A member of the Royal Family has reportedly signalled his intent to help the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw recover woven jackets that came into the family’s possession many decades ago.
Squamish Nation Coun. Sxwíxwtn Wilson Williams told Global News he spoke with Prince Edward during his visit to the Lower Mainland late last month. Over about 10 minutes of one-on-one conversation on April 27, Williams said the Duke of Edinburgh offered his support in the task of locating the jackets and repatriating them.
“I did say there’s an opportunity here in the spirit of reconciliation,” Williams recalled.
“I felt the sincerity. I felt that this won’t just die on the vine, you know, with the dialogue, so I’m very optimistic that we will move forward.”
Edward is the youngest child of the late Queen Elizabeth II and spent time at the non-profit Odd Squad Production Society, which supports youth at risk and is a registered Duke of Edinburgh Award Centre.
Meanwhile, Williams said the nation is still piecing together the full story of the jackets, which were made by a local family in the early 1900s and eventually taken. It’s still not clear how they wound up with the Royal Family — whether they were displayed somewhere in B.C. and then moved or improperly gifted, he added.
“The biggest challenge right now is tracking the wool jackets down, so that’s the goal,” Williams explained.
“Whether they’re in museums or displayed in Buckingham Palace somewhere or archived somewhere in London or wherever … having a team, being able to help track that down, it feels good.”
The councillor said the duke’s support comes after conversations between Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw and the British Consulate-General in Vancouver. The Consulate-General is in regular contact with the Governor General and Lieutenant Governor of B.C., including on matters related to Crown-Indigenous relations.
“We recently got an email last week, and we responded — they wanted to continue this work after the coronation, which just happened over the weekend,” said Williams.
“I feel like it’s going to set precedence, but it’s also going to set new protocols on how to work and contact and connect with Indigenous Peoples.”
There are international standards guiding the issue of returning Indigenous cultural property, as well as individual museum policies. The 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, for example, asserts that nations should provide redress, including through restitution of cultural, religious and spiritual property taken “without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.”
Around the world, colonizing countries, settler institutions and religious orders are beginning to return the sacred items to their homes on Indigenous territory.
Last week, Pope Francis hinted that the Vatican will return First Nations artifacts to their rightful homes across Turtle Island, citing the 10 Commandments, one of which forbids stealing. Last month, the Geneva Museum of Ethnography in Switzerland also returned a medicine mask and a turtle rattle to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy that in been in its possession for more than 200 years.
In B.C., the Nisga’a Nation has negotiated the return of a sacred totem pole from Scotland’s National Museum and the Gitxaała Nation has arranged to receive a longhouse post from the Harvard University’s Peabody Museum, taken from its unceded territory around 138 years ago.
The Royal BC Museum recently closed its third floor as well to begin “decolonization” in its galleries.
Williams said the Royal Family’s involvement in the repatriation of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh jackets is about mutual respect and “holding each other up in a good way.”
“It’s allowing our Indigenous families and counterparts to use their voice, where we weren’t given the space to do so before,” he explained.
“It’s a good time to make peace, but it’s also a good time to move forward.”
Once they’re returned, Williams said Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw is willing to replicate the jackets and gift the replicas back as a “symbol of mutual respect.”
— with files from Darya Zargar
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