APRIL 26, 2006 (VANCOUVER) — After 77 years at the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, the world renowned G’psgolox totem pole arrived in Vancouver today where it is being welcomed home by Chief G’psgolox (Dan Paul Sr.) and representatives of the Haisla Nation from Kitamaat Village on B.C.’s North Coast. It is the first time that a totem pole has been repatriated from overseas by a First Nation.
“The repatriation of the G’psgolox totem pole has been a journey of a hundred years and thousands of miles,” says Louisa Smith, Haisla spokesperson for Chief G’psgolox. “It has become a catalyst for cultural revival and renewal. In celebration of its return, Chief G’psgolox has presented this pole to the Haisla community for safe keeping. Our children and future generations will be able to see, touch and feel a piece of their history, reclaimed by a nation against all odds.”
Haisla native leaders, including Chief G’psgolox, travelled from Kitamaat Village to hold a historic welcoming ceremony at the UBC Museum of Anthropology today, where the pole will be displayed temporarily until June 19. After that, it will be on display at the U.N. World Forum before travelling to Kitamaat Village where the Haisla will officially welcomed it home on July 1.
“After 15 years of negotiations, discussions and delays, we are overjoyed to have the G’psgolox totem pole return to the Haisla, its rightful owners,” says Gerald Amos, chairman of the Haisla Totem Committee. “All those involved, especially the Swedish museum, must be commended for showing how an historical injustice can be overcome through respect, cultural exchange and friendship.”
The G’psgolox totem pole was cut down in 1929 from its original place in Mis’kusa by an Indian agent, Iver Fougner, and sold, under dubious circumstances, to the Swedish museum. In 2000, the Haisla carved a replica pole and sent it as a gift to the museum. Last month, it was raised in place of the original that was shipped back to Canada.
“In repatriating this pole, we have made history,” says Anders Björklund, director of the Museum of Ethnography, who traveled from Sweden for the welcoming ceremony in Vancouver. “We have also created a friendship between the people of Sweden and the Haisla Nation.”
The Haisla totem pole began its epic journey on 23 March, from the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm. It travelled by road to the Swedish port of Gothenburg, where it was wheeled on board the roro decks of the cargo vessel Maersk Wind for its four-week, 9103-mile sea journey via the Panama Canal to the port of Tacoma, Washington, where it was then loaded onto a truck for a 141-mile trip to Vancouver.
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In 1872, Chief G’psgolox of the Haisla commissioned the carving of a totem pole to commemorate an encounter with the mythical being Tsooda. In 1929, the pole was cut down in Misk’usa, a village in the Kitlope Valley on B.C.’s North Coast, and sold, under dubious circumstances, to the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, Sweden. After 70 years, the Haisla discovered its whereabouts and in 2006 finally repatriated the totem pole to its homeland. This marks the first time a totem has been brought back from overseas.
Long ago, when G’psgolox was Chief of the Kitlope people he suffered a great loss, losing all of his children and all the members of his tribe. These deaths filled him with great grief. One day, he set off into the woods where the Tsooda Spirit revealed himself, asking the Chief why he was so sad. G’psgolox told Tsooda about his woes and Tsooda showed great compassion by giving him a piece of rock crystal. He told G’psgolox to go back to his dead people and bite a piece out of the rock. G’psgolox did so and called out to his people up in the trees. The dead people returned from the trees—alive. He observed the Zola Spirit among them and realized Zola had brought his people back to life. From that day on, G’psgolox was a great medicine man. Before healing someone he first took a bite out of the rock that Zola had given him.
The top image of the totem pole represents the good Tsooda Spirit. He wears a hat that revolves on his head. The middle image represents Asoalget, a personified spirit.The bottom image represents a mythical grizzly bear living under water.
Chief G’psgolox (Paddy McDonald) of the Eagle Clan hires Humdzeed and Wakas, both of the Raven Clan, to carve the totem pole in Misk’usa, a village in the Kitlope Valley.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of England) requests the preservation of totem poles in B.C. and in response the Department of Indian Affairs is “commissioned to take up the matter, perhaps to buy out the totem poles in the Skeena River.”
December 16, 1927
Iver Fougner, the Indian Agent in Bella Coola, requests permission from the Department of Indian Affairs for Mr. Olof Hanson, Swedish Consul in Prince Rupert, to purchase the G’psgolox pole, stating that the “chances are that the pole, if not removed, after some time will fall down and be destroyed.”
January 11, 1928
The Department of Indian Affairs permits Fougner to sell and export the G’psgolox pole given that “the Indian reserve was uninhabited and very isolated…” and “provided that the Indian owners are willing to dispose of it.”
The pole is transported to the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, where it is erected in the open and exposed to wind and weather for approximately six months.
In 1929, the museum moves to Djurgardsbrunnsvagen in Stockholm and there the pole is placed horizontally in an unheated storeroom for more than 40 years.
The museum moves to temporary premises while a new facility is built. The pole undergoes conservation work due to dry rot.
March 25, 1980
The pole is erected in the new climate controlled building of the Museum of Ethnography after being stored at Beckholmen with the warship Wasa.
December 1, 1991
A Haisla delegation arrives in Stockholm to meet with museum officials and announces its wish to reclaim the G’psgolox pole. Repatriation negotiations begin.
The Haisla and Xanaksiyala people sign a declaration claiming ownership of the pole.
November 26, 1993
Mike Harcourt, then British Columbia’s Premier, sends a letter to Mrs. Brigit Friggebo, Minister of Culture for Sweden, requesting the return of the
February 24, 1994
The Swedish Government grants permission for the totem pole to be presented as a gift to Kitamaat Village Council.
October 25, 1997
A Haisla delegation returns to Sweden for the third time and the museum agrees to return the pole on condition that it is placed in a climatecontrolled
With support from Ecotrust Canada and the Na na kila Institute, four Xanaksiyala carvers begin to carve two replica poles, one to be sent as a gift to Sweden and the other to be erected at Misk’usa, the location of the original totem.
Ceremony to celebrate the erection of the new replica pole at Misk’usa is held. The second replica pole, partially carved, is sent to Stockholm and awaits the carvers.
The Xanaksiyala carvers travel to Sweden to complete the carving of the replica pole inside the Museum of Ethnography.
The National Film Board of Canada releases “Totem: The return of the G’psgolox Pole” directed by Gil Cardinal at the Vancouver International Film Festival
The Government of Sweden agrees to return the G’psgolox pole after pleas from G’psgolox descendents for its immediate return.
March 8, 2006
The old totem pole in Sweden is taken down and placed in a transport box.
March 14, 2006
The replica pole is raised outside the museum in Stockholm.
March 23, 2006,
The G’psgolox pole leaves Gothenburg harbour to cross the Atlantic and travel through the Panama Canal to Tacoma and then Vancouver.
April 26, 2006
Chief G’psgolox (Dan Paul Sr.) welcomes the return of the pole to Vancouver, where it is temporarily displayed at the UBC Museum of Anthropology.
May 17, 2006
A gala hosted by the Vancouver Foundation celebrates the return of the G’psgolox pole.
June 19, 2006
The Government of Sweden officially gives back the G’psgolox pole at a ceremony at the World Urban Forum in Vancouver.
July 1, 2006
After an absence of 77 years, the G’psgolox pole returns to Kitamaat Village in Haisla territory.