The Haisla Prepare to Welcome Their Totem Pole Back Home
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Kitamaat Village, BC - 100 years after it was carved, and almost 80 years since it was
taken from it's homelands in Mis'kusa, the G'psgolox Totem is finally home in the lands
of the Haisla Nation. This highly documented cultural icon or symbol of the Haisla
Nation will arrive on June 30 and be unveiled on July 1, 2006, Canada Day, in Kitamaat
"The pole has made its way home due to the persistence and determination of a lot of
people both here in Canada as well as in Sweden; and a lot of assistance from
Foundations and philanthropists. However, I believe it was the guidance and wishes of
our ancestors that have helped us finally achieve what most thought was impossible",
said Gerald Amos, chair person of the Totem Committee, who has been involved since
1991. "Our culture and heritage is the basis of who we are and critical to our survival as a
peoples; through this repatriation process, we are reclaiming this for our children."
Determination and fortitude underlies the story of this pole, that has become symbolic of
the Haisla people! Louisa Smith, spokesperson and direct descendant of Chief G'psgolox
states, "The original pole is the umbilical cord that ties us to our ancestors, our history
and our culture. Our children now have something they can see, touch and feel of our
history and our heritage".
This international repatriation is the first of its kind, however, it is the story of grief, loss,
forgiveness and friendship that has captured the hearts of many across the world. "It's an
epic story of historical wrongs finally acknowledged, and now corrected (by Sweden)
resulting in a friendship between two nations, thousands of miles apart; but now tied
close at the heart. Many people, nations and general public we have met see and feel the
power of it, and we have been proud to share this with the world", said Gerald Amos.
"We hope more than anything, the story continues to grow as people recognize the
lessons that have been taught by the pole, the people (both Haisla and Swedes), the new
or added history, the journey, the homecoming, and the lasting story of cultural heritage
embodied within the pole...the lessons and the story within this pole, it never ends."
( Descendants of Chief G'psgolox viewing totem during its stay in Museum of Anthropology, UBC Vancouver Photo: Courtesy of Eric Enno Tamm, Ecotrust Canada )
Brenda Duncan, Executive Director of the Na na kila Institute (non profit organization in
Kitamaat Village that has assisted in the repatriation efforts since 1993) confirms the
Totem will be leaving the Museum of Anthropology on June 28, 2006 and travel via
transport truck over two days; and is scheduled to arrive in Kitamaat Village, BC by June
The official welcome of the pole and celebration of this historical event will
be marked by a community feast and official unveiling, on Saturday, July 1, 2006 at the
community Recreation Center. Guests at this ceremonial celebration will include: local,
provincial and federal dignitaries as well as neighboring Chiefs and dance groups. A
delegation of 15-20 guests from Stockholm, Sweden will arrive this week to participate in
the celebration with their Haisla friends. Anders Bjorklund, Etnografiska Museum of
Sweden Director, as well as Karen Westburg, and Christina Rogestam will be in
attendance and official spokespersons at the celebrations on Saturday, July 1, in Kitamaat
Village, BC. This is definitely a day to celebrate; a homecoming that has been long
awaited by all.
The official welcome of the pole will commence with a viewing of the National Film
Board Documentary, Totem: the return of the G'psgolox Pole, on June 30 and the official
ceremony of welcome the Totem home to its ancestral lands in Kitamaat Village, BC on
July 1, 2006. Information on the scheduled events can be obtained from Na na kila
Institute at: www.nanakila.ca or via telephone at: 250-632-3308.
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Background Information: Can be found at www.nanakila.ca
Interviews can be scheduled with:
Gerald Amos, Totem Committee Chair Person, 250-632-3308 or 250-632-4173
Louisa Smith, Totem Committee Spokesperson 250-632-7009
Anders Bjorklund, Director Etnografiska Museum, c/o 250-632-3308
BC News Release
ABORIGINAL CELEBRATION MARKS HISTORIC REPATRIATION June 21, 2006
VANCOUVER - A ceremony to celebrate the return of a Haisla Nation totem pole on the 10th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day recognizes the enduring strength and resurgence of Aboriginal culture in British Columbia, Premier Gordon Campbell said today.
"I congratulate the Haisla Nation for their steady and patient perseverance in bringing about the repatriation of this culturally significant totem pole," said Campbell. "I can think of no better way to celebrate National Aboriginal Day than to welcome the return of this important part of the Haisla heritage. Originally carved to commemorate rebirth following tragic loss, the pole’s return to B.C. symbolizes the importance of reconciliation with First Nations and the renaissance of Aboriginal culture in our province."
Chief G'psgolox erected the totem in a Haisla village in 1876, after a smallpox epidemic decimated the Kitlope people, as the Haisla were then known. The pole's carvings feature three figures from Haisla stories: Tsooda, Asoalget and a mythical grizzly bear. In 1929, the pole was removed from the traditional territory of the Haisla and transported to Sweden.
"This repatriation of a pole from overseas is a first – it's historic," said Gerald Amos, chair of the Haisla totem pole repatriation committee. "Our children will be able to touch something their ancestors carved and that is very important for the Haisla people."
Over the last 15 years, the Haisla Nation made a tremendous commitment to their community to see the repatriation succeed. They sent a delegation to Sweden to negotiate with the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, resulting in the return of the historic pole to British Columbia. As part of the repatriation process, the Haisla carved a replacement pole for the museum.
"We celebrate the return of the G’psgolox totem pole to the Haisla Nation," said Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit. "The taking of cultural property, and in some cases destruction, from historic and spiritual sites is never acceptable. Therefore the return of the G’psgolox pole marks a very significant step in the reconciliation process with First Nations people."
The nine-metre, 1,500 kilogram totem of red cedar wood is set to arrive back on Haisla territory on Canada Day at Kitamaat Village.
"Today is a demonstration of our continued path towards reconciliation," said Regional Chief Shawn Atleo of the BC Assembly of First Nations. "We are building new relationships based on respect and recognition. The return of cultural property is integral to maintaining and passing on our culture, teachings and languages, and to reclaiming our identities. The Haisla's long-standing efforts are important steps to creating an optimistic future for everyone."
The original totem pole will be housed temporarily at City Centre Mall in Kitimat until a new cultural centre is built. In 2000, Haisla Nation members raised a replica pole at the village of Misk'usa, the totem's original site.
"The repatriation of the Haisla Nation totem pole serves as a symbol of the perseverance of the Haisla people," said Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. "It further symbolizes the power and importance of reconciling our past with our present, so we may build a better future for all of our children."
The Province is building a New Relationship with First Nations founded on the principles of mutual respect, recognition and reconciliation of Aboriginal rights. The goal is to ensure Aboriginal people share in the economic and social development of British Columbia, in line with government's five great goals for a golden decade.
G'psgolox pole returns home after 77 years, First totem ever to be repatriated from overseas
For immediate release: Wednesday, April 26, 2006
VANCOUVER, BC-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 Urban 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 returned 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 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.
The 1,500-kg pole is being carried in a
specially designed 9.7-metre wooden case filled with silicone gel to
preserve its condition.
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The official Welcoming Ceremony and Reception at the UBC Museum of Anthropology www.moa.ubc.ca
Louisa Smith, Haisla spokesperson for Chief G'psgolox, cell: (604) 328-6176
Gerald Amos, Chair of the Haisla Totem Committee, cell: (250) 639-5153
Anders Björklund, director of the Swedish Museum of Ethnography, cell:
(011) +46 708 700 299 Anders Neumuller, Swedish Consul in Vancouver, cell: (778) 881-6715
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
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
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
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
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
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 totem pole.
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
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
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
May 17, 2006
A gala hosted by the Vancouver Foundation celebrates the return of the
June 19, 2006
The Government of Sweden officially gives back the G'psgolox pole at a
ceremony at the World Urban Forum in Vancouver.
2006, July 1
After an absence of 77 years, the G'psgolox pole returns to Kitamaat
Village in Haisla territory.
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News and Comment
Bob Kennedy, Oneida
Turtle Island Native Network
March 15, 2006
"The G'psgolox totem pole is on its way home to Haisla ancestral lands!" The quote of Gagaumguist, Gerald Amos says it all, about why the people had gathered at the Ethnografiska Museum.
The nine meters tall pole, is being returned to its rightful creators and owners - the Haisla, after being unlawfully held for 77 years in Sweden.
A ceremony was held this week at the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, to recognize the repatriation of this Haisla cultural icon. In his speech, Leif Pagrotsky, the Swedish Minister for Education, Research and Culture called it a "great and remarkable occasion".
A delegation of 15 Haisla, regalia-dressed representatives, among them ancestors of G'psgolox, participated in the gathering Tuesday providing a formal, traditional send-off for the original pole, including honour songs that also celebrated a newly carved totem pole, a replica - a gift from the Haisla people, that was ceremonially raised outside the museum.
The original totem pole, carved in 1872 tells about the time when the Haisla peoples were badly affected by smallpox. The pole was commissioned by Chief Gpsgolox of the Eagle Clan, to honour a close relative who died from the devstating disease.
In the 1920s, with total disregard for its cultural and sacred importance, Swedish consul to BC, Olaf Hanssen ( with the help of Indian Affairs ) had the totem pole cut down and taken from the Haisla settlement and transported to Sweden where it eventually ended up in a museum.
Fifteen years ago the Haisla visited the museum and saw their pole. They persuaded the Swedish government in 1994, to agree that the totem pole be repatriated to Canada.
Also participating at the ceremony this week, with Haisla, Canadian and Swedish dignitaries, was Swedish hockey legend Börje Salming, of Sami heritage, and a familiar, former professional hockey player in Canada.
Following the very public gathering, Haisla participated in a cultural celebration with their Sami ( Native Peoples of Sweden ) friends for several days.
The significance of the repatriation was acknowledged across cultures. For example, last fall when the Swedish minister Pagrotsky announced funding support for the repatriation project he commented, "It feels rather grand that the totem pole will soon be back where it belongs".
Replica pole A gift from the Haisla, a permanent connection to Sweden. Raised outside of the Ethnographiska Museum in Sweden, March 14, 2006. Photo courtesy of Gerald Amos, Totem Committee/Na na kila Board Chair
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Stockholm, Sweden, Tuesday, March 14, 2006
The G'psgolox totem pole is on its way home to Haisla ancestral lands!
We have had a wonderful day here in Stockholm thinking of all the people who have
played a part in one way or another in getting us to this point.
Louisa Smith was an absolute inspiration in delivering her address to a packed house of
appreciative guests in the auditorium of the Ethnografiska Musuem, here in Sweden
Sam , Rose (Robinson) and Louise (Barbetti), together with the rest of the group where
nothing short of magical in their delivery of our traditional song's honoring the process,
of raising the new pole and sending off the original Gpsgolox totem.
The carver's Henry (Robertson) and Barry (Wilson) are so obviously the favorite's here in Sweden from their previous stay during the carving of the replica a few years back.
Our day was filled with many memories of our journey to return the pole home where it
As they say, the best is yet to come and we are all going to be looking to our community
and friends for assistance in the near future for the official homecoming events. Also, we
will be embarking on our campaign to raise funds for the permanent home of the pole, via
a cultural center to be built in Kitamaat, so that everyone can share the story and the
inspiration of this Totem pole.
I hope that you enjoy the few pictures I am attaching. There are pictures here of the old pole just before it is covered for its journey home.
You will see Swedish youth in the museum watching a slide presentation about the
repatriation process as well as the Ethnographiska staff in a planning meeting just prior to the days events. I included a portrait of Gpsgolox family that are here with us as well as a picture of the replica as it now stands outside the museum.
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Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm 14 March 2006
Leif Pagrotsky, Minister for Education, Research and Culture
Speech at the totem pole ceremony
Ladies and gentlemen, may I wish you all a very warm welcome on this great and remarkable occasion!
I especially want to welcome our friends all the way from Canada, the Haisla [hajsla] delegation.
Today, it is 15 years since representatives of the Haisla Nation visited the Museum of Ethnography and identified the totem pole that is the reason why we are gathered here today. I am delighted to have this opportunity to help the totem pole reach its final destination.(And I also welcome the fact that this particular event coincides with the start of Sweden's Multicultural Year.) A flourishing cultural heritage in all its diversity is essential to every culture's development and faith in the future.
I would like to take this opportunity to describe how the totem pole came to be here in Stockholm. Cultures beyond our own borders have long fired our imagination and awoken our curiosity. Back in the 1920s, eager to learn more about the world and other cultures, Sweden was particularly interested in getting hold of an Indian totem pole. Olof Hanson, the Swedish consul of the day in Prince Rupert, is said to have negotiated the purchase of the Kitlope pole from the Haisla Nation.
This was the beginning of the totem pole's round trip across the Atlantic. First, it was shipped to Sweden in a steamboat from the Johnson Line. On arrival in Stockholm in 1929, it was erected outside the Museum of Ethnography in Wallingatan near the city centre. Fairly soon, it was moved indoors and stored there for 50 years. In 1980, the new Museum of Ethnography opened here in Djurgården, in this building, which was specially designed so that the totem pole could be raised and shown to the public indoors.
And it has indeed risen to the occasion! From its place here, it has spoken to our Nordic peoples about life and culture on the other side of the earth. Untold thousands of children and adults have been fascinated by the story of the pole.
In 1991, the Museum was visited by the former Haisla chief councillor Gerald Amos and by another elder, Louisa Smith, both related to the tribal chieftain who originally had the pole carved. They expressed a wish for the pole to be returned home and this led to a decision by my government to return it.
As the Museum of Ethnography acted in good faith when it acquired the pole, the Haisla Nation offered to give Sweden a new one in exchange, and we are most grateful for this kindness. As promised, a delegation representing the Haisla came to Stockholm in 2000 to carve a new pole for us. It is this new totem pole that we will be raising outside the museum here today, as a gift from the Haisla Nation to the people of Sweden.
On behalf of all the Swedish people, may I extend my deepest and warmest thanks to you for this fantastic gift!
Our new pole has exactly the same proportions and figures as the old one, it is made from the same red cedarwood, and it has been carved by master carver Henry Robertson, a descendant of the man who carved the original pole. Our new pole will perhaps tell an even more multifaceted story. It will not only describe the eagerness of Europeans to bring home the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples far away. It will also give us cause to consider the importance of respect and cooperation in our dealings with one another in the present day and age.
With the return of the old totem pole, and the raising of our new pole, this time-honoured story has come full circle. Or perhaps you might say it has been revived, for today, in March 2006, the story of the Haisla Nation's totem pole will start anew!
Safely home in Kitamaat, south-east of Prince Rupert in British Columbia, the pole will help to awaken fresh interest in Haisla culture, language and traditions, not least among the younger members of the tribe. The pole has now gathered much new strength and power and will take its rightful place as a symbol of development and faith in the future.
For Sweden and for other ethnographic museums around the world, this marks a new chapter of cooperation with the Haisla Nation and with other indigenous peoples of our earth!
With these closing words, I would like to express my warmest thanks to all who have made this great occasion possible in such a unique way.
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Aix gwa las
Turtle Island Native Network is grateful to Brenda Duncan, Executive Director, Na na kila Institute, Haisla for assistance in gathering information