MOA’s History of Collecting BC First Nations Materials

When MOA was established in 1947 it received some existing UBC collections, including a large collection gathered by Frank Burnett of mostly South Pacific materials, which also contained 60 Northwest Coast objects and some archaeological artifacts; and the Buttimer collection of 130 First Nations baskets. Today, there are over 7,000 BC First Nations objects in MOA’s collections; of these, over 6,300 are from the Northwest Coast. Of the Northwest Coast objects, almost 2,700 were donated to MOA, over 3,300 were purchased by MOA, and the source or mode of acquisition of about 300 objects requires further research.

MOA was founded relatively late compared to other museums; because of this and the history of its collections formation, it holds very little documented pre-1900 ethnological material. Over 1,000 archaeological artifacts were transferred from MOA to the UBC Laboratory of Archaeology between 1954 and 1988.

Important Northwest Coast collections at MOA were acquired through purchase with funds received from H.R. MacMillan. The majority of the over 2,000 objects purchased with MacMillan funds were acquired directly from First Nations families or through First Nations agents in the communities between 1948 and 1965; over 800 of these objects are from the Kwakwaka’wakw people. Many of these were sent to the museum by their Kwakwaka’wakw sellers. This collection represents an important phase in the 20th-century history of Kwakwaka’wakw visual expression. Documentation of this collection continues with the assistance of Kwakwaka’wakw artists and community members. MacMillan funds also allowed MOA to purchase about 15 collections of Northwest Coast artifacts assembled by missionaries and others. These include the Rev. G.H. Raley collection of over 600 objects (1948); the Revs. Collison collection of almost 200 objects (1960), and the Edith Bevan Cross collection of almost 700 objects (1962).

Both MacMillan and his colleague in the lumber industry, Walter C. Koerner, financed the acquisition of totem poles and other monumental carvings collected as part of the BC Totem Pole Preservation project in the 1950s, which brought 37 massive carvings to UBC, which were later transferred to MOA. Both MacMillan and Koerner provided cedar logs for the Haida houses and poles carved by Bill Reid and Doug Cranmer for UBC between 1959 and 1962, which form an important part of the Museum’s collection of contemporary works.

The Walter and Marianne Koerner Collection of over 300 historical and contemporary objects was donated to MOA in the 1970s. The Koerners had purchased these objects over many years, primarily from dealers, with the intent of having them brought back to BC. It was the promise of this gift which inspired the federal government’s 1971 centennial gift to BC to build the new Museum of Anthropology building.

One of the centrepieces of MOA’s contemporary collection is Bill Reid’s sculpture, The Raven and the First Men, which was commissioned by Walter Koerner for the Museum (1980). Other notable donations of objects to MOA include Bill Reid’s donation of 135 objects (1954 on), the Tom and Frances Richardson bequest of 122 objects (1990s) and the Constance and Sydney Friedman collection of 13 artworks by Bill Reid (2011).

From MOA’s founding in 1947 through the 1970s, numerous donations and small grants funded the purchase of over 300 objects. Through federal government programs, UBC and several of its graduating classes, and the UBC Alumni Association, MOA was able to purchase 86 objects. Over 150 important historical and contemporary objects, including such items as jewellery by Bill Reid, and a 19th-century Chilkat robe, were acquired from about 30 different donors and certified by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board. In 2012 the Audain Foundation for the Visual Arts donated the funds to MOA to purchase an 18th century Nuu-chah-nulth club collected during the Captain Cook voyage of 1778. From 1979 to 1999, MOA’s shop volunteers funded the purchase of 500 objects, many of these contemporary artworks. Other contemporary pieces have been purchased and directly commissioned from Northwest Coast artists with the support of both individual and corporate donors as well as the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance program. MOA continues to acquire Northwest Coast objects, both historical and contemporary, through donations, bequests, purchases, and commissions.

Ancestral Remains

There are no Canadian First Nations ancestral remains in the MOA ethnology collection.

Collections of ancestral remains are held in trust at The UBC Laboratory of Archaeology (LOA) of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, in its MOA facilities. The collections are managed by the Laboratory of Archaeology according to its own policy.

Useful Downloads

First Nations Maps

The intent is to provide a more accurate representation of First Nations in British Columbia. Boundaries shown are language areas and not an authoritative depiction of tribal territories.

Application Form for Use of First Nations Maps

The reproduction of these maps is limited to what has been approved specifically in this application.

First Nations Language Map

First Nations languages are shown with outlines that are approximate representations of their geographic locations.