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Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology signed an agreement last month to return a house post to the Gitxaała Nation, a First Nations government located at Kitkatla, British Columbia, per a Jan. 25 press release from the tribal group.
The return of the house post is part of the Peabody Museum’s broader initiative to repatriate Indigenous objects of cultural and historical significance. Last month, the museum announced it transferred ownership of an ancestral Alutiiq kayak to the Alutiiq Museum, a repository of cultural artifacts.
The January agreement comes nearly two years after Harvard was accused of violating the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
The Peabody Museum first came into possession of the house post in 1917 after it was sold “under duress” from Christian missionaries to the Boston Fishing Company in 1897, according to an email from Gitxaała Nation Program Manager Dustin Johnson. Since it was acquired by the museum, the post was on display on the first floor until it was moved to storage in 2002, according to Peabody Director Jane Pickering.
The Gitxaała Nation has communicated with the Peabody Museum since spring 2021, and the house post repatriation request was formally submitted to the museum in fall 2022, Johnson wrote.
The house post is set to reach Prince Rupert — a cultural hub of various Indigenous populations — in March, where it will be temporarily held in the Museum of Northern British Columbia. As part of a string of events to commemorate the repatriation, the Gitxaała Nation intends to host a private viewing of the post shortly after its arrival before a public celebration of the occasion.
Celebrations will culminate in erecting the house post in adherence to Gitxaała traditional protocols within the Lax Klan Cultural Center following its construction — estimated to be completed in late 2024 or early 2025, according to Johnson.
The tribal group will also send a delegation to an event at the Peabody Museum later this spring.
The post stands at a height of 12 feet and features ornate grizzly bear carvings characteristic of the Gitnagun’aks house group of the Gisbutwada, otherwise known as Gitxaała’s Killerwhale Clan. The totem pole from which the house post originated was among many of the Gitxaała Nation’s cultural artifacts that were cut down and burned amid colonial imposition.
“This surviving portion of the totem pole was saved by Gitxaała ancestors and stored inside the longhouse of the Gitnagun’aks,” Johnson wrote. “This was during the period of the Potlatch Ban in Canada, when many aspects of First Nations’ culture and governance had been made illegal under colonial law and when First Nations people were struggling to survive amidst genocide.”
The Gitxaała Nation is actively working towards debuting a virtual museum through which visitors can access online exhibits to learn about the tribe’s cultural belongings, according to Johnson.
“The return of this house post is a symbolic act of reclamation and a testament to Gitxaała Nation’s resilience to survive colonialist genocide,” Johnson wrote.
—Staff writer Jasmine Palma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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