A First Nation on Vancouver Island is calling on the BC government to halt the construction of a new Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM) and instead develop museums within First Nations, returning artifacts in their respective territories.
Port Alberni Tseshaht First Nation elected chief councilor Ken Watts released 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 13, British Columbia officials said the RBCM on Belleville Street would close on September 6 to make way for a state-of-the-art, earthquake-resistant building that will 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 that 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…” Horgan said.
“Once completed, the new museum will be a landmark destination for tourism and a place where future generations will experience the rich and diverse history of British Columbia.
But Chief Watts calls the project a “misstep” that involved “little or no consultation or discussion” with First Nations, including the repatriation of thousands of artifacts to nations across British Columbia.
“While we know a business case has been presented, we believe the province needs to put the brakes on this work, develop plans to hold nations accountable and return the items to their rightful owners,” Watts wrote.
“We are not looking to derail; we look for solutions and paddle together in a canoe,” he said.
Released May 25, the Government of British Columbia’s report business case notes that the museum has reached the end of its useful life, as the costs of modernizing existing buildings exceed those of replacing them.
Yet rather than investing in the conservation of Tseshaht and other Indigenous artifacts at the RBCM, Watts suggests the province work with First Nations to fully fund the development of local museums in their territories.
Indeed, it would support reconciliation and tourism within the nations, ultimately boosting their economies while “significantly” reducing the province’s proposed budget, according to Watts.
He finds that many British Columbians are “frustrated” with the costs associated with replacing the existing RBCM and says Tseshaht echoes those 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 made to decentralize the RBCM and instead empower nations to tell their stories by making their collections sacred or as they see fit.