'Revitalized' exhibit showcasing B.C. First Nations to reopen at prestigious American museum

A popular American museum is getting set to reopen an exhibit featuring B.C. First Nations.

New York’s American Museum of Natural History first opened its Northwest Coast Hall exhibit in 1899, showcasing Indigenous communities across the Pacific Northwest.

The exhibit has long featured cultural items that Indigenous leaders say do not belong to the museum.

“Each piece has a different story, some were outright stolen and some were collected through early archeological means, and if you ask most first nations people they would say those are stolen too,” said consulting curator, Morgan Guerin.

Many of the items were taken by settlers during expeditions to the region.

"Even my people, the Musqueam, have tonnes, actual tonnes of belongings that were taken from the ground and removed and sent to museums,” Guerin said.

Guerin said he was approached by Peter Whiteley, curator of North American ethnology at the New York museum in 2017 with the vision of allowing First Nations communities to tell their own stories.

Guerin was selected as the consulting curator for the Coast Salish. The Haida, Nuu-chah-nulth, Nuxalk, Tlingit, Haíłzaqv, Kwakwaka'wakw, Tsimshian and Gitxsan communities were also represented.

“The truth is our truths, the reconciliation is the ability for us to tell our histories and our stories instead of having someone else study them," Guerin said.

The hall features over 1,000 cultural treasures including a 63-foot-long canoe and more than 60 different carvings.

Additionally, the exhibit, which will open on Friday, will have storytelling, scholars, artists, historians, filmmakers and language experts.

"Were not just a chapter in a study book but people who are still here and still living and still thriving,” said Guerin.

"We went through those collections and specifically on a nation-to-nation basis said this is the piece we'd like to show because this best reflects the story we're trying to tell, as opposed to what someone else has 'discovered,'” he added.

Guerin says he hopes to see more of these cultural items returned to the First Nations communities they came from in the coming years.

"The in-between steps are working with each one of those museums to have an understanding that those are one, not your belongin,gs and two, how do we care for them until we have built the capacity to have them returned,”