The return of a 200-year-old Susk'uz headdress that had been on display at the Royal Ontario Museum for about 140 years will be celebrated in a repatriation ceremony in northern B.C. on Saturday.
The Keyohwhudachun (chief) headdress is a cultural artifact of the Maiyoo Keyoh, a family territory about 100 kilometres northwest of Prince George. The ceremony welcoming the headdress home will be held Saturday afternoon at Prince George's museum, The Exploration Place, which is displaying it as the centrepiece of a new exhibit.
Jim Munroe, president and CEO of the Maiyoo Keyoh Society, says the headdress is significant for several reasons, including the fact it's tied to the Indigenous family territory system of land management and governance.
"It's something that not only is significant to us, but I think it allows an opportunity for general society to make a connection to the society that sustained us for hundreds, if not thousands, of years."
"It's a fantastic opportunity to be able to share this with everybody."
Return of headdress 'means a lot'
The headdress is made from flute-shaped seashells, baleen from humpback whales and long intricately-braided hair from female ancestors of Munroe's wife, Petra A'Huille, who is Maiyoo Keyoh, hereditary chief.
The headdress originally belonged to A'Huille's great-great-grandfather, George A'Huille, and dates back to the mid-1800s.
"It's really good to have it back," Petra A'Huille said. "It means a lot to me that it's back in my family."
Chance discovery led to return
Munroe happened to spot the headdress while browsing through the Royal Ontario Museum's online collection in 2017. He says it was taken by a Catholic priest, Father Adrien Morice, in about 1887 at a time when the early Canadian government forbade First Nations from engaging in any traditional ceremonies.
Morice eventually delivered the headdress to a museum in Toronto, and it was then given to the Royal Ontario Museum.
Munroe says work began on bringing the headdress home to northern B.C. about three years ago. With support from numerous partners — including provincial and federal politicians, the B.C. Museums Association, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada — he said it was back on B.C. soil in "May or June" of 2022.
An agreement between the Maiyoo Keyoh Society and The Exploration Place now has the headdress at the museum, which Munroe called "the host facility."
The Susk'uz headdress will be at the centre of an exhibit that will also display other artifacts and photos, Munroe said.
Tracy Calogheros, CEO of The Exploration Place, said the exhibit will be in place "over the next several years" while the Munroe family determines what to do with the headdress.