200-year-old traditional headdress returns to B.C. First Nation after decades in Ontario museum

A chance online discovery has led to the return of a 200-year-old Dakelh headdress to its original home in northern B.C.

Petra Munroe is the hereditary chief of the Maiyoo Keyoh, a traditional territory about 100 km northwest of Prince George. 

Munroe says it was “amazing” that her husband Jim Munroe spotted the headdress while browsing the online collections of the Royal Ontario Museum in 2017.

Now, plans have been made for the ceremonial treasure to return sometime in September, where it will be on display at The Exploration Place Museum and Science Centre in Prince George.

“I couldn’t wait to jump on that plane and go see it,” Petra Munroe recalled of 2017. She said she and her immediate family “rounded up all that money for our plane tickets”, and were in awe when a guide at the museum led them to see the headdress first-hand.

The item is made of flute-shaped seashells, baleen from humpback whales, and long, intricately-braided hair from the Munroe’s female ancestors.

The Maiyoo Keyoh Society’s website says the headdress is a “physical symbol of the jurisdiction, authority and responsibility” the Keyohwhudachun, or head of the extended family, had to their land, or keyoh as recognized under Dakelh law.

It was then given to Catholic priest Father Adrien Morice in the late 1800’s, who eventually delivered it to a museum in Toronto, before it was given to the ROM. 

Munroe told Daybreak North‘s Carolina de Ryk that the headdress was given up to the priest during the time when the early Canadian government forbade First Nations from engaging in any traditional ceremonies.

“It’s really exciting that we have this chance to show our people that this is what was taken away from our family,” she explained, adding that the item’s shells and baleen proved that trade occurred between her inland peoples and the coastal First Nations. 

“I hope that one of these days … whatever [the government] took a long time ago, that they bring it all back.” 

Munroe said the headdress will be welcomed back to northern B.C. with a small familial ceremony before it will be put on public display to show others, especially Indigenous communities, that it’s possible — with some investigating — to find long-lost cultural items of historical significance.

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