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More than 100 years after it was taken, Nuxalk totem pole to begin trek home from Victoria museum

February 13, 2023

Walls and windows of Royal B.C. Museum removed to get pole out

The Royal B.C. Museum is returning a totem pole to the Nuxalk Nation. The pole, which has sat for years at the museum, will be transported to Bella Coola by truck. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

CBC News: After being taken more than 100 years ago, a totem pole belonging to the Nuxalk Nation will begin its journey home today.  The pole, which has sat for years in the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria, B.C., will be transported by truck to Bella Coola, along B.C.’s Central Coast.

The more than 1,000-kilometre trip from the island to the mainland and up through the Interior is expected to take two or three days, depending on weather conditions. 

“The repatriation of cultural property is an important way of acknowledging and reconciling the unjust treatment First Nations people have endured since contact,” Nuxalk Nation elected chief councillor Samuel Schooner said in an emailed statement to CBC News in January.  “Thousands of Nuxalk objects are housed in museums and private collections around the world, and it’s time they all made their way home. This example illustrates the urgent need for funding to create our own museum, a place where we, as Nuxalkmc, can reconnect with the shared treasures of our past.”

Tap on the map below to see details about the pole’s journey home:

According to Hereditary Chief Snuxyaltwa (Deric Snow), the pole was carved by his great-grandfather, the late Louie Snow and former owner of the Snuxylaltwa title, in the 19th or early 20th century. It was placed outside the family longhouse in Talleomy (South Bentinck), about 330 kilometres, or a 1,000-kilometre drive, northwest of the area. It was lost in the early 1900s when Nuxalk members, seeking to evade the smallpox epidemic, relocated about 35 kilometres north to Bella Coola. 

Journey home comes after lawsuit and multiple requests

The totem pole’s journey will begin with two days of ceremony at the Royal B.C. Museum and adjoining Mungo Martin Longhouse, with representatives from the Nuxalk, Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. Because the totem pole is so large, the museum took down artifacts surrounding it and removed walls and windows in order to get it out.

Multiple cranes will be involved in taking out the totem pole before it is loaded onto a truck, which will lead a convoy north to Williams Lake and then west to Bella Coola, where it will be welcomed with a feast and ceremony planned for Feb. 20. The repatriation comes after a lawsuit filed by the Nuxalk Nation, following multiple requests for the museum to return the pole, which until last year was on display in the Totem Hall on the museum’s third floor.

In 2019, the museum’s then-CEO Jack Lohman said the pole had been purchased by the museum, but that claim was rebutted by Clyde Tallio, a teacher of traditional Nuxalk culture, who said an item of such significance would never have been sold. Instead, Tallio said, it was taken.

An intricately carved wooden totem pole stands in a museum surrounded by other native artifacts.
This totem pole will be returned to its rightful owner, Nuxalk Hereditary Chief Snuxyaltwa, this week, according to the Royal B.C. Museum. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

At the time, Lohman told the Nuxalk Nation the museum would work to return several items, including this particular totem pole. When that didn’t happen, hereditary Chief Snuxyaltwa (Deric Snow) filed a lawsuit against the museum in January 2022.

Janet Hanuse, who is with the museum, says because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the museum being effectively shut down for a while, the process was held up. 

The museum is covering the cost of returning the pole but was unable to tell CBC exactly how much that is.

More items to be returned

The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) states that Indigenous people “have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.”

Members of the Nuxalk nation in ceremonial garb with other dignitaries present are arrayed around an intricately carved totem pole that is surrounded by native art in a museum.
A Nuxalk totem pole repatriation ceremony at the Royal B.C. Museum in 2019. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The museum says it has repatriation requests from 30 communities throughout the province, and timelines for the repatriation of items will vary.  “The impact of each repatriation is significant and can be connected to important evolving initiatives, including the revitalization of languages, laws, governance, spirituality, food sovereignty, art, ceremonies and cultural practices,” the museum said in an email to CBC. 

“Each repatriation is distinct and more meaningful than the simple return of belongings.”

The exterior of the Royal B.C. Museum with exterior globed lighting, a pavillioned entrance and signs advertising an IMAX experience.
The Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria, B.C., is covering the cost of returning the totem pole. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Courtney Dickson, Journalist

Courtney Dickson is a journalist in Vancouver, B.C. Email her at with story tips.