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

Robert Klein holds up one of his stone oil lamp creations. Photo: Aaron Hemens
Creston artist turns rocks into candles, vases and more

It was around 25 years ago when Robert Klein got the idea to create stone oil lamps from rocks, after a geologist presented him with two one-inch core samples

An artist’s rendering of the new fire hall and ambulance station for the Town of Creston, which announced the purchase of land on Jan. 14, 2020. (Photo: Town of Creston)
Town of Creston recommends increasing budget for emergency services building project from $5.4 million to $7 million

The town has cited rising construction costs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as a significant factor in driving the surge in the budget

Letters to the editor. File photo
Letter to the Editor: Yes, build a fire hall, but do not bankrupt the residents in doing so

“With the instability of the world we presently live in, I strongly believe that raising the spending to $7 million dollars for the fire hall, by our mayor and council, would be suicide for our town.”

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

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

Dr. Amit Desai of St. Francis Hospital receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
B.C. has now vaccinated more people from COVID-19 than total confirmed cases

B.C. has reached a milestone, vaccinating roughly 1.6% of its population from the coronavirus

Most Read