Sim'oogit Ni'isjoohl (Mr Earl Stephens) and Sigidimnak’ Nox Ts'aawit (Dr Amy Parent) of Nisga'a Nation with the memorial pole credit Neil Hanna

National Museums Scotland to transfer memorial pole to Nisga’a Nation in Canada

Removal of the pole from the National Museum of Scotland gallery begins after a request was agreed this week by the Board of Trustees of National Museums Scotland

A Memorial Pole which has been on display at the National Museum of Scotland since 1930 is to be returned.

The House of Ni’isjoohl Memorial Pole, brought to Scotland nearly a century ago, will be returned to its place of origin in what is now British Columbia, Canada.

The move follows a visit from a delegation of Nisga’a representatives to Edinburgh in August, when a request for its transfer to the Nisga’a Nation was made.

The request was formally agreed this week by the Board of Trustees of National Museums Scotland and subsequently approved by the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture.

The Nisga’a Memorial Pole is on display in the Living Lands gallery at the National Museum of Scotland. Staff at National Museums Scotland will now begin the removal of the 11-metre pole from its display location and prepare it for transport.

The Ni’isjoohl Memorial Pole was carved from red cedar in 1855 by artist Oyea Tait and his assistant carver, Gwanes, in memorial of Ts’aawit, a Nisga’a chief of British Columbia, Canada.

The pole originally stood in front of the house of Ts’aawit’s relatives in Ank’idaa village on the Nass River.

The details of its acquisition are varied. The Museum said In 1929, Marius Barbeau purchased the pole from its Nisga’a owners on behalf of the Royal Museum of Scotland, which later became the National Museum of Scotland.

Barbeau was an ethnographer and curator at the National Museum of Canada from 1911-1949. 

A spokesman for the Nisga’a Nation said in August that the pole was “taken without the consent of the House of Ni’isjoohl”, reports The Scotsman.

Dr Chris Breward, Director of National Museums Scotland said: “We are committed to promoting understanding and dialogue with respect to those parts of the Museum’s collection associated with our nation’s colonial history and its difficult legacies.

“The fact that our Trustees have agreed to this request demonstrates our readiness to act on this commitment.

“We hope this is not the end of the process but the next step in a fruitful and ongoing relationship with the Nisga’a.”

Sim’oogit Ni’ijoohl (Chief Earl Stephens) of Nisga’a Nation added: “In Nisga’a culture, we believe that this pole is alive with the spirit of our ancestor. After nearly one hundred years, we are finally able to bring our dear relative home to rest on Nisga’a lands. It means so much for us to have the Ni’isjoohl memorial pole returned to us, so that we can connect our family, nation and our future generations with our living history.”

Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, Angus Robertson welcomed the decision taken by National Museums Scotland’s Board of Trustees.

Robertson said: “It follows a deeply moving recent meeting with the Nisga’a delegation when they came to Scotland to explain the huge importance of the pole to their culture, people and community.”