I have posted several times recently on a superb interior petroglyph boulder languishing in a shady courtyard at the Museum of Vancouver. Together with Heather Pringle’s posts on this topic, we seem to have caught the attention of the Board of Directors of the Museum.
One of the Directors, Anthropology Professor Bruce Miller of UBC, called me the other day. He consented to me posting notes from our conversation. Professor Miller assured me the Board of Directors is very concerned indeed about the condition and disposition of this petroglyph. They are actively conducting research on it, including assigning a UBC Anthropology Ph.D. student to assemble information about it. They are looking into appropriate conservation measures (that requires professional conservators to evaluate the piece, which is an unusual conservation challenge). They will subsequently look into which First Nation or Nations claim ownership of this petroglyph and will enter into discussions as to appropriate treatment, including possible repatriation. Professor Miller also told me he would look into the text and appearance of this petroglyph on the MoV’s web. As George Nicholas suggests at Heather Pringle’s blog, the constellation of (sometimes competing) values associated with such a repatriation process are numerous and profound and I wish the MoV well as they move into this process.
As ever, funding is a problem for museum work in this province. Cultural institutions, especially those programs which work with aboriginal heritage, are seriously underfunded and conservation and repatriation of a six ton boulder is expensive and logistically challenging. Consider also the likelihood of ceremonial costs likely to be associated with any repatriation – these would normally be borne by the institution. As I have said before, museums are defined by their people, and this situation demands professional attention from people, and it demands serious and sensitive cross-cultural relationships. Museums should not be warehouses for material culture, they should be communities of scholars dedicated to conservation and research and, thus, to education and interpretation. The expertise and diplomacy required by repatriation casts this fundamental aspect of museums into pretty sharp relief.
So – a challenging prospect for the Museum of Vancouver and I welcome and believe the sincere expressions of pending action given me by Professor Miller. I really look forward to following this story as it unfolds. So many times it seems that what starts as a challenge, a road full of obstacles, can become a supremely rewarding outcome. Consider the full relationships that could be built with First Nations via the respectful dialogue around this work of art. I could imagine this difficult process being a national and international story which cast a very positive light on the Museum of Vancouver. I hope they find the money they need — certainly they have a preponderence of financial heavyweights on their Board of Directors.
In the spirit of the cautious optimism I now feel about this situation, I am presenting some pictures Dan Leen took, probably in the early 1980s. These should be a decent indicator of the condition of the petroglyph just prior to its move from Stanley Park to the MoV. Dan also notes that it has a Borden Number: EbRn 4 (an interior one, not Stanley Park!), which suggests there may be a site form for this boulder and/or that it came from a known archaeological site with extant remains. Anyway, from Dan Leen:
Part of a large boulder covered with detailed designs, these three animals appear to represent two dogs and a mountain sheep with spears or arrows protruding from the back and neck, indicating that this petroglyph may be an example of hunting magic. The schematic “stick figure” style of these carvings are dramatically different from the larger, more curvilinear petroglyphs found on the coast. This boulder was placed near the grave of Pauline Johnson in Vancouver’s Stanley Park for a time, but has since been moved again. It was originally located in the Fraser River canyon in the vicinity of Lone Cabin Creek.
The photographs show a clean, moss-free boulder with the designs still moderately distinct but not as clear as they appear in the 1920s. Perhaps this was a priority for the Museum of Vancouver for some time, but until proven otherwise I’m going to chalk one up for Heather and myself. But sincerely, full credit to the MoV for starting a process leading to responsible conservation and disposition of this great work of art and expression of spiritual power. Full credit, and best of luck. Looking forward to what happens next.