The return of the bones of 11 Sto: lo ancestors from UBC Friday could one day help other First Nations get their ancestral remains back from other institutions.
The Sto: lo bones were returned during a ceremony at the Sto: lo Research and Resource Management Centre (SRRMC), marking a major milestone in a five-year process that has involved UBC, Sto: lo Nation, Sto: lo Tribal Council and other Sto: lo First Nations.
The remains had been held at UBC's Laboratory of Archaeology starting in the 1950s. Because the founder of the lab, Charles Borden, was the only resident archaeologist in B.C. at that time, people who found remains on farms and construction sites routinely boxed them up and sent them to UBC.
Their return was sparked by a major renovation at the Museum of Anthropology in 2006. UBC officials sent out letters to more than 125 First Nations communities asking what should be done with their ancestors' remains.
Some aboriginal groups, including some Sto: lo representatives, told them they wanted them returned home.
"A big part of our culture is whenever we have a loss, we have to bring them home," SRRMC cultural advisor Sonny McHalsie told the Times after the ceremony Friday.
The repatriation of the Sto: lo bones, which were found in Chilliwack and Agassiz as well as places around Abbotsford and Maple Ridge, was named the Journey Home Project.
It's being managed by the Sto: lo House of Respect Caretaking Committee, a group of cultural advisors made up of respected cultural practitioners and spiritual experts from a cross-section of Sto: lo tribes.
They've decided the remains will stay at the SRRMC until their home communities either claim they or decide to leave them at the centre, where they would finally be laid to rest in some type of traditional burial facility.
In the meantime, the committee is working with the UBC Lab of Archaeology to develop a set of protocols aimed at helping other First Nations initiate similar repatriation projects.
"We're looking at creating various maybe small video clips, maybe some documents that would be of use to other communities who are interested in initiating repatriation but haven't done it before," curator of the UBC Museum of Anthropology Sue Rowley said.
The resource would provide information and suggest questions communities should ask when approaching institutions-like museums, labs of archaeology, faculties of medicine, departments of anatomy-that might be holding some of their ancestral remains.
"Ancestral remains can end up in a number of places, and some of them are places that people don't think of," Rowley said.
One issue First Nations communities need more information on, she said, is the scientific analysis of ancestral remains.
In Chilliwack, UBC and the Respect Caretaking Committee are still working out which, if any, analyses will be carried out on the bones returned Friday.
Physical analysis, isotopic analysis and radiocarbon dating could determine things like sex, age, health, diet, childbearing status and how long ago they lived, but some of the tests require the taking of small "half-a-thumbnail-sized" samples that are ultimately destroyed in the process.
The resource being developed by UBC and the Respect Caretaking Committee would include descriptions and possible video clips explaining what the various analyses entail.