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City of Terrace to return talking sticks

They were presented to the city 60 years ago
This Nov. 2016 file photo shows then-City of Terrace councillor Michael Prevost with two talking sticks on display in council chambers. It was his suggestion then to investigate their origins that is now resulting in the city taking steps to repatriate them. (File photo)

Renewed efforts are underway by the City of Terrace to return two talking sticks acquired at the official opening of the current city hall building to a central coast First Nation. They have been hanging in the city council chamber since first presented to the city by two lumber companies when the city hall building was oficially opened in 1964.

The talking sticks — so-named as they give the person holding them the authority to speak at significant gatherings — first came to the attention of the city in 2016 when then-councillor Michael Prevost suggested their origin be traced.

“I think it’s prudent for us to move forward and if it’s found that these talking sticks were obtained unjustly, to look at repatriating them,” he said in an article in The Terrace Standard in November 2016.

Prevost’s suggestion prompted a city council resolution, but it was not until this February that artist and arts administrator Lou-ann Neel confirmed their origin as being from the Kingcome Inlet area, home of the Kwakwakaʼwakw peoples.

That led to the involvement of the Nunwakola Cultural Society, the key agency in dealing with Kincome Inlet repatriation efforts.

Society representatives now wish to visit Terrace to take a look at the talking sticks and council has agreed to provide $1,500 to help with travel costs.

The 2016 resolution was to investigate the history around the acquisition of the talking sticks and members of the current council advanced that resolution at their March 25 meeting by saying the next step is to return them.

“There clearly seems to be an interest for these folks to come in, take a look at them and to make sure that’s what they are, and then if that’s the case we can get them back to them,” said mayor Sean Bujtas.

“This is a tremendous reconciliation opportunity for something that’s been with the city for 60 years now,” added councillor Dave Gordon.

Based on information in a 1964 article in The Terrace Herald and in subsequent articles in 2016, the talking sticks were purchased by an executive of a forestry company in Vancouver in 1962.

Francis Reif, an executive with Skeena Forest Products Ltd., was also an art collector and it was his company and the Pohle Lumber Company that presented them to the city in 1964.

A plaque to that effect has been placed with the talking sticks.

Helene McRae, in a 2016 interview, provided a theory about what the talking sticks represented when presented to the city in 1964.

McRae, the wife of Bill McRae who was the general manager of Skeena Forest Products at the time, suggested the two talking sticks recognized the role of the mayor and council in speaking for city affairs.

About the Author: Rod Link

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