
At the event on Wednesday, Yulm said the most powerful moment of the pole’s return was when it was lowered from the upper levels of the museum in Victoria on Monday, Feb. 13.
“We did that because our ancestors have been locked up in the Royal B.C. Museum for 120 years,” he said. “That’s the first time it touched the ground and breathed the air. That’s what my great grandfather wanted – he wanted to be free.”
Yulm encouraged everyone in attendance to follow his nation’s lead by requesting that First Nations artifacts be returned.
“Put pressure on the Royal BC Museum and the Canadian government,” he said. “I don’t care if you have to walk, ride a horse, ride a bike. If you have to do it yourself, take a drum, tell them that your ancestors want to be free.”
After the brushing ceremony, Nuxalk member Q’umykwa Russell Siwallace thanked everyone for welcoming them.
“This is not just a Nuxalk win, this is for all of us,” he said, to which everyone cheered. “We are all going to come together as one nation. This is just part of our journey.”
On Thursday, the convoy was proceeding along Highway 20 to Bella Coola, with a stop at Tl’etinqox First Nation for a short ceremony.
Later in the day, Nuxalkmc and friends were planning to meet them at the foot of the Bella Coola hill.
A celebration in Nuxalk territory is planned for Family Day, Monday, Feb. 20, at Acwsalcta School in Bella Coola, where the totem pole will be unpacked for everyone to see it.
With files from Sage Birchwater and Ruth Lloyd
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