Sisiyutl house plank (Newberry Library)

Sisiyutl house plank coming home to Vancouver Island after 127 years away

The plank was taken from a Kwakwaka’wakw territory big house for the Chicago World Fair in 1893

A historic house plank, painted with the mythical Sisiyutl creature from Kwakwaka’wakw nations is now in the process of being returned to its rightful homeland.

It was taken from a Big House in 1892 to be displayed at the World Expo in Chicago that year, as part of an exhibition created by Franz Boas and George Hunt.

At a time when potlaches were banned in Canada, a delegation of Kwakwaka’wakw people travelled to Chicago to perform dances and ceremonies.

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The fair is where Boas, a founder of modern anthropology, gathered much of his observations for his seminal book, The Social Organizations and Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians (1897).

Hunt, an English-Tlingit man grew up in Fort Rupert and worked alongside Boas to record information about the Kwakwaka’wakw people, specifically focusing on the Kwakiutl nation.

Hunt spoke Tlingit, English and Kwak’wala, the language spoken by Kwakwaka’wakw people.

Instead of being returned to the community after the 1893 Expo, the house plank was passed from museum to museum and eventually landed at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

The plank was formally repatriated to U’mista Cultural Centre in 1998, but was housed at the library until now.

U’mista staff expect it to arrive in Vancouver by the end of the month.

From there it will be transported to Port McNeill and onward to Alert Bay.

“We’re glad that this important cultural object is heading home, where it belongs,” wrote Newberry Library on its Facebook page.

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Pivot down those stairs. (Newberry Library)

Removing the sisiyutl house plank from the wall at Newberry Library to be sent home to Kwakwaka’wakw territory. (Newberry Library)

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