Tag Archives: repatriation

More on Stone Bowls and Reality Shows

Screenshot from Times-Colonist of Qualicum bowl which may be subjected to reality TV auction by CBC.

Screenshot from Times-Colonist of Qualicum bowl which may be subjected to reality TV auction by CBC.  Click to enlarge.

The Times-Colonist has another article (PDF) on the seated human figure bowl which may go up for auction as part of a crass CBC reality TV show. The new article has some good information about the bowl from Grant Keddie and reactions from the B.C. Archaeology Branch and the CBC.  Thanks to twoeyes for posting this article in comments in the prior post; I thought it needed a new entry of its own.

The bowl was apparently found in Qualicum Beach in 1988, and is known to the Royal BC Museum – it has been photographed by them (see screenshot above).  I’m not sure if there has been any publications about this bowl, if the Qualicum First Nation knew about it before this mini-controversy, or what has been said to the owner about the importance of the item. The Times-Colonist does have some interesting quotes from those involved.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Seated Human Figure Bowl going up for sale?

Screen shot of human seated figure bowl on boardroom table.  Source: Times Colonist.

Screen shot of human seated figure bowl on boardroom table. Is this a “wild and wacky [sic] object”? Source: Times Colonist.

This short piece (PDF) in the Times Colonist caught my eye, and not in a good way. First, a private citizen apparently owns a large human seated figure bowl, an artifact of immense cultural significance, and is apparently willing to enter a process leading to its sale.  That’s bad news and potentially extremely inflammatory, especially in the context of the CBC reality T.V, show “Four Rooms” (tagline: “four rooms. four buyers. four chances to make a fortune”).

It’s crass and disrespectful to treat these objects like this.  The picture above of one casually manhandled on a boardroom table, apparent scrape marks down its side, is angry-making!  These objects routinely have handling, viewing, and storage restrictions in museums and at cultural centres.

Continue reading

Namu Reburials

SFU Archaeology instructor Rudy Reimer holds a small replica of the handmade bentwood boxes that will be used to store ancestral Aboriginal remains. Source: SFU flickr stream.

There have been several newspaper stories recently noting the impending repatriation and reburial of human remains excavated from the famous Namu village site of the Heiltsuk Nation, on the central coast of B.C.   For example, here is one from the Vancouver Sun (PDF), another from the Globe and Mail (PDF) and a media release from Simon Fraser University itself, whose archaeology department conducted most of the excavations at this large site in the 1970s and 1980s, mainly under the direction of Roy Carlson. As ever, each newspaper source contains slightly different information.

Continue reading

VicNews: Rebirth through Reburial

Burial cairn on Race Rocks. Source: RaceRocks.com

While I was away over the summer the local free paper, the Victoria News, did a (to my mind)   high quality series on reburial and respect in Songhees and Esquimalt communities (cache). The three articles by Lisa Weighton include comments from numerous aboriginal spiritual and political leaders, and sensitively describes how Straits Salish faith asserts that the dead are always with the living.  The dead do not conveniently depart to some other place, but continue in a world alongside and intersecting the world of the living.

Hence ancestral remains are not something belonging to a past which can be “gotten over” but are very much part of the present world.  Laying a person to rest, or back to rest after disturbance, requires food, clothing and prayer.  I don’t pretend to understand the concept well, but I have been to some such ceremonies and the power of the moment is impossible to deny.  In my limited experience the article fairly represents the spiritual and emotional needs that must be met under the sad circumstance of disturbing the dead.  It is incumbent on archaeologists and all citizens to not only work to minimize disturbance of the dead but to respect traditional practices.  It has been impressed on me that such practices are meant to protect us, the living, First Nations or not, as well as to give comfort and respect to the dead.  This should now be considered absolutely part of mainstream archaeology.

Continue reading

One more update on the Museum of Vancouver’s Petroglyph.

Interior Petroglyph now at Museum of Vancouver, while still in Stanley Park ca. 1980. Source: DanLeen.org

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.   Continue reading

Shopping maul

Maul from the Dundas Collection.  Source: Sotheby's

Tsimshian Maul from the Dundas Collection. Source: Sotheby's

The Dundas collection of Tsimshian objects deserves a week of posts – not just for the stunning beauty and resonance of the art but for the profound issues in heritage management, cultural property ownership, and repatriation ethics which it raises or exemplifies.  I’ve been reading up on it a bit, and at one level the isssue is very simple: these Tsimshian treasures should have been repatriated – not to Canada per se, but to Tsimshian Territory.  At another level, there are complex, interwoven threads of (mutual) respect and ownership which make (and made) for no easy solution.   And no easy solution was reached: the collection was broken up, with the majority of the pieces sold to foreign hands (by foreign, here, I mean non-Tsimshian though I am prepared to argue this).

But for today, I was interested to see the Sotheby’s auction catalogue from the 2006 sale of this collection is still online.  The most interesting piece, of course, is the northern-style maul, seen above.  It sold for a surprising USD $1,320.00.  I wonder if it was in use at the time of collection or if it was already an archaeological specimen.  Collection of such materials from archaeological sites and their sale is, of course, now illegal although so far as I know there is a grandfather clause for older collections pre-dating the modern legislation.  I imagine any maul without such prominent provenance would be worth very little indeed.  Despite fetching far more than I would have imagined, it was a mere snip compared to the mask below which sold for a jaw-dropping USD$1,808,000.00.

Tsimshian Mask from the Dundas Collection. Source: Sotheby's.

Tseycum Repatriation from AMNH

Inside the Tseycum Longhouse.  Click Image for etended video.

Inside the Tseycum Longhouse. Click Image for extended video.

This is old news now that in 2008 the Tseycum First Nation in North Saanich managed to repatriate the remains of 55 of their ancestors who had been removed and sold by Harlan I. Smith.  What I didn’t realize is in addition to the snippet on The National with Wendy Mesley (the file is incongruously called “brown-bones” – WTF CBC?), there is also an extended uncut video of the ceremony in the Tseycum longhouse.   Cora Jacks, who spearheaded the Tseycum repatriation effort and is interviewed here, sadly passed away soon after.

The detailed field notes kept between 1854 and 1910 assisted greatly in tracing the location of the ancestral remains. Museums in the states are required by law to provide information when a nation makes its request. This law called NAGPRA is the Native American Gravesite Protection Repatriation Act and has greatly facilitated the provision of a long list of human remains and sacred objects. (Similar legislation in Canada does not exist.) Historic references show that skulls had been sold for $5 each with similar price tags having been placed on skeletal remains.

Cora had visited New York in 2005 with Vern Jacks Jr. and experienced the deep emotionality of viewing the remains stored in boxes and placed on shelves. The museum had not followed any cultural protocol so that skulls were often separated and Jacks explains the “spiritual restlessness,” which results from this disrespectful treatment. In Chicago Jacks also discovered about 79 sets of remains many of which are probably from this region and most of them were small children who had likely died of smallpox after contact with European settlers. (source).

As the NY Times noted, the Field Museum in Chicago had not yet begun repatriation negotiations with the Tseycum.  While the NAGPRA law in the states is very strong when applicable, it clearly does not apply outside American borders so credit to the AMNH for working in good faith with the Tseycum.

But also: Grant – what the heck – is it really necessary to defend Harlan Smith?  Maybe as a curator of archaeology it is.  I dunno, seems like another relativising moment rather than a chance for an apology or a plain admission that it was wrong, then and now, to steal human remains for profit. But hey, stealing their land was also done in the spirit of the times, so what the heck?  Let’s not forget the RBCM itself is built on top of a village site.