Restored Exhibit Highlighting Indigenous Peoples of British Columbia to Open at New York Museum


The American Museum of Natural History’s Northwest Coast Hall – its oldest exhibit, focusing on the indigenous history of the Pacific Northwest – will reopen this week after a major restoration project co-led by a Nuu-artist and historian. chah-nulth.

Haa’yuups from the Hupacasath First Nation of the Alberni Valley on Vancouver Island helped restore the exhibit with Peter Whiteley, Curator of North American Ethnology at the New York Museum.

It was a four-year project for Haa’yuupsalso known as Ron Hamilton, who has also worked with a number of Coast Salish, Gitxsan, Haida, Haíłzaqv, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, Nuxalk, Tlingit and Tsimshian community council conservators.

The project was inaugurated last week in the presence of representatives of the communities involved in its restoration. It will be open to the public from May 13.

Haa’yuups said that while many museums talk about making progress toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, this cannot be fully accomplished until the stolen artifacts are returned.

“When we look at the collection of these materials, it’s not a trivial political position on my part to say, ‘We still have them. [the museum] own them, we own them,” Haa’yuups told CBC News.

“The only way to know the true value of these treasures is to reconnect our people to these treasures and allow our people to say what these treasures are for.”

Haa’yuups said American museums that feature Indigenous artifacts don’t come close to painting the full experience of the peoples they talk about — the experiences of colonialism, subjection to various laws, and the actions that brought the artifacts there. -down in the first place.

He said he hopes to center Indigenous women with the renewed exhibit and highlight some of the diverse cultural beliefs expressed by the people who created the exhibits.

History of colonialism

The renovated room features artifacts and signs that are contextualized with stories from the cultures from which they were drawn. It features 67 sculptures from various cultures, totem poles and thousands of other relics.

Many artifacts and cultural objects from the Northwest Coast Hall, which opened in 1899, have been brought together during various “expeditions” in the Pacific Northwest by learned settlers.

Haa’yuups says most of the artifacts on display at Northwest Coast Hall were then taken without the consent of Indigenous peoples, but a few were purchased through coercion.

A nearly 20-meter canoe, considered one of the largest in the world, is seen in this photo from 2010. The canoe now sits in the renovated Northwest Coast lobby. (Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK/Wikimedia Commons)

He says he thinks a visitor to an American museum right now would not be impressed by the Indigenous peoples the museum claims to feature, but rather by the institution of the museum itself.

“There’s not really an effort to go into that experience and try to help people understand it,” he said.

“I look at the opportunities that visiting such a place would present, and I hope it would be a place where we could tell the story of what has happened to us since the Europeans arrived on our shores.”

Focus on Indigenous Stories

The hall features new multimedia exhibits, including a video by Michael Bourquin, an Aboriginal filmmaker of Tahltan-Gitxsan origin.

There will also be an exhibition featuring contemporary artists from Indigenous communities in British Columbia, depending on the museumas well as an exhibit featuring Haa’yuups and the rest of the consulting curators called “Our Voices”.

“There is a banner that represents my nation of Aboriginals that has [816] native names given to them – every member of the nation,” said Kwiispiisiis, Haa’yuups’ son, also known as Jake Hamilton.

“These names have never been kept. Some of them have never been in print before. So it was pretty amazing to see.”

A raven mask from the Tsimshian culture is seen in this 2015 image. New signs and legends for artifacts at Northwest Coast Hall have been written by Indigenous people. (Thom Quine/Wikimedia Commons)

Kwiispiisiis says he hopes the thousands of people who visit the new Northwest Coast Hall will have a better understanding and appreciation for the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia.

“The number of people [that’ll see this] in a year, that’s maybe more than what we have in BC,” he laughed. ” It’s fantastic.

For Haa’yuups, he hopes museums will eventually fully repatriate the relics they’ve taken from cultures around the world.

“Our communities today are universally crying out for healing,” he said. “Perhaps returning these items could serve that purpose somewhat or play a role in that healing.”