Module 3- Post 1: Repatriating Stolen Artefacts: Paul Waterlander

I saw this article in the Canadian magazine Walrus.  The topic is the struggle for Canadian First Nations trying to regain ownership of thousands and thousands of cultural artefacts that have been stolen away from the owners throughout the darkest days of colonial rule.

One example of a stolen artefact was a birchbark canoe recently found in storage in an English manor house.  An ancestor had taken the Anishinaabe canoe sometime in the late 1700’s, and brought back home to his home in Cornwall, UK.  Anishinaabe artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson felt an instant connection to the old canoe.

“It became a metaphor for me as an Indigenous woman in Canada in 2017,” she says. “It feels like everything has been stolen and you have to get it back.” In fact, there are sacred objects belonging to Canada’s Indigenous peoples dotting the globe, including thousands inside our own borders. They are displayed in museums, or packed away in storage, hidden in garages, both forgotten and remembered, depending on who is doing the thinking. There is no legislation about where they should go and no funding for Indigenous groups to bring them home either, let alone create their own museums.

Is is heartening to see that more and more Canadian museums are beginning to work with First Nations to repatriate these cultural treasures.  The CEO of the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, BC supports the return of these artefacts, but sees some challenges: “Museums in Canada have a “great will” to repatriate artefacts says Jack Lohman, RBCM’s CEO, but he adds that there are simply not enough resources. If the government wants to commit to reconciliation efforts, more funding is needed for wide scale repatriation.”

This is an easy to read article that can be used in the classrooms to promote discussion around the topic of repatriation.


Here is the link:


(This totem pole was stolen from Haisla First Nations by European explorers in the late 1800’s and sold to a museum in Sweden!  The pole was repatriated to the original village after negotiations were made with the museum.)


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