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Hand of totem pole stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is returned with apology note

The anonymous letter noted that culprits were very sorry and “not in a sober state of mind”

Charles Joseph’s Residential School Totem Pole (2014–16) before the left hand on the lower portion of the work was stolen Courtesy of the The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The left hand of a totem pole by the Kwakiutl artist Charles Joseph installed in the plaza of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) was stolen two weeks ago and returned to the museum yesterday (1 October) with an apology note from the culprits. The red cedar work, Residential School Totem Pole (2014-16), was loaned to the museum in 2017 and references the history of Indigenous youth being sent to boarding schools in Canada between 1820 to 1996. It was damaged overnight between 19 and 20 September, and remained missing until it was left on the steps of the museum this week with a note (excerpts of which were released by the MMFA) that said the vandals were “not in a sober state of mind” at the time and “had no idea what the totem pole was”. The note added: “After we realised what this stood for and represented for so many people, we immediately felt sick to our stomach... We are so sorry for any pain and anger we have caused. Love for all people.” The MMFA has since withdrawn its complaint with police. “It is reassuring to observe the return of wisdom and clarity following an evening of inebriety,” the director general and chief curator of the MMFA, Nathale Bondil, says in a statement. “The letter of sincere apology that we received from the transient delinquents shows us that art educates and sensitises us all of the most important issues, notably our reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”