Repatriating sacred items part of discussion at cultural gathering
- Andrea Ledding | July 12, 2019
Celebrating Indigenous heritage and culture with a focus on preserving and protecting sacred objects and remains, the first e-miciminayakik gathering was recently hosted by the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre (SICC).
“From the feedback, participants said this was long overdue,” said Wanda Wilson, president of SICC. “The ongoing theft of our cultural and sacred items needs to be countered with ongoing education and action.”
Each day began with a pipe ceremony and ended with prayer; in between were various keynotes and workshops focused on Indigenous intellectual property; repatriation of remains and of cultural and sacred objects which have been appropriated by museums and other colonial institutions; care, conservation, and preservation of various objects; finding language and cultural knowledge in archives; curation, law, rights, and education.
Panel presenter Jodi Simkin, who is Salish from Klahoose First Nation, noted that the countries of France, Germany, and the Netherlands have passed state laws that their museums should return cultural property to the original nations who were dispossessed by colonial practices, which includes all Indigenous materials. Simkin expects the entire European Union to soon follow suit, passing that into legislation and bringing the ultimate return of many sacred and cultural objects to their First Nations of origin. Her own nation has partnered with other First Nations in British Columbia as well as some major BC museums to create an app that can be downloaded and used anywhere in the world to note First Nations artifacts displayed in any museum location. This allows participating First Nations to monitor the placement of their items via crowdsourcing, and she hopes it not only spreads across BC but the entire continent in terms of participating First Nations registered with the app.
“This allows any traveler or museum-goer to be a detective for us in locating our cultural objects,” said Simkin. The Salish (Klahoose) people are focused on repatriating their ancestors as well as their cultural items.
Haida presenter and archaeologist Sean Young has already repatriated hundreds of Haida ancestors whose remains were held by various institutions, along with their famed cedar Bentwood boxes and other cultural items which have sometimes proved harder to recover than the bones themselves. They have even built a special mortuary for housing the ancestors’ bones before they are reburied, Young explained.
Part of the difficulty in getting cultural objects, items, and deceased ancestors back lies in colonial property laws which tend to ignore the sovereignty of Indigenous law, observed panelist Robin Gray.
“It is important to assert our sovereignty as First Nations over our cultural heritage and intellectual properties,” said Gray, who added that Indigenous laws should be treated as precedent for ownership access and control of all cultural heritage.
The gathering drew a few hundred eager participants from archives, museums, institutions, and First Nations across Saskatchewan, with speakers and workshop leaders from across Turtle Island. SICC hopes to make it a regular event, because the need for it is evident by the enthusiastic response, support, and participation.