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Museum of Vancouver returns Sasquatch mask to Sts'ailes People

Sasquatch Mask returned to Sts’ailes People

(VANCOUVER, BC) –  Today, the Sts’ailes Band (formerly Chehalis) will hold a private repatriation ceremony on their land near Harrison Hot Springs, to celebrate the return of a significant artifact in their people’s history. Earlier this week, the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) returned the Sasq’ets (commonly known as Sasquatch) mask to its rightful owner, 75 years after being donated to the institution.

At a ceremony held Monday at MOV, the Sts’ailes expressed their gratitude to the Museum of Vancouver for protecting their mask. A Musqueam First Nation representative also attended to welcome the Sts’ailes to their ancestral land.

MOV’s CEO Nancy Noble explained the importance of returning aboriginal belongings: “I believe that museums have a social and cultural obligation to consider repatriating certain objects from their collections to First Nations people.”

She describes the positive impacts of repatriation: “For aboriginal peoples, the return of an object with significant cultural or spiritual value can help to rebuild awareness, educate youth and strengthen ties to a culture that was often suppressed or taken away. And from the MOV’s point of view, the process is a way of building trust and developing relationships with the ultimate goal of narrowing the cultural divide that often still exists today.”

During another repatriation ceremony in 2013, James Leon from Sts’ailes asked to view artifacts from the museum’s First Nations Collection - supported by YVR - believing that MOV might have the Sasq’ets mask, which had been missing since 1939, when it was donated by J.W. Burns, a teacher at the Chehalis Indian Day School. A formal letter from Sts’ailes requesting the repatriation of the mask was received by MOV in late 2013; the museum’s repatriation committee recommended the return soon thereafter.

Noble stated: “Every request is different and must be considered on its merits, but when objects were obtained improperly or have a high degree of cultural sensitivity within a community, repatriation seems like an obvious solution.”

All records indicate that Ambrose Point carved the Sasq’ets mask in 1937 or 1938 and wore it at Sasquatch Days, a celebration of aboriginal sport, ceremony, art and handicraft. Burns was very interested in Sasq’ets and is often credited for bringing the word “Sasquatch” into common use. The Sts’ailes Band state that due to the mask’s extreme cultural significance, Point would not have sold it or given ownership to Burns, and that Point was dispossessed of the mask without permission.

The Sts’ailes Band has a close spiritual and cultural relationship with Sasq’ets. The Band recognizes Sasq’ets as having the ability to move between the physical and spiritual realms. A sighting or encounter with Sasq’ets is viewed as a gift and as a bestowal of responsibility within the Sts’ailes community. 

The Sasquatch Days celebration has been revived in recent years and will take place in Harrison Hot Springs on the weekend of June 7-8, 2014. This will be a special year because for the first time both the newly carved Sasq’ets mask and the original Sasq’ets mask will be present. These events are open to the public.