Ancient Bones Home for a Native Burial

June 14, 2008

Author: Murray Langdon

Source: The Globe and Mail

As eagles soared overhead and a raven kept a watchful eye from a tree branch, members of a Coast Salish first nation on Vancouver Island reburied their lost ancestors.

With the ceremony, which featured a sacred mask dance in their longhouse, a number of songs and prayers, the Tseycum band reinterred the remains of 55 people dug up by a 19th-century archeologist who sold them to museums for as little as $10 each.

"It's been a long time since they've been in the sacred ground they were put in," said Elmer George, a minister from the neighbouring Songhees Nation, who presided over the ceremony. "We ask them for forgiveness for the time they went away ... in a place they were not meant to be."

The bones, some believed to be at least 2,000 years old, were repatriated to the Tseycum this week from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. They were unearthed starting in 1898 by famed archeologist Harlan Ingersoll Smith.

The ceremony started at daybreak, with songs and a secret dance that does not even have a name. From the longhouse, the remains were loaded onto trucks and a procession, led by candle bearers and drummers, wound its way to a creek-side burial ground.