The Yuquot Whalers' Shrine
In 1966 an archaeological project was conducted in Yuquot (Friendly Cove). It was determined that the indigenous peoples had inhabited the area for 4500 years! These peoples supported themselves by offshore fishing using trawling hooks, shellfish and berry gathering, and the hunting of seal, sea otter and wildfowl. Whaling came later providing tremendous amounts of food. Whaling was so important to the Nation that shrines were built for spiritual purification before each hunt.
It must have been quite the event when in 1778 Captain James Cook sailed into Resolution Cove making the first contact between indigenous peoples and the Europeans. An established fur trade with Britain had been going along for some time when in 1789 a Spanish expedition built a fort and seized some British fur trading vessels. The indigenous people were caught in a conflict not of their making and moved away from Yuquot. There was much saber rattling between the Europeans until 1790 when Spain agreed to return the seized property to the British. To the British! Outrageous behavior but normal for the times. It wasn’t until 1795 that the Spanish fort was dismantled and the land given back to Chief Maquinna.
At some point in 1818 the world became aware of a Yuquot whalers shrine containing 88 carved human figures, 4 carved whale figures and 16 human skulls. In these days of early exploration the existence of this mysterious shrine in the forest near Yuquot created quite a stir. The inevitable happened in 1903 when George Hunt photographed the site and recommended Franz Boas of the American Museum of Natural History to purchase it. In 1904 they claimed that two elders had negotiated a price whereupon it was dismantled when the village was off whaling and shipped to the Museum of Natural History in New York where it languishes on basement racks and shelves to this day.
This action was justified by the feeling that they were capturing a culture before it disappeared (salvage anthropology). Now that may be well and good back then but it’s time for these artifacts to return to the ‘lineal descendants’. It seems like a simple thing but in our world nothing is that simple. It turns out that Canada does not have legislation governing repatriation but has been in negotiations with the Museum for some time. One of the hurdles is where to house the collection.
The Mowachaht/Muchalaht Nation have completed a conceptual plan for an interpretive centre in Friendly Cove (Yuquot) and have educated several young band members in the management of historical collections. It appears that the only thing left is the $20 million required to make it happen. Even though the Canadian Government designated the area a National Historic site some years ago, we (being the Government) are reluctant to provide any financial help.
There is some light on the horizon. Tom Beasley, vice-president of the Vancouver Maritime Museum Society has gone on record to say “From my perspective, I hope this does raise the issue of repatriation and I would be willing to do whatever I can to assist the Muchalaht people in doing so.”
Should you wish to become involved in the repatriation of the Whaler’s Shrine visit the Yuquot Interpretive Centre
Should you have a desire to visit this National Historic site consider venturing out on the MV Uchuck.