After slipping off her fitted, black-leather bomber jacket, Yvonne Godkin pulled a handmade, wool button blanket embroidered with a large thunderbird across the back, over her shoulders and wrapped it gently around her body.
She then carefully placed a cedar head ring atop her long dark hair before showing off the completed look to the aunts and cousins crowded around her at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of B.C., many with camera in hand.
An emotional Godkin told me later that this was the first time she'd ever touched the First Nations regalia that once belonged to her grandmother Mabel Stanley, who died in 1978. On Monday afternoon, Stanley's family members were invited to try on the blanket and headdress for the first, and last, time before it became part of MOA's permanent collection. The cape and headdress belong to a collection of 24 pieces, which have been on loan to the MOA for almost 30 years.
Godkin told me the family decided the collection was too valuable to ever be kept at the home of a family member and with no desire to divide the pieces, a decision was made to permanently donate all 24 artifacts to MOA. Highlights of the collection include an embroidered dance apron, a fringed and beaded bag, an ornate knife holder and a rattle hand-carved by renowned First Nations carver Ellen Neel. One of the most important pieces in the collection is the Kwakwaka'wakw talking stick. As part of the ceremony held Monday, the carved wooden stick was passed from family member to family member as a symbolic gesture of goodbye. Once the last family member had held the stick, the collection became the property of MOA.
I could see the event was an emotional one for many of the family members in attendance, and I witnessed both smiles and tears as they were able to touch and even try on some of the artifacts. Also in attendance that day was granddaughter Alana Stanley who helped curate the first exhibit of Mabel Stanley's regalia in the mid-1990s at MOA. The efforts it took to bring that exhibit to life became the basis of a thesis completed by then-UBC anthropology graduate student Deborah Tuyttens in 1995, called Mabel Stanley: Contributions to the Community Collaborative Development of a Museum Exhibit. Tuyttens was also in attendance at Monday's ceremony.
According to Tuyttens' research, Mabel Stanley was born in 1901 in the village of Cape Mud on the southwest side of Quadra Island. When her father, who was chief of the band, passed away in 1910, Mabel was taken to a residential school near Chilliwack. It was in the 1950s when Mabel moved to Vancouver to be closer to her children and where she became a prominent public speaker for native issues and other social concerns. It was while public speaking that Mabel often wore the regalia, which she believed would promote better understanding between non-native and First Nations cultures.
MOA curator Karen Duffek said the fact the museum was willing to store the collection for so long speaks of its importance. She adds, due to a lack of space the museum does not typically agree to store items it doesn't own. Duffek hopes the family doesn't see the donation as the end, but rather the beginning of a long-standing relationship with MOA. The Mabel Stanley Regalia Collection can only be seen on the MOA website for now. Go to collection-online.moa.ubc.ca and in the search box type, "Mabel Stanley."
Coincidently, the donation to the MOA coincides with Leave a Legacy Month, a national public-awareness campaign organized to encourage people to leave a gift through their will or any other means, to a charity or non-profit organization of their choice. What's important to realize is you don't have to be wealthy to donate and even a small gift can have a huge impact on the quality of life of a community. What's important is the planning. The Stanley donation is an ideal example of the impact such a gift can have. For more information, visit leavealegacy.ca.