The Royal BC Museum is no longer collecting Indigenous remains, marking another step towards reconciliation with B.C. First Nations.
The Victoria-based museum has also announced hundreds of items from its collection will now be available for repatriation, putting them back in the hands of tribes that lost them generations ago.
“The Royal BC Museum has been at the forefront of repatriation, and a lot of these communities are just beginning their journey,” the museum’s head of Indigenous collections and repatriation Lucy Bell said.
WATCH: (Aired May 3) B.C. First Nations students successfully petition for provincial park name change
“My advice to them is buckle in, because you’re in for a long ride.”
The Cowichan Tribes has spent decades working to repatriate their items, many of which were obtained during the years of the Potlatch Ban from 1885 to 1951.
“We have the cultural belongings which are the masks and different things, and then we’re also looking for the remains of our ancestors,” the band government’s lands research director Dianne Hinkely said.
While some items have been returned privately as an act of goodwill, working with museums is relatively new.
Provincial funding is in place to help bands navigate the process. The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture awarded $600,000 in grants last year, allowing First Nations to start their research, travel and begin negotiations.
More grants have yet to be announced for this year.
The funding is enough to get a head start on efforts that could take tribes not just across B.C., but around the world.
“We don’t even know what’s out there,” said Cowichan Chief William Seymour. “For us to bring those artifacts home would be amazing.”