A memorial pole which was allegedly stolen from a Canadian First Nation people nearly a century ago and put on display in Scotland is being prepared for the long journey back to its place of origin.
The House Of Ni’isjoohl memorial pole arrived in Scotland in 1929 after standing on the banks of the Nass River in Ank’idaa village for around 70 years – but is now on the brink of a 4,200-mile journey home.
The 37ft tall wooden artefact has been a popular feature at the National Museum Of Scotland in Edinburgh for much of the last century and was the focus of a special ceremony on Monday ahead of final preparations for its return to Canada.
Museum officials agreed at the end of last year it should be returned to the indigenous Nisga’a Nation in what is now British Columbia.
Sim’oogit Ni’isjoohl, who also goes by the name of Chief Earl Stephens, said: “In Nisga’a culture, we believe that this pole is alive with the spirit of our ancestors.
“After nearly 100 years, we are finally able to bring our dear relative home to rest on Nisga’a lands.
“It means so much for us to have the Ni’isjoohl memorial pole returned to us, so that we can connect our family, nation and our future generations with our living history.”
Nisga’a Nation representatives had made a personal plea for the pole’s return after it was taken “without consent” before being sold to the museum by Canadian anthropologist Marius Barbeau in 1929.
The museum understands the person who sold the pole to Barbeau had done so “without the cultural, spiritual or political authority”.
Researchers believe the pole – hand-carved from red cedar and which features animals, humans and family crests – was stolen while villagers were away for the hunting season.
Monday’s private spiritual ceremony was held alongside the memorial “to prepare the pole for its journey home”.
Scaffolding will be erected so the pole can be encased in a steel cradle before it is slowly moved out of the museum through a large window.
Museum officials said the steel cradle will keep the pole protected throughout the “complex work” to safely move it from the museum and then across the Atlantic.
It is expected to be flown back to its original home by the Canadian Air Force at the end of September.
Read more on Sky News:
People injured after P&O cruise ship ‘crashes’
The pole will then be transported to the Nass Valley as part of a “family procession” and displayed in a Nisga’a museum alongside other objects which have also been returned from around the world.
A public arrival ceremony is due to be held on 29 September with the pole still encased in its protective cradle.
It will then be “raised” in the following days before it is able to be viewed by the public in October.
The museum said the pole was commissioned by House Of Ni’isjoohl matriarch Joanna Moody in 1860.
The work was carried out by Nisga’a master carver Oyee to honour her family member Ts’awit, who was next in line to be chief.