The efforts by the Haisla people of northwestern British Columbia to recover a sacred totem pole are observed with soporific cool by vet Canadian documaker Gil Cardinal in “Totem: The Return of the G’psgolox Pole.” Better suited for the tube than the cinema, and framed as a routine educational piece, pic fails to stir viewers’ anger that the Haisla are faced with unfair obstacles to getting what’s theirs. Until some 11 minutes are trimmed off odd 70-minute length — and they easily could be — tube play will be contained to Canada and Europe.
The Haisla’s dilemma began in 1872, when a pole more than 45 feet tall was raised by Chief G’psgolox’s people honoring his village’s dead, and later sold to Sweden. Housed in Stockholm’s National Museum of Ethnography, the pole was claimed by the Haisla in 1991, but Sweden required the tribe to erect a museum to protect it back home. Deal’s condition conflicts with tribal ritual, which lets collapsed poles decay untouched, but tribal leaders bow to pressure. Adding insult to injury, funding shortages have delayed the museum, so the Haisla still don’t have their pole back.