National Museum of Scotland: As a child, I was in awe of its Native American totem pole. As a Cabinet minister, I approved its return to Canada's Nasga’a people – Angus Robertson

The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street in Edinburgh is a favourite visitor attraction for many kids in the Capital.

Sim’oogit Ni’isjoohl (Chief Earl Stephens) and Noxs Ts’aawit (Dr Amy Parent) stand with the House of Ni'isjoohl Memorial Pole in the National Museum of Scotland in August (Picture: Neil Hanna)
Sim’oogit Ni’isjoohl (Chief Earl Stephens) and Noxs Ts’aawit (Dr Amy Parent) stand with the House of Ni'isjoohl Memorial Pole in the National Museum of Scotland in August (Picture: Neil Hanna)

I was no different as a child growing up in the city and was particularly drawn, every time I visited, to the Native American totem pole in the central hall. Beautifully carved and with wonderfully expressive figures, it had a magical attraction. However, I must confess that I never gave much thought as to who made it, what it meant to the community it originated from, and how it ended up in Scotland.

Earlier this year I learned from a delegation of the Nasga’a people that the memorial pole was of profound importance to them and they shared a strong desire for it to return to their community. The Nasga’a live on the north-west coast of British Columbia, close to the border between Canada and Alaska. They had travelled half the way round the world to Scotland to see what is a living part of their culture and to appeal to the National Museum of Scotland to transfer the ownership of the memorial pole.

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After full and sympathetic consideration by the museum’s trustees, it was my ultimately responsibility to grant approval on behalf of the Scottish Government. During their visit to Edinburgh, the Nisga’a delegation suggested replacing the memorial pole with a newly carved one which would represent the bond with Scotland.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and serves as Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary