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category: History
published: Nov 2020
publisher: Royal BC Museum

Return of the Forest Spirit

The Repatriation Journey of the G'psgolox Totem Pole

by Anders Björklund, translated with commentary by Tom Ellett, foreword by Amalaxa Louisa Smith

tagged: native american, museum administration & museology, post-confederation (1867-)

"Finally our people are recognized as human beings, our people [are] finally recognized as people, not objects of archaeology or objects of anthropology."?Derek Wilson, totem pole carver, in the film Totem: The Return of the G'psgolox Pole, 2003

In the 1870s Chief G'psgolox of the Kitlope people in British Columbia encountered a spirit in the forest and erected a commemoration totem pole. In 1928 a Canadian Indian agent cut down the pole, which was then sold to a Swedish museum. Transported triumphantly to Stockholm, the pole soon ended up in storage, where it stayed for half a century. In 1980 it was finally displayed at the Museum of Ethnography in Sweden.

Then the questions came. Was there any proof of purchase, or had the pole in fact been stolen from its creators? Chief G'psgolox's descendants began a repatriation campaign, and negotiations went on until 2005, when the Swedish government agreed to return the pole. It was shipped back to its people in the hope they would preserve it for posterity. A few years later, however, the chief's descendants decided the pole should be allowed to return to Mother Earth.

Return of the Forest Spirit is a detailed account of a case that attracted worldwide attention. The story told here is an important contribution to the debate on museum ethics, cultural property disputes and endangered cultural heritage in the world today.

About the Authors

Anders Björklund

Tom Ellett

Amalaxa Louisa Smith

Contributor Notes

Anders Björklund holds a PhD in ethnology and is the author of several books, mostly with a museological twist. After working at different museums as curator and researcher, in 1997 he was appointed director of the National Maritime Museum in Sweden. In 2002 he was nominated adjunct professor in ethnology at Stockholm University and continued as director of the Museum of Ethnography.

As a translator in private practice, Tom Ellett has been helping Scandinavian businesses and organizations communicate with English-speaking markets for more than 20 years. He is a member of the Swedish-English Literary Translators? Association.

Amalaxa Louisa Smith is a direct descendant of Chief G?psgolox of the Xenaaksiala people of Kemano/Kitlope, British Columbia, and the eldest matriarch of the House of G'psgolox.

Sdaahl K?awaas Lucy Bell is the head of Indigenous Collections and repatriation at the Royal British Columbia Museum.

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