The B.C. government is providing $2 million to the Royal B.C. Museum to continue its aboriginal artifact recovery project, as part of its reconciliation efforts with more than 200 communities.
Premier Christy Clark made the announcement at the B.C. cabinet's third annual meeting with aboriginal leaders around the province, known as the "All Chiefs," held this week in Vancouver.
Ceremonial objects have been returned to the Huu-ay-aht Nation near Bamfield, Heiltsuk Nation at Bella Bella and the Tla'amin Nation near Powell River.
An animal-shaped stone club and other objects were returned to Tla'amin from the museum last week, under the terms of the self-government treaty that took effect in April. Museum curator Jack Lohman is heading the project to locate and return objects and human remains from collections and museums around the world.
"We want to use every diplomatic effort that we can through my office," Clark said. "We want to use Dr. Lohman's incredible knowledge of international law and repatriation of objects to make sure that we do it right, and we do it quickly."
The All Chiefs meeting was set up in 2014, in the wake of the Supreme Court of Canada decision to recognize aboriginal title of the Tsilhqot'in Nation to the Nemiah Valley. Clark delivered a formal apology in the legislature in October 2014 for the hanging of six Tsilhqot'in war chiefs in 1864, after 14 colonial roadbuilders were killed in what became known as the Chilcotin War or the Bute Inlet massacre.
Clark also announced the restoration of direct ferry service from Vancouver Island to Bella Coola, a $2.5 million contribution to the B.C. Assembly of First Nations for regional economic development plans and $250,000 to support the Moose Hide Campaign to protect aboriginal women and girls from violence.
Clark and Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad faced criticism. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs followed Rustad's speech with his own, panning the Clark government's efforts and saying aboriginal people were treated better by former premier Gordon Campbell.
The UBCIC was formed in 1969 to oppose assimilation of aboriginal communities in Canada, proposed by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau then-Indian Affairs Minister Jean Chrétien. As its leader, Phillip has become a constant critic of both the federal and provincial governments, leading protests against energy projects and the Site C dam.
Judith Sayers, a law professor at UBC and former chief of the Hupacasath First Nation at Port Alberni, posted a blog dismissing Clark's announcements as "smokescreens" to obscure the acknowledgement of aboriginal title to the majority of B.C. where no treaties have been signed.
"The bigger issue of disturbing burial sites for development, either on Crown lands or private lands that still have aboriginal title on them, remains unresolved," Sayers wrote.