Graham Richard —
“The Haida Nation is so good at showing the world how to make things right,” Repatriation Committee member Sdaahl K’awas Lucy Bell told a hall of people gathered to honour kuuniisii ancestors. “We’ve got such a good reputation for doing things right. We started the journey of reconciliation before anyone was even throwing that word around.”
On September 29 and October 1, the Haida Gwaii community came together to honour kuuniisii, whose remains returned home. The Repatriation Committee worked with the Museum of Anthropology in T’agwan Vancouver and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to return kuuniisii kept in their collections. Various people had taken their remains from Yaan, Gaaw Massett, K’áayang, Kuu Tuuwaas Bluejacket, HlGaagilda Skidegate, Hlkinul Cumshewa, K’uuna Skedans, and SGang Gwaay throughout the last century.
Haida gathered and welcomed their relatives home with song, prayer, and tears. Together they re-interred the kuuniisii in Gaaw and HlGaagilda. Museum of Anthropology representatives joined them in support of repatriation. Repatriation Committee member, Jisgang Nika Collison, said the team bases their success on working as partners with the world’s new generation of museum staff.
“We’re making things right,” said committee-member Gaagwiis Jason Alsop. “We’re trying to right these wrongs that were done to us. It’s great to have our neighbours here to do that with us. It’s hard to understand what would make someone want to take them away. It’s hard to reconcile with that. So, it’s great to have our friends and neighbours here. We’re all part of helping to try and make things right.”
Altogether the remains of 15 kuuniisii returned to Haida Gwaii this time. Since its first meeting on February 23, 1999 the Repatriation Committee has sought out and returned over 500 kuuniisii from institutions around the world. More await their return from the British Museum in London and the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa.
This past January Sdaahl K’awas accepted the position of Head of First Nations and Repatriation at the Royal Museum of BC in Mak’toli Victoria. Her team plans to hold a ceremony to prepare ancestral remains from other nations for repatriation. The ceremony will also rally champions to facilitate their returns to their various homelands.