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BC First Nation's mask pulled from wager

It was supposed to be a lighthearted cultural exchange between the museums of Seattle and Denver as their football teams prepared to meet in the Super Bowl.

The Seattle Art Museum pledged to send colleagues in Denver a forehead mask of a raven carved by the Nuxalk Nation of Bella Coola, on B.C.'s central coast, if the Seahawks lost Sunday.

The Denver Art Museum offered to send Seattle The Bronco Buster by Frederic Remington if their side lost.

But the Seattle museum announced Wednesday it was withdrawing the mask from the friendly wager because the Nuxalk Nation asked it not be loaned in conjunction with the Super Bowl.

Because the museum has the "greatest respect" for the nation's art and culture it will honour the request, the museum said in a statement.

"I feel much better that the wager's not happening, definitely," said Charles Nelson a Nuxalk hereditary chief in an interview. "It gives me comfort. It's being shown the respect that it needs."

According to the museum's website, the Forehead Mask of Raven, was carved around 1880 and includes alder, red cedar bark, copper and pins. Painted with embellishments of black, red and blue, it stands about 55 centimetres high, 38 centimetres wide and 23 centimetres deep.

Nelson said masks painted with colour are from the society of hereditary leaders and are used in ceremonies.

"When we talk about ceremony, that's when our children are born and then we bring (the masks) out. That's when our people receive names, whether it's their baby name, their adult name, their elder name, when they get married or when somebody dies."

Nelson said community members were upset because the mask was being offered as part of a wager, and the museum didn't talk to the community. He said community leaders found out about the bet on social media and news outlets.

Nelson said the museum has acknowledged its mistake, apologized and offered to travel to Bella Coola with the mask to make an apology.

"We want to take this as a lesson and learn from this mistake, build from here and start creating a relationship," he said. "We just don't have that relationship with the museum yet.

Nelson said community leaders hope to set a date for the museum's visit in the coming weeks.

The friendly wager is still on, however.

The Seattle museum said if the Seahawks lose it will send Denver a six-panelled Japanese screen from 1901, depicting a powerful eagle with outstretched wings.

The Canadian Press

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