A Vancouver Island First Nation is asking the BC government to curb building a new Royal BC Museum (RBCM) and instead develop museums within First Nations, returning artifacts to their respective territories.
Port Alberni-based Tseshaht First Nation’s Elected Chief Councillor Ken Watts published an open letter on Tuesday, saying his peers are “troubled” by the province’s plans to build a new $789-million museum in Victoria.
On May 13th, BC officials said the RBCM on Belleville Street would close come September 6th to make way for a state-of-the-art, seismically safe building to open in 2030.
BC Premier John Horgan summed it up as a “historic investment” to build a safer, more inclusive and accessible modern museum—replacing the aging facility people have flocked to for decades.
“For just as long, the stories told here have failed to accurately reflect our colonial history or include everyone…” said Horgan.
“Once complete, the new museum will be a flagship destination for tourism and a place where generations to come will learn about the richness and diversity of BC’s history.”
But Chief Watts calls the project a “misstep” that involved “little to no consultation or discussion” with First Nations, including repatriation of thousands of artifacts to Nations throughout BC.
“While we know a business case has been presented, we believe the province needs to put the brakes on this work, develop plans to empower Nations and return items back to their rightful owners,” wrote Watts.
“We are not looking to derail; we are looking for solutions and to paddle together in one canoe,” he said.
Released on May 25th, the BC government’s business case finds the museum has reached the end of its useful life, as costs to upgrade existing buildings surpass those to replace them.
Still, rather than investing in keeping Tseshaht and other Indigenous artifacts at the RBCM, Watts suggests the province work with First Nations to fully fund the development of local museums within their territories.
That’s because it would support reconciliation and tourism within Nations, ultimately boosting their economies while also “significantly” reducing the province’s proposed budget, according to Watts.
He finds many British Columbians are “frustrated” with the costs associated with replacing the existing RBCM and says Tseshaht echoes these sentiments.
“BC has a chance to be on the right side of history and do the right thing,” added Watts.
“…BC First Nations should be consulted, engaged and plans developed to decentralize the RBCM and instead empower Nations to tell their stories through returning their sacred collections or as they see fit.”