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Museum staff looking for stolen hand from vandalized totem pole on Sherbrooke St.

MONTREAL -- A moment of drunken foolishness turned to one of sober regret, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) got a valued piece of art back.

At some time during the night of Oct. 1 and 2, the person who removed the left hand of the totem pole in front of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion returned the object with a note saying he was sorry and quite drunk when he removed the hand.

"At the time, we were not in a sober state of mine, and we had no idea what the totem pole was," the letter released by the MMFA reads. "After we realized what this stood for and represented for so many people, we immediately felt sick to our stomach. We would like to let all know that in no way, shape or form was this done in spite... We were simply ignorant of what it symbolized and have decided we 100 per cent need to return it."

The museum has withdrawn its complaint and said Kwakiutl artist Charles Joseph is pleased with the conclusion of the unfortunate chapter.

“It is reassuring to observe the return of wisdom and clarity following an evening of inebriety… The letter of sincere apology that we received from the transient delinquents shows us that art educates and sensitizes us to all of the most important issues, notably our reconciliation with Indigenous peoples,” said Nathalie Bondil, Director General and Chief Curator, MMFA in a statement.

 

"It wasn't an ill-meaning gesture," said Sylvie Lacerte, guest conservator at the MMFA. "They didn't realize what they were doing, they were drunk, they were in an altered state, and so they really regret what they did."

The museum will be able to fully restore the totem pole carved by Kwakiutl artist Charles Joseph.

"It proves that art is a great pedagogical tool, in a way. When we broadcast the message that it was a really important work of art for the City of Montreal and for the reconciliation between the peoples whether they're Indigenous or white and for the museum. It represents a really important symbol for the city," said Lacerte.

- With files from Genevieve Beauchemin of CTV News in Montreal.