The recent return of a totem pole from a British museum to its indigenous community in Canada marks a significant moment in the movement towards museum repatriation. The totem pole, known as the Ni’isjoohl memorial pole, was taken from the Nisga’a community in the late 1920s by museum curator Marius Barbeau and ended up in the National Museum of Scotland. The pole, which had been commissioned to honor a warrior named Ts’wawit, was returned to the Nisga’a community after almost a century.
The return of the totem pole is seen as a historic “rematriation” for the Nisga’a community and sets a precedent for other indigenous communities and nation states seeking the repatriation of cultural artifacts. The Nisga’a community hopes that the return of the pole will encourage other families to seek the return of artifacts that may have been taken from their possession.
The process of getting the pole back began last year when a delegation, including Dr. Amy Parent, visited the National Museum of Scotland to formally request its return. The delegation formed a deep connection with the Scottish representatives, as both groups share a history of colonialism and its impact. The museum and the Scottish government agreed to return the pole without any conditions.
The Ni’isjoohl memorial pole is now permanently displayed at the Nisga’a Museum in the Nass Valley, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Its return is not only significant for the Nisga’a community but also for the broader movement towards repatriation of cultural artifacts. As indigenous communities and nation states continue to ask museums to return their artifacts, the return of the Ni’isjoohl pole could set a precedent for future repatriation efforts worldwide.
Overall, the return of the totem pole represents a step towards acknowledging and rectifying the historical injustices suffered by indigenous communities and their ongoing efforts to reclaim their cultural heritage.