A MEMORIAL pole brought to Scotland nearly a century ago will be returned to its place of origin in what is now British Columbia, Canada.

The House of Ni'isjoohl Memorial Pole has been on display in the National Museum of Scotland building since 1930 and was carved from red cedar in 1855 by artist Oyea Tait and his assistant carver, Gwanes, in memorial of Ts’aawit, a Nisga'a chief of British Columbia, Canada.

During a visit from a delegation of Nisga’a representatives to Edinburgh in August, the group requested the return of the artefact to their homeland. 

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And on Wednesday, the request was formally agreed by the Board of Trustees of National Museums Scotland and subsequently approved by the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, Angus Robertson.

Dr Chris Breward, director of National Museums Scotland said the institution is committed to “promoting understanding and dialogue with respect to those parts of the Museum’s collection associated with our nation’s colonial history and its difficult legacies”.

He added: “The fact that our Trustees have agreed to this request demonstrates our readiness to act on this commitment. We are pleased to have reached this agreement and to be able to transfer the memorial pole to its people and to the place where its spiritual significance is most keenly understood. We hope this is not the end of the process but the next step in a fruitful and ongoing relationship with the Nisga’a.”

Sim'oogit Ni'ijoohl (Chief Earl Stephens) of Nisga’a Nation said: "In Nisga’a culture, we believe that this pole is alive with the spirit of our ancestor. After nearly one hundred years, we are finally able to bring our dear relative home to rest on Nisga’a lands. It means so much for us to have the Ni’isjoohl memorial pole returned to us, so that we can connect our family, nation and our future generations with our living history."

The Scottish Culture Secretary said: “I welcome the decision taken by National Museums Scotland’s Board of Trustees to return the Ni’isjoohl memorial pole to its place of origin. It follows a deeply moving recent meeting with the Nisga’a delegation when they came to Scotland to explain the huge importance of the pole to their culture, people and community.

“I would like to thank National Museums Scotland’s Board for their speedy but careful consideration of the request and for reaching such a positive outcome and also the Nisga’a delegation for helping us to understand the memorial pole’s history and importance to them.

"It has been a pleasure to give the required ministerial consent to enable National Museums Scotland to proceed with the transfer of ownership to the Nisga’a Museum.”

Sigidimnak’ Nox Ts'aawit (Dr. Amy Parent), Canada research chair in indigenous education and governance, said: "Our hearts have been moved with the commitment to return our family’s cultural treasure, which enables us to create a new story to re-right a colonial wrong with the honour, dignity and solidarity of the Scottish peoples who are walking beside us on our decolonizing journeys."

Following the decision, staff at National Museums Scotland will begin planning the complex task of safely removing the 11-metre pole from its display location and preparing it for transport to British Columbia.