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repatriation of a petroglyph
June 12, 2012 10:37 PM   Subscribe

"For the last 20 years, the huge rock has lain in the museum's interior courtyard, its many petroglyphs slowly disappearing under a layer of moss and lichen. Next week, it will be repatriated to Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nations and taken back home to the Fraser River at Churn Creek Protected Area, about two hours east of Clinton."

A short article about how a giant boulder with petroglyphs was removed without permission, dragged by 10 horses to Vancouver, placed in Stanley Park as part of an imaginary first nations village, moved to the Museum of Vancouver courtyard, and finally returned home to its "sister rocks" near the mighty Fraser river
posted by chapps (30 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, that's very cool.
posted by dejah420 at 10:56 PM on June 12, 2012


Thanks for posting this story--I never knew of the petroglyph's provenance (nor that of the totem poles) when I was a kid visiting Stanley Park. It didn't occur to me that a lot of that stuff had been stolen from First Nations communities. I am heartened to hear the petroglyph will be repatriated.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:02 PM on June 12, 2012


Reminds me of all the hundreds of similar rocks submerged under the waters of the Columbia River in the name of irrigation and hydroelectric power.
posted by the_artificer at 11:04 PM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nations

Oh man, I love Salishan language phonology. xłp̓x̣ʷłtłpłłskʷc̓!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:42 AM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's an even bigger one held at The Smithsonian: First Person, a sacred meteorite to the Clackamas tribe, part of the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde (Oregon). AP article about partial sale of it here, which was hotly contested by the Grande Ronde tribes. They make a yearly pilgrimage from Oregon to D.C. for the sacred rock.

According to many Native American mythologies (namely several Pacific NW tribes, as well as Iroquoian, i.e. Iroquois Confederacy, Huron and Cherokee), Earth began as a world covered by water (oceans). It was only when First Woman/Aataentsic/Skywoman (there are several different names, as well as different renderings of Aataentsic) fell from Sky World and was rescued by water birds that a turtle first let her sit on its back, while earthdivers brought up bits of the sea bed to lay on Turtle's back and create the first continent; Turtle Island. One version of the legend can be found in this Native American Encyclopedia: Woman Who Fell From The Sky, and there's also a Cherokee version: The Beginning/Legend of the Strawberries online, which contains a beautiful love story.

It's not hard to comprehend how such a large meteorite could be viewed as a life-giver and, essentially, "first person" even from a scientific viewpoint, now that we know that meteorites likely brought DNA "ancestors" to Earth.
posted by fraula at 1:51 AM on June 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh, very neat! My dad gave Joan Seidl her first curatorial job. I like to think that he had something to do with this.

It's really fascinating to realize that in moving this rock and creating other physical attributes of a simulated aboriginal settlement, these leading Canadians were -- consciously or more probably not -- averring that the real culture they represented was itself a kind of artifact, a curio, a wonderment.
posted by dhartung at 2:33 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


An interesting but sad story.

I kept picturing all of mankind starting to realize what they've done to their history, their holy places, their culture, and the earth, and initially slowly, and then with mounting urgency, attempting to return everything to it's rightful place. But, it's too late. As they watch in horror the world, with its sacred objects stolen, its resources depleted, its balance destroyed, begins to crumble under them.
posted by HuronBob at 2:47 AM on June 13, 2012


I find it hard to get sentimental about other people's sacred objects. It would seem to me that, as a practical matter, those people would probably be better served if Vancouver kept their "sacred" rock and gave them back the profane gold they took from the region. The gold also came from rocks taken "without permission".

That would be making things right, but instead, because the dimwits get all sentimental over some "sacred" object, all they get is a scratched rock without any gold in it and everyone's conscience is satisfied.
posted by three blind mice at 3:24 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


all they get is a scratched rock without any gold in it

There is room, and need, for both financial restitution and cultural restitution. Those individuals who perhaps, on balance, value restoration of their culture over money are not dimwitted. There are a lot of "scratched rocks with no gold in them" out there that are pretty important to their peoples, whether their role is sacred or merely historic.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:47 AM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I find it hard to get sentimental about other people's sacred objects.

You
don't need to. But I would hope as a compassionate human being, you would understand if they do.

And besides, if it's nothing but "a scratched rock," then what is the big deal if they ask for it back?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:04 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are a lot of "scratched rocks with no gold in them" out there that are pretty important to their peoples, whether their role is sacred or merely historic.

Mount Rushmore comes to mind.
posted by fraula at 4:29 AM on June 13, 2012


and everyone's conscience is satisfied.

No, not really, but it's a meaningful start.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:42 AM on June 13, 2012


There is much to be done. Echoing Devils Rancher, it's a start.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:46 AM on June 13, 2012


I find it hard to get sentimental about other people's sacred objects. It would seem to me that, as a practical matter, those people would probably be better served if Vancouver kept their "sacred" rock and gave them back the profane gold they took from the region. The gold also came from rocks taken "without permission".

It seems to me that non-Native people telling Native people "we really know what's best for you" hasn't worked out so great for Native people for the last 400 years.
posted by rtha at 6:12 AM on June 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


You don't need to. But I would hope as a compassionate human being, you would understand if they do.

Yeah I get that, but isn't it worse if I as a "compassionate human being", with the sanguine understanding that these ignorant and earnest people see this worthless rock as sacred, I play on that emotion and give them what is for me an empty, meaningless, inexpensive, token gesture of "restitution" instead of paying what I really owe them?

Next year Canada can proudly say to its native population with a clear conscience: "Hey we gave you your precious rock back, what more do you people want from us?"
posted by three blind mice at 6:18 AM on June 13, 2012


isn't it worse if I as a "compassionate human being", with the sanguine understanding that these ignorant and earnest people see this worthless rock as sacred, I play on that emotion and give them what is for me an empty, meaningless, inexpensive, token gesture of "restitution" instead of paying what I really owe them?

What you seem to be missing is that they have been asking for this object.

If your conscience bothers you enough to make financial restitution, then give them money and the "worthless scratched rock". Nothing is stopping you from doing that.

Next year Canada can proudly say to its native population with a clear conscience: "Hey we gave you your precious rock back, what more do you people want from us?"

"Canada" isn't the possessor of the "scratched rock" in this case. It's a museum, which is a private institution. A government's treatment of its indigenous population is a separate issue from a museum's relation to those people, so you've got hold of a red herring there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:25 AM on June 13, 2012


these ignorant and earnest people see this worthless rock as sacred

I don't even
posted by rtha at 6:26 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


these ignorant and earnest people see this worthless rock as sacred

Wow, here I thought holy objects were an important part of human culture, with the reverence for them stretching back into the mists of human history... but I guess they're just worthless, and anyone who cares about their ancestral artifacts is ignorant. Thanks for clearing that up for me.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:30 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


because the dimwits get all sentimental over some "sacred" object, all they get is a scratched rock without any gold in it and everyone's conscience is satisfied.

You're right! One of the reasons why the Greeks are in the financial mess they're in is they refuse to demolish the Parthenon and build a high-density mixed-use development that will generate both high-end rents and much needed commercial-space revenue.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:40 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just thought of another analogy to clear up your confusion, three blind mice: the issue of Nazi plunder.

Suppose the great-grandniece of someone who was killed in Auschwitz discovers that the Monet her family had in its private collection, but was stolen by the Nazis, is hanging in a German gallery. She asks for its return.

Now, if we are to follow your logic, the gallery is within its right to refuse "because your people would probably be better served if we kept this worthless bit of canvas and paint and the German government gave the Jewish people back some money we took". But something tells me that that wouldn't satisfy the situation.

Then there's the Elgin Marbles.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:42 AM on June 13, 2012


Nah, this is just a rock with a bunch of scribbles on it, amirite?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:46 AM on June 13, 2012


these ignorant and earnest people see this worthless rock as sacred

Are you just willfully trying to anger people here? Because it's working.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:48 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


...with the sanguine understanding that these ignorant and earnest people see this worthless rock as sacred...

"A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing" [Oscar Wilde]
posted by 445supermag at 7:08 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


[three blind mice, I don't know if you're intentionally trying to manufacture outrage with the either/or derail and insulting phrasing, but please don't do that. Everyone else, carry on, and please don't make this all about one guy.]
posted by taz at 7:09 AM on June 13, 2012


three blind mice, I don't know if you're intentionally trying to manufacture outrage with the either/or derail and insulting phrasing, but please don't do that.

taz, with all due respect, this is being presented as a great act of magnanimity and a victory for indigenous people of Canada when is it nothing of the kind.

It is being "repatriated" as an act of "restitution". Give me a break. It's being given back as a empty gesture by the descendants of the people who took it in the first place - and who also happened to have stolen a few billion tons of ore that produced all sorts of valuable metals and minerals as well as millions of acres of land, forest, lakes, wildlife, rivers, etc. Pretty much everything these people ever had. The stone represents the least of what was taken and now it's return is being trumpeted?

The first rule in a capitalist negotiation is to give away that which has no value to you, but which has great value to the other party. This is called negotiating with the other guy's money. When you take advantage of other people's "sacred" beliefs - beliefs which mean nothing to you - I don't really see that as being compassionate, I see it as being manipulative and domineering.

And taking advantage of the ignorance of others isn't the same thing as respecting their ignorance.

YMMV.
posted by three blind mice at 8:13 AM on June 13, 2012


taz, with all due respect, this is being presented as a great act of magnanimity and a victory for indigenous people of Canada when is it nothing of the kind.

In your opinion it isn't.

But you live in Sweden, so what weight does your opinion hold anyway?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:15 AM on June 13, 2012


Can you please stop calling people "ignorant" and "dimwits"? Because I fully expect "savages" to be next.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:18 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's being given back as a empty gesture by the descendants of the people who took it in the first place

From TFA:

In October, the First Nation formally requested repatriation.

Your continued insistence that the tribe members are too ignorant to know what they want and that you know better than they what should *really* be important is so profoundly offensive that I don't know where to begin.

They get to decide what is or is not an "empty" gesture. You get to have an opinion about that, and you get to have people get really irritated at your tone-deafness and blithe assumptions about what's best for people you don't seem to know anything about.
posted by rtha at 8:58 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The first rule in a capitalist negotiation is to give away that which has no value to you, but which has great value to the other party. This is called negotiating with the other guy's money. When you take advantage of other people's "sacred" beliefs - beliefs which mean nothing to you - I don't really see that as being compassionate, I see it as being manipulative and domineering.

You don't live here and have no idea what you're talking about.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:50 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Three blind mice, I'm going to take your comments in good faith and assume that you're genuinely concerned that the repatriation of a sacred object doesn't go far enough to compensate First Nations/Aboriginal people in Canada for the material wealth stolen from them by the Canadian government.

So my good faith answer is to say that people on both sides (e.g. Aboriginal activists and government officials) are working on a number of ways to acknowledge and compensate various wrongs: repatriation of sacred/ceremonial objects, like the story in this post; new land treaties; official statements of apology for the residential school abuses; payment of compensation for Aboriginal people who were forced into residential schools. Are these measures perfect, or complete? No. However, it's false logic to say that repatriation of this object means that nothing of real value is being done in an attempt to correct past wrongs.

There were many ways in which Canada's government mistreated its First Peoples. There are many methods of acknowledging and redressing those wrongs. It's a complex issue that many people are making genuine attempts to work through, and your read of it is simplistic.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:39 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


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