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Gitxaała Pts’aan (‘Totem Pole’) Returns From Harvard University

The Grizzly Bear Totem Pole is finally being returned home to the Gitxaała Nation by the Peabody Museum at Harvard University

GITXAAŁA NATION – The Grizzly Bear Totem Pole is finally being returned home to the Gitxaała Nation by the Peabody Museum at Harvard University.

It has been 126 years since the Pole was cut down and ordered to be burned by Christian Missionaries. The Pole was instead sold under duress to a New England Fishing Company and later donated to the Harvard University. The Totem Pole is set to arrive in Prince Rupert, BC, by April 14, 2023.

There will be a private gathering, for Gitxaała members at 5pm at the Civic Center in Prince Rupert, BC on April 15, 2023. This will allow the community to gather in private and have a smorgasbord dinner. Totem Poles (‘pts’aan’) have great cultural significance, they are territorial markers that tell the stories and displays family crests. These families belong to distinct House Groups, whose Hereditary Leadership govern unceded Gitxaała Territory. The returning Pole is 12 feet tall and was originally part of a larger Pole that was ordered to be cut down and burned by Christian Missionaries. At the time the Gitxaała ancestors managed to save a section of the Pole and have it repurposed as an interior House Post before being sold to a New England Fishing Company in 1897.

Dozens of Gitxaała totem poles and cultural treasures were cut down and burned during the period of the Potlatch Ban in Canada from 1884 -1951. During this time First Nations people were struggling to survive amidst genocide, many aspects of First Nations’ culture and governance had been made illegal under colonial law.

The Gitxaała Nation has been working on its repatriation project since 2018. This research project involves identifying Gitxaała Nation’s cultural belongings that are presently held by museums and private collections around the world. Gitxaała’s Language and Culture Department is currently working with 12 museums to return over 70 Gitxaała cultural belongings.

Following the Gitxaała Ayaawx (Traditional Law), the returning Pole will not be unveiled until it arrives in the Gitxaała community of Lax Klan on Monday, April 17, at 5pm. Upon arrival the Pole will rest in the Community Hall where a community feast will be held for Gitxaała Nation citizens. Łaluyeltgn Pts’aan Gitxaała – ‘the returning pole belongs to Gitxaała.’

For more information, contact Dustin Johnson –
Gitxaała Nation Language and Culture Department

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