A carved stone pillar is shown on the beach in Victoria in this July 2020 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Royal BC Museum, Bernhard Spalteholz

Questions rock Royal B.C. Museum over authenticity of artifact recovered from Victoria beach

Songhees First Nation chief says museum assured him review underway after artist says work as his

The chief of a Victoria-area First Nation says he has the assurance of the Royal B.C. Museum that steps will be taken to determine how a carved stone pillar was deemed an Indigenous artifact perhaps dating back to the 1800s before a local man claimed it as his creation.

Ron Sam, chief of the Songhees First Nation, said in an interview he spoke with museum CEO Jack Lohman about the pillar that was found covered in algae last July along a beach below Beacon Hill Park in Victoria.

In a statement, Lohman said the museum’s Indigenous collections and repatriation department has been working closely with both the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations to review and update its policies and procedures, “particularly with respect to historic works that surface or are excavated as part of local development projects.”

RELATED: Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

RELATED: Greater Victoria is an archeology hotspot, but it’s illegal to collect artifacts

Sam said the museum called him on the day the 100-kilogram carving was hauled from the beach by the museum’s archeology curator and two other men who used a refrigeration dolly to move it.

The pillar was recently featured on a local news station before it would be displayed, Sam said.

But doubt was cast on the find when a local artist came forward to several media outlets claiming ownership, saying he had photos of the piece he’d been carving on the beach before it disappeared. The artist couldn’t be reached for comment.

“Somewhere, somebody in the museum made the determination that yes, it’s 110 per cent a First Nations artifact,” Sam said.

Elders would have provided input into the find but have not been able to see it at the museum due to pandemic restrictions, he added.

“We haven’t engaged First Nations elders yet because we didn’t know exactly what we were dealing with,” he said. “It’s in the museum’s hands to work with the individual and determine how the conclusion was made.”

Grant Keddie, the museum’s archeology curator, did not wish to discuss the pillar.

Last week he said it might have stood near the edge of a cliff above the beach and may have come down in a landslide. He also said it could be the same one mentioned by Lekwungen elders to German-American anthropologist Franz Boas in the late 1800s.

Lou-ann Neel, acting head of the museum’s Indigenous collection and repatriation department, said news of the carving also came to light on Keddie’s blog, which she decided should be removed from the museum’s website for now.

“We were sharing some good news stories that we have with the Songhees and the Esquimalt people,” she said.

Chiefs of both First Nations saw the pillar separately at the museum in September and seemed to suggest it could be related to other locally found items, though it was still partly covered in seaweed so its features may have been hard to identify, she said.

“We realized we probably should have waited until we talked with the elders, but based on the initial feedback from the chiefs we’re also confident that this was from their traditions and that elders could verify it, that we would continue to do the work until we knew that for certain,” Neel said.

Keddie has worked with the First Nations for many years and seemed to have good reason to suggest the pillar was from the territory, she said.

“Just the shape of the pillar itself is indicative of the kind of stone that was created in this area,” she said, adding photos will be taken to the elders before they can see it at the museum.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver. For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

A member of the Avalanche Canada South Rockies field team gathers important snowpack data that is used to produce daily avalanche forecasts for the region. Photo by Jennifer Coulter.
Warming temperatures increase avalanche risk heading into the weekend

Warm temperatures impact conditions, human behaviour

Phase four of the Kicking Horse Canyon project will twin the winding stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway just east of Golden. (file photo)
Trans-Canada Highway reduced to one lane east of Golden

It’s the first of the Kicking Horse Canyon Phase 4 closures which will ramp up in the coming weeks

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports 16 new COVID-19 cases

423 cases remain active in the region

Vaccines are expected to become more widely available as the rollout speeds up in B.C. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
Sleeves up Golden – vaccine rollout details released

More details about the provincial rollout were released yesterday

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

A protest has been planned for March 5, 2020 over Penticton council’s decision to reject an application from BC Housing to keep an emergency winter shelter open over a year longer than originally planned. (Jesse Day - Western News)
‘Bring your tent’: Protest planned in Penticton’s Gyro Park over winter shelter closure

Protesters plan to show council ‘what the result of their decision will look like’

Although B.C. has not made masks mandatory in public indoor spaces, some business owners are requiring all customers to wear them before entering their store. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
EDITORIAL: Heightened tension over face masks

Incidents of anger and conflicts over mandated masks happening too frequently

John Hordyk said it isn’t fair to just look at COVID-19 deaths as many survivors are experiencing long-term impacts, himself included. (Photo by Rachel Muise)
Not getting better: Revelstoke man diagnosed with post-COVID-19 syndrome

‘I hope the damage isn’t long term, but it could be permanent’

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki responded to BC Housing minster David Eby’s remarks that the city has put themselves at risk of creating a tent city Wednesday, March 3, 2020. (Western News file photo)
Penticton mayor calls out BC Housing minister for ‘irresponsible fear-mongering’

Council recently rejected BC Housing’s request to keep a winter shelter open longer than first planned

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

Most Read