Return of Cultural Objects

Address by Professor Jack Lohman, Royal BC Museum on the occasion of The Return of Cultural Objects and Remains Announcement 21 June, 2016

Madame Premier, Chief Shane Gottfriedson, Grand Chief Edward John, Chief Sam, Chief and Mrs. Thomas, Chief Wesley, Chief Jones, Chief Robert Joseph, Chief Smith, Distinguished Chiefs and Elders, Minister Fassbender, Minister Rustad, Ms. Tracey Herbert, Members of the Press,

On behalf of our Board and Chair Susan Knott, and on behalf of our staff and volunteers, can I add my welcome to you to the Royal BC Museum, one of the great museums of the World and to the First Peoples’ Hall where we are surrounded by the works of art of great nations, symbols of great families and work of great human ingenuity?

As the Chief Executive of the Royal BC Museum, allow me too to acknowledge the importance and the respect we have for the deep history of the Songhees and the Esquimalt people in whose territory the Museum was built. Indigenous history and knowledge is with us and continues to form an important strand of everything we do at the Royal BC Museum.

The Board and Management of the Royal BC Museum welcome Premier Clark’s announcement - your leadership on this issue and your commitment to the repatriation of ancestral remains, sacred and ceremonial objects.

We absolutely endorse your desire for the Royal BC Museum to be pro-active in identifying, approaching and engaging First Nations that require the unconditional return of material important to them.

This is in stark contrast to the traditional North American and European museum approach of waiting for source communities to figure it all out for themselves, on their own and make all the moves themselves, many of whom do not have the resources to do so.

Although the Royal BC Museum has been returning human remains and sacred objects over many years, this has always been in response to specific treaty requests.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Times have changed.

The change is the result of increased and positive engagement with our First Nations, a focus on reconciliation and giving meaning to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report and to the United Nations’ Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Articles 12 and 13 in particular, state that indigenous peoples have the right to the restitution of cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken under cultural and economic duress and in violation of their customs and traditions.

And of course, there is tremendous support from the public to make this happen.

The return of human remains and sacred objects is always an empowering act, where the First Nation’s community takes control of very powerful and influential items. It is also a return and a recognition of the ownership of the items.

It is easy to think of repatriation as a relatively simple process. Someone asks for something back, the museum hands it over, hands are shaken, photographs are taken and the case is closed. But this is rarely the case. There is always a need for a rigorous process of research and for First Nations, there are a number of issues that can influence the outcome. Communities need to discuss amongst themselves to agree what to do. This may need considerable logistic and financial resources just to get people together. It may require special protocols and there may be a need for ceremonies that require the transport of participants, sometimes a suitable grave site, and nearly always secure storage.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the point is that work needs to be done and that there is room for a lot of improvement on what has been achieved to date.

Premier Clark gently pushes us beyond the rhetoric of return, putting it aside, to focus on the realities of achieving repatriation.

And we as a museum will do everything possible to support First Nations in seeking the return of their ancestral remains, sacred and ceremonial objects. This is a vision for the future.

Aboriginal British Columbians will control this process at all times with the technical and logistical assistance of the Museum. We look forward to this journey together.

Madame Premier, Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank you.

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