Tseycum ancestors' remains returned home
The remains of 55 Tseycum ancestors have reached the end of their journey home to Victoria, BC after more than a century abroad. Until recently the remains had been stored in drawers at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Early Thursday morning several trucks met them at the airport, ready to transfer the bones to the nearby Tseycum reserve, where 55 cedar caskets were prepared for a funeral service.
First Nations elders, singers and band members, their faces streaked with red paint, stood quietly on the tarmac and watched the plane taxi to a stop.
A few minutes later, Chief Vern Jacks and other Tseycum chaperones stepped off the plane and raised their arms to the sky; the journey that took them across the continent to liberate their ancestors was at its end.
"We're very, very happy to bring them home," Jacks said.
The quest began more than a decade ago when his wife, Cora, began investigating the looting of traditional burial cairns on the Saanich Peninsula.
She discovered that American archaeologist Harlan Ingersoll Smith had removed and sold remains from dozens of graves in the 1890s and early 1900s. He received $5 for a skull and up to $10 for a full skeleton, some of which are estimated to be several thousand years old.
Eventually, Cora Jacks traced the remains to the Field Museum in Chicago and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The Tseycum began negotiating their return, and sought the help of a group of primarily non-First Nations people to assist with fundraising.