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‘Wonderful awakening’ as totem pole is returned to Nuxalk Nation after a century

‘We would like the world to see that this is happening’: Chief Deric Snow
Hereditary chief Deric Snow adjusts his glasses as he joins family and friends to witness the historical repatriation of the Nuxalk Nation totem pole carved by the late Louie Snow after years of effort to release the pole back to the nation from the Royal BC Museum during a ceremony in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, February 13, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

A totem pole that was taken from a First Nation more than 100 years ago has been welcomed home to Bella Coola on the British Columbia central coast in an elaborate ceremony filled with dance, songs and speeches.

Chief Deric Snow of the Nuxalk Nation told hundreds gathered for the unveiling of the pole that its return from the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria, more than 1,000 km away, represented a “wonderful awakening” for both the Nuxalk community and his family.

The Snow family pole, carved by the chief’s great-grandfather in the mid-1800s as an entrance pole to a long house, was later used as a marker for a family grave, but it was taken without permission in 1913 and added to a collection at the museum.

Snow told the unveiling ceremony in the Nuxalt Nation’s gymnasium that he’s happy to see the widespread interest in the pole’s repatriation.

He says the totem pole is an important bridge of knowledge for his community to learn more about past Nuxalk traditions and teach them to the next generation.

Snow says other Nuxalk artifacts, including canoes and totems, remain at the Royal B.C. Museum and other museums around the world and the First Nation is continuing to work for their return.

“We would like the world to see that this is happening,” Snow said of the pole’s return in an interview ahead of the unveiling on Monday. “We’re able to put the story out there from our own mouths, so this feels very good.”

The pole had arrived at Bella Coola on the back of a truck last week after completing the long drive north from Victoria.

Snow said an impromptu ceremony had greeted the pole’s arrival near Bella Coola on Thursday, with dozens of people travelling to the outskirts of the community to witness it.

“We were greeted by about 50 Nuxalk cars, waiting for us to come down the hill,” Snow said. “That’s how excited our people were.”

He said in a video of that moment that the return is a good first step because his great-grandfather’s spirit remained inside the totem and could not be at rest until the pole was returned home.

Ceremonies were also held last week in Victoria as the totem was removed from the museum.

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