Toronto Star

Hid­den Trea­sures

16,500 That’s how many In­dian and Inuit ar­ti­facts and hu­man re­mains are housed in mu­se­ums across Bri­tain. Na­tive com­mu­ni­ties would like them back

- TRIS­TAN STE­WART-ROBERT­SON SPE­CIAL TO THE STAR Archaeology · Canada News · Museums · Social Sciences · Arts · United Kingdom · Canada · British Museum · London · Wilfrid Laurier · West Coast · Queen Charlotte · Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz · British Columbia · Ottawa · United States of America · Wilson · North America · Toronto · Americas · Oxford University · Oxford · Australia · Council · Port Alberni · Canawaugus, New York · Six Nations 40, Ontario · Woodland · Santana · Caledonia, Trempealeau County, WI · Haida Gwaii · Civilization · Skidegate · Uxbridge, MA · Augustus Pitt Rivers · Wampum

Locked away in mu­se­ums across Bri­tain are totem poles, kayaks, wampum belts, ar­row­heads, masks, pipes and scores of other items that were once the prop­erty of Canada’s na­tives.

The ob­jects, in­clud­ing hu­man re­mains of at least 31 In­di­ans and Inuit and grave goods, were all ei­ther traded or bought or stolen from na­tive com­mu­ni­ties over the past 400 years. Most of the ar­ti­facts are no longer even on pub­lic dis­play in the mu­se­ums.

Even Bri­tish cu­ra­tors have de­scribed the col­lec­tions as full of “hid­den trea­sures” for Cana­dian na­tive com­mu­ni­ties.

A four-month in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Star has re­trieved de­tailed lists of more than 16,500 items held in just 23 na­tional and lo­cal mu­seum col­lec­tions in the U.K.

It’s the first time such lists have been com­piled for the wider pub­lic, out­side of re­searchers and in­di­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ties who have had piece­meal con­tact with for­eign in­sti­tu­tions. Many sa­cred cer­e­mo­nial an­tiq­ui­ties are viewed as crit­i­cal to heal­ing in to­day’s In­dian and Inuit com­mu­ni­ties. In­creas­ingly, Canada’s na­tives are press­ing to have the ob­jects repa­tri­ated, and their re­turn has be­come a key point in on­go­ing treaty ne­go­ti­a­tions with the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments.

But there is no le­gal obli­ga­tion for U.K. mu­se­ums to deal with in­dige­nous cul­tures around the world. In fact, Bri­tish law pro­hibits the Bri­tish Mu­seum in Lon­don from re­turn­ing some of the 2,000 ar­ti­facts it holds that were made be­fore 1850, un­less there is a du­pli­cate. (How­ever, an­other law per­mits the re­turn of hu­man re­mains.)

What hap­pens now will de­fine the fu­ture of U.K. col­lec­tions and the Cana­dian com­mu­ni­ties they pur­port to dis­play. One type of ar­ti­fact, which played a cen­tral role in the Cale­do­nia land dis­pute this spring, typ­i­fies the im­por­tance na­tives place on their an­tiq­ui­ties. Made of hemp cord and shell, and un­furled at the ne­go­ti­a­tions aimed at re­solv­ing the dis­pute, wampum belts are still be­ing used as guid­ing prin­ci­ples for the Six Na­tions of the Grand River and re­flect how they see their re­la­tion­ship with the rest of Canada. The Two Rows Wampum Belt of the Six Na­tions lays out two par­al­lel paths, of the na­tives and the “white man,” in this case, orig­i­nally the Dutch in the 1600s, then the English and later the French. Both paths are equal but dis­tinct — each has its sets of laws and nei­ther in­ter­feres with each, liv­ing in peace­ful co­ex­is­tence.

“It’s a record­ing, and we have to have the ca­pac­ity to un­der­stand what it’s all about, other-

wise it’s just a pretty thing,” says Keith Jamieson, who does his­tor­i­cal re­search, par­tic­u­larly with the Wood­land Cul­tural Cen­tre of the Six Na­tions, and also teaches at Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity. “And when we no longer have them, we can’t in­ter­pret them.” The Two Rows is just one wampum belt of about 40 the Six Na­tions band has. Jamieson says there are at least 450 oth­ers some­where in the world.

“I have a huge col­lec­tion of 33 LPs and brought one to the class and said: ‘ Look at this San­tana album,’ ” Jamieson says. “I pulled out the LP and said: ‘It looks pretty bland and doesn’t mean any­thing. But put it on a record player and all of a sud­den you get all this fab­u­lous mu­sic. That’s what a wampum belt is.”

The belts are per­haps one of the best ex­am­ples of the com­plex­i­ties sur­round­ing in­dige­nous ar­ti­facts in for­eign in­sti­tu­tions and whether they should be re­turned. While some are con­sid­ered sa­cred, oth­ers are diplo­matic, and copies were made for each party in treaty talks. To repa­tri­ate one held in the U.K. might undo those re­la­tions es­tab­lished hun­dreds of years ago. “When wampum belts have come back to us through repa­tri­a­tion, then the com­mu­nity al­most re­vi­tal­izes,” Jamieson says. “In Cale­do­nia, there has been a lack of re­spect for those treaties and agree­ments we have come to. “The wider com­mu­nity would ben­e­fit tremen­dously from learn­ing about th­ese ob­jects — we would have far less trou­ble re­lat­ing to the world if they un­der­stood us.”

On Canada’s West Coast, the full sig­nif­i­cance of na­tive ar­ti­facts and the depth of feel­ing sur­round­ing the re­turn of hu­man re­mains has touched ev­ery cor­ner of some com­mu­ni­ties. Andy Wil­son stepped down as co-chair­man of the Haida Repa­tri­a­tion So­ci­ety last June af­ter 10 years of work­ing to bring the re­mains of an­ces­tors back to their home in the Queen Char­lotte Is­lands. The Haida have per­haps been the most proac­tive peo­ples in Canada when it comes to re­claim­ing hu­man re­mains, first from mu­se­ums in Bri­tish Columbia and the Cana­dian Mu­seum of Civ­i­liza­tion in Ottawa, and then in the U.S.

The process has also in­volved ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity, from the prepa­ra­tion of bent­wood boxes to hold the re­mains, to but­ton blan­kets made by el­e­men­tary school­child­ren to wrap around their an­ces­tors.

“When we started, we didn’t know what repa­tri­a­tion was, let alone how to say it or spell it,” says the 53-year-old Wil­son from his home in Skide­gate, B.C. “None of us knew how to make bent­wood boxes. I didn’t re­al­ize I would spend 10 years mak­ing more than 500 of them.”

The last decade has also in­volved a great deal of fundrais­ing, from auc­tions to seafood din­ners, to cover the costs of trav­el­ling to mu­se­ums around North Amer­ica and bring­ing hun­dreds of boxes back.

Vis­i­tors to the Queen Char­lotte Is­lands, or what the na­tives call Haida Gwaii, have been asked to show their sup­port for the com­mu­nity’s on­go­ing bat­tle for the re­turn of a Haida skull from the Bri­tish Mu­seum in Lon­don.

Wil­son con­tin­ues: “Peo­ple are still ap­palled at how hu­man re­mains and ob­jects came to be in mu­se­ums around the world. They un­der­stand it is im­por­tant to bring them home and not place blame on any­body but do the right thing . . . to pay re­spect to our an­ces­tors.

“If you take a per­cent­age, only 0.001 per cent was sold to col­lec­tors. Af­ter small­pox wiped out 95 per cent of our peo­ple, peo­ple just came here in droves be­cause they knew they could take things. Trad­ing and sell­ing was done by peo­ple who stole them. The laws at the time didn’t pro­tect us. But even steal­ing was still against the law in the U.K.”

Laura Peers grew up in Uxbridge north of Toronto and de­fined her early ca­reer work­ing di­rectly with In­dian com­mu­ni­ties in Canada. Since 1998, the 43-year-old has been cu­ra­tor of the Amer­i­cas col­lec­tions at Pitt Rivers Mu­seum, Univer­sity of Ox­ford.

The Vic­to­rian build­ing and its store­rooms house one of the largest sin­gle col­lec­tions of Cana­dian ar­ti­facts — about 3,200 items, from hu­man re­mains to 400-year-old model ca­noes.

But Peers sug­gests that few items in the mu­seum were stolen from na­tives.

“A lot was made for sale or given as gifts. A very small num­ber of items are ques­tion­able. It’s things taken il­le­gally or by co­er­cion or hu­man re­mains, which quite of­ten fell into that cat­e­gory. “Some were raided from ceme­ter­ies at night, or against the spe­cific wishes of abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples, so they’re laden with dif­fi­cult episodes.”

But Peers un­der­stands that abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples need the ar­ti­facts re­turned so they can take back “con­trol over their lives.

“If you as a peo­ple have been through a pe­riod when you could not con­trol what hap­pened to your chil­dren, nor what hap­pened to your beloved dead, then one of the ways you sym­bol­i­cally take charge of your lives is lit­er­ally tak­ing re­pos­ses­sion of your hu­man re­mains and say, ‘That pe­riod of our his­tory is done.’ ” Some of the hu­man re­mains may be im­pos­si­ble to ever con­nect with the orig­i­nat­ing com­mu­nity. For ex­am­ple, one bone in Ox­ford is listed as: “U.S.A? Canada? Aus­tralia?”

About a third of the items are ar­row­heads, har­poons and other such tools. An­other large per­cent­age is cloth­ing, rang­ing from cer­e­mo­nial out­fits and chil­dren’s moc­casins more than 100 hun­dred years old, to items bought by tourists over the past decade.

Peers says U.K. mu­se­ums have a great deal of work to do on the Cana­dian items, but they need the re­sources and help of in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

“I’m the first North Amer­i­can his­to­rian work­ing in the Pitt Rivers Mu­seum in 50 years, and the last per­son re­fused to set foot in North Amer­ica,” she says. “North Amer­ica is far down the list of im­por­tance in terms of over­all ethno­graphic ma­te­rial in U.K. col­lec­tions.

“First Na­tions don’t want to take some­one else’s re­mains home — they want the re­search to be done and be ab­so­lutely sure. I have been as­ton­ished by the de­gree that First Na­tions peo­ples are will­ing to help in­sti­tu­tions to re­search.”

Garry Courch­ene, di­rec­tor of the Sag­keeng Cul­tural Cen­tre on the Sag­keeng First Na­tion re­serve in Fort Alexan­der, Man., says he’s just learned that there is a hu­man skull iden­ti­fied as Ojibwa hid­den in a crate some­where in the United King­dom. He feels the hand of the Cre­ator at work.

“It’s up there that’s do­ing that. They want to come back,” he says. “Some­thing’s com­ing.”

Courch­ene says “stolen” is too strong a word to use. “We don’t want to look at it that way. Th­ese ar­ti­facts were ap­pro­pri­ated, just like our land. I don’t like to blame. My aim is just to get them back.”

Courch­ene, 51, says the ob­jects might have been made in the past, and ex­ist in the present in for­eign mu­se­ums, but are time­less and im­por­tant to the fu­ture of na­tives.

“Those ar­ti­facts are alive and kick­ing and just wait­ing to come home,” he says. “The spirit has not been dead in them, so they have to be taken care of. We can go into cer­e­mony to use spir­i­tual guid­ance to find out where the ob­jects come from.”

Courch­ene’s approach points out the very dif­fer­ent views on how to de­ter­mine an ob­ject’s his­tory: spir­i­tu­al­ity or re­search. Where U.K. mu­se­ums and Cana­dian com­mu­ni­ties go from here will be framed in that de­bate.

But there ap­pears to be no agree­ment on the next step to­ward build­ing new re­la­tion­ships be­tween Bri­tish mu­se­ums and Cana­dian com­mu­ni­ties.

Francis Frank, pres­i­dent of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Coun­cil in Port Al­berni, B.C., puts the re­spon­si­bil­ity squarely on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. “The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment should approach U.K. mu­se­ums to repa­tri­ate th­ese ob­jects,” he says. “Once we have been able to iden­tify ob­jects as Nuu-chah­nulth, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment must ini­ti­ate steps with the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment, or any­where else in the world.

“Al­though there are some hu­man re­mains from our com­mu­ni­ties, we know there’s greater abun­dance of ar­ti­facts. They were stolen — it was le­gal­ized theft at the time. Our goal in treaty ne­go­ti­a­tions is to have them back.”

A few hours’ jour­ney away, at the Sto:lo Re­search and Re- source Man­age­ment Cen­tre in Chilli­wack, B.C., David Schaepe says na­tive com­mu­ni­ties must be ready to en­ter a com­plex re­la­tion­ship with mu­se­ums.

“You can’t start to bring back and not know what to do with them,” says Schaepe, 38, the cen­tre’s man­ager and se­nior ar­chae­ol­o­gist. “What’s go­ing to hap­pen with the ob­jects, with hu­man re­mains? Where will they be put?

“We have to get a cul­tural cen­tre built so the Sto:lo can use the ob­jects and ed­u­cate oth­ers and have a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship be­tween them­selves and other com­mu­ni­ties.

“It’s a de­tailed and time-con­sum­ing process find­ing out where those things are and deal­ing with each ob­ject in­di­vid­u­ally. What do you search un­der? What cul­tural names? Fraser River? Sto: lo?

“And it’s not just ob­jects — it’s knowl­edge that’s bound up in things, such as songs, names, pho­to­graphs and things that are cov­ered un­der in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.”

Jamieson at the Six Na­tions re­serve says: “A lot of mu­se­ums in Europe are very afraid to open their stuff up to us be­cause they’re scared of the repa­tri­a­tion is­sue. But we have to re­spect their laws — the Two Row says we can’t in­ter­fere with your process be­cause we ex­pect you to not in­ter­fere with ours.”

Even if ar­ti­facts aren’t re­turned, there re­mains the is­sue of how they are dis­played, if at all.

Peers shows off some Cana­dian items in glass cases set up more than 100 years ago, un­der the watch­ful eyes of a totem pole. The Haida pole was re­moved from out­side Star House in Old Mas­set, B.C., af­ter the peo­ple who raised it died. It was in­stalled in the Pitt Rivers Mu­seum in 1901 and bolted to a pil­lar.

Nearby are what are likely the most pop­u­lar dis­play cases for school tours: shrunken heads from the South Pa­cific and two scalps from Canada.

“One of my first goals was to haul th­ese scalps off dis­play,” Peers says. “Th­ese are con­sid­ered hu­man re­mains and would not be dis­played in Canada any more. But if we take them off dis­play, it’s a form of cen­sor­ship in the sense that Pitt Rivers is a mu­seum of Bri­tish colo­nial his­tory as much as any­thing else.

As for other ob­jects in for­eign mu­se­ums, na­tives in Canada want them cel­e­brated in the light, not hid­den in the dark. “We told the Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory in New York, ‘Get our ob­jects out of the dark,’ ” says Wil­son in Haida Gwaii, B.C. “You have got to stop por­tray­ing our peo­ple as some­thing dead and gone. It makes it look like we are part of the past, but our ob­jects are alive with colour and light and magic. Light it up in here, give it life.”

If ob­jects need to be re­turned to Canada, how will Bri­tish stu­dents and the pub­lic learn about in­dige­nous cul­tures? Can there be bridges over the gaps of mend­ing his­tor­i­cal wrongs but ed­u­cat­ing fu­ture gen­er­a­tions on both sides of the At­lantic?

“You get a lit­tle shiver up your spine when you han­dle them,” says Jenny Al­lan, a thirdyear Univer­sity of Glas­gow stu­dent in his­tory of art and English lit­er­a­ture. The 21-year-old worked this sum­mer on ob­jects col­lected on Cap­tain James Cook’s voy­ages up Canada’s West Coast.

“I used to look at Cap­tain Cook ob­jects on class trips — they make a huge im­pact,” she says. “They’re very strik­ing ob­jects. And this stuff has made more of an im­pact be­cause I have been able to touch them. It’s im­pos­si­ble not to get a huge sense of the peo­ple in this.”

But Wil­son would rather Al­lan and oth­ers come to Haida Gwaii to learn about the ob­jects cur­rently held in mu­se­ums around the world.

“It’s like me learn­ing about the U.K. and not go­ing to the U.K. I didn’t know why I was learn­ing Shake­speare in school, but when I went to Lon­don, I got a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of why he wrote the way he did.

"We travel all over the world to learn about other cul­tures, and what makes sense is to have our stuff and peo­ple come here to learn about us. It’s ab­stract un­til you come here and un­der­stand why the Haida were so strong and pow­er­ful, and their cul­ture be­came so ad­vanced.

“If any­body went to an­other cul­ture and took their most sa­cred ob­jects, peo­ple would be ap­palled, es­pe­cially in the U.K. That’s what they’re do­ing to us. Peo­ple just don’t get that.” Cana­dian jour­nal­ist Tris­tan Ste­wart-Robert­son is a se­nior re­porter at the Greenock Tele­graph in Scot­land. He can be reached at tsr@scapestree­t.com.

 ??  ?? This wo­ven Tlin­git bas­ketry hat is from mid-19th cen­tury and is part of the Glas­gow City Coun­cil mu­se­ums col­lec­tion. The hat dis­plays sym­bols of chief­tain­ship around its base; the cylin­ders on top in­di­cate the num­ber of times the wearer had taken part...
This wo­ven Tlin­git bas­ketry hat is from mid-19th cen­tury and is part of the Glas­gow City Coun­cil mu­se­ums col­lec­tion. The hat dis­plays sym­bols of chief­tain­ship around its base; the cylin­ders on top in­di­cate the num­ber of times the wearer had taken part...
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 ?? TRIS­TAN STE­WART-ROBERT­SON PHO­TOS FOR THE TORONTO STAR ?? This Haida totem pole has been in the Pitt Rivers Mu­seum, Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford, since 1901. It is among thou­sands of Cana­dian In­dian and Inuit ar­ti­facts in Bri­tish mu­se­ums. A Haida cer­e­mo­nial trum­pet, be­low, made of ei­ther cedar or spruce, is at the...
TRIS­TAN STE­WART-ROBERT­SON PHO­TOS FOR THE TORONTO STAR This Haida totem pole has been in the Pitt Rivers Mu­seum, Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford, since 1901. It is among thou­sands of Cana­dian In­dian and Inuit ar­ti­facts in Bri­tish mu­se­ums. A Haida cer­e­mo­nial trum­pet, be­low, made of ei­ther cedar or spruce, is at the...

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