OTTAWA, Oct 28 (Reuters) – A band of Canadian Indians said on Tuesday they want Ottawa to help them get their totem pole back from Sweden, where it has been since being cut down and removed in 1929.
Sweden has said it will return the G’psgolox Pole to the Haisla First Nation, located on British Columbia’s Pacific Coast south of the Alaska Panhandle, if the Indians build a special center to protect the fragile artifact.
The Haisla say they cannot afford such a building — the price of which is put at anywhere between C$3 million ($2.3 million) and C$7 million — and want financial help from both Sweden and Canada.
The issue is a sensitive one for a Canadian government embarrassed by the very poor living conditions endured by many of the country’s 1.2 million aboriginals, who complain their culture and traditional way of life have been largely destroyed by over a century of gross mismanagement from Ottawa.
Gerald Amos of the Haisla Totem Pole Committee said the Canadian government had a duty to help, given that it had granted an export license for the pole after the local Swedish consul cut it down without permission.
"We think if we build the center we can begin the process of healing between our community and the Canadian government and public," Amos told Reuters.
"There are very few First Nations’ artifacts left in British Columbia — they are in museums all over North America and our kids can’t see them."
The irony is that if the totem pole had been left alone, it would have rotted away decades ago. Few such poles last longer than 40 years in the damp British Columbian climate.
Amos was also in Ottawa for the showing of a special 70-minute film — financed by Canada’s National Film Board — about the pole, which he hopes will revitalize the Haisla’s decade-long campaign to have the artifact returned.
"If we repatriate the pole and build the center, our people will have a sense of pride and ownership. Right now our people don’t have a hell of a lot," he said.