I call the meeting to order.
I would like to welcome everyone to meeting number 122 of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
I apologize for a slight delay in beginning, but we will keep moving it along.
We have witnesses here today with regard to our study of Bill , an act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of aboriginal cultural property. We have Travis Gladue with us, from Bigstone Empowerment Society, and from the Canadian Museum of History, we have Dean Oliver.
We have one other witness on this list, but I just want to confirm whether she's in this room. She would be Sarah Pash from the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute.
All right, we're still waiting for her. What we can do is begin with the witnesses who are present.
I would also like to flag for you that you have translation services available. We have members of Parliament who will ask questions in both English and French, because we are a bilingual committee, so if you need translation services, you have earpieces you can use.
Why don't we begin with the Canadian Museum of History?
We'll begin with Dean Oliver, please.
Good morning, Madame Chair.
The Museum of History is very appreciative of the opportunity to discuss Bill and the proposed creation of a national strategy for the repatriation of aboriginal cultural property.
As an institution that has been historically at the forefront of discussions on this subject, and on reconciliation with indigenous communities more generally, we are pleased at the invitation to share some notes from our own experiences and recommendations and have had an opportunity to meet with the sponsor of the bill earlier this year to provide, directly, some feedback and advice and I will reiterate that a little further in my remarks.
The museum, as many of you know, is Canada's national museum of history. It is one of Canada's six national museums and is mandated onto the Museums Act of 1990 to collect objects of historical or cultural interest to be preserved on behalf of all Canadians. The museum's unique collection represents the entire country, all of its peoples, and it is very well documented. It was built and continues to be built with very particular deliberation in terms of collections, building and management.
It holds, I think, the largest collection of objects related to indigenous history and culture in Canada, collected over the past 150 years. It's well known in the museological community for its close work in collaboration, consultation and partnership with indigenous communities, and many of those same communities are, in fact, quite proud to have their cultures and their histories represented in the museum and its activities.
The museum recently opened the Canadian History Hall, the most comprehensive exhibition of Canadian history ever developed, and that hall begins with an indigenous creation story and continues to weave indigenous stories throughout approximately 15,000 years of Canadian history that are depicted in the hall, fully integrating indigenous stories into the fabric of the museum in its entirety. A section of that hall—to point out one example—presents a digital forensic depiction of the likenesses of a high-ranking indigenous Shishalh family that lived approximately 4000 years ago. This module was created in very close collaboration with that indigenous community, and a second version of the module was presented at the same time in the community's own museum in Sechelt, on the Pacific coast of British Columbia. The entire hall, in fact, was created through that kind of collaboration with indigenous communities around the country, as well as in consultation with an indigenous advisory committee. The hall, too, was designed by someone many of you know, indigenous architect Douglas Cardinal, who was the designer of the original museum building itself.
The museum's leadership in that kind of principled engagement was, in fact, highlighted in the 2015 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by name. Such projects build, we believe, strong and positive relationships with communities, and they share knowledge and expertise. They achieve all of that through day-to-day museum work, as well as through more formal programs, such as something called the sacred materials project, which brings community members to the museum to share appropriate and traditional care and handling of the materials and knowledge of same.
The RBC Aboriginal Training Program in Museum Practices, which was created in the early 1990s, offers professional and technical training for first nations, Métis and Inuit participants from the around country so that they may gather, preserve and share their own histories and cultures in their own communities. That has now graduated more than 100 young indigenous museum professionals.
In the field of repatriation activities specifically, we have been very heavily involved for around four decades. Beginning in the early 1990s, the repatriation of objects in the national collection was also added as a topic in treaty negotiations. The museum engages directly in those negotiations, providing information about the collections to participants and discussing repatriation in the context of its own repatriation practices and policies.
In addition to treaty negotiations, custodial agreements or sharing agreements are another important way that the museum shares responsibility for, and access to, its own collections. The museum has a custodial agreement, for example, with the Nisga'a Nation whereby Nisga'a objects are shared on a permanent and ongoing basis with the community.
That agreement speaks to consultation and the inclusion of Nisga'a cultural practices in the care of objects that remain at the museum and of any future acquisitions by the museum of Nisga'a material. Nisga'a Museum director Stephanie Halapija called the implementation of that agreement, “a tangible representation of reconciliation in action.”
The underlying purpose of the bill we are discussing today, as reiterated by the sponsoring member before this committee on September 18, is to provide an additional voice or doorway to the repatriation discussion. This is an objective my museum certainly shares.
As we understood it directly and indirectly from the sponsoring member, his intent in drafting the bill was to address concerns he had for a small museum in his riding in an effort to help it repatriate an object held in an international museum. The proposed strategy that has resulted, which was kindly shared with the museum in the spring, promises to support the return of aboriginal cultural property under specified conditions and to improve access to that property for educational and ceremonial purposes as matters of equal importance.
The museum shares fully these objectives. In fact, as I've already indicated, the museum is doing much of this work now, and has been for a very long time. However, the museum would add for the committee's due consideration—as we shared with the member after meeting with him in the spring—some suggestions on how the bill's current language might better serve these purposes.
As written, the bill's language may be more expansive and imprecise, and therefore not as helpful as originally intended. The strategy could identify more clearly the types of material to be subject to repatriation and the terms and conditions under which requests or demands might be entertained. For example, the current draft offers little distinction between legally acquired objects and all objects, a difference of cardinal importance to all collecting institutions, and indeed to all collectors the world over.
Further, the notion of physical and legal availability of an object is likewise currently absent from the bill's language, as is the notion of compliance with existing and relevant indigenous protocols. The bill, we believe, would be further helped by clearly defining what “available” or “availability” means in its context.
These suggestions would help hone and target the bill's efforts to realize what we understood to be its original spirit and intent. They would also serve to clarify the work and deliberations of any strategy or implementation framework that would later be created by the bill to help manage the flow of information, claims and decisions.
In our experience, this important but delicate work also requires clarity on the link between the requester for repatriated material and the material being requested. This, too, is presently imprecise in the bill's language, which specifies objects that are “of importance” to requesters. Describing objects as “linked to” or “originating from” the requester's specific indigenous group would, we think, be closer to the professed intent.
The bill may also be enhanced by including the notions of access and/or accessibility in addition to that of repatriation. As we indicated earlier, there are other means in addition to repatriation that can enhance accessibility to stories and to objects. As the bill proposes ways to measure progress and eventually to create metrics for success, it might also acknowledge awareness of the work already being done today by cultural institutions of many types, and the ways in which the bill can support such institutions in their work.
Any such metric should differentiate between existing efforts that are successful and new initiatives that stem from the bill and might also be successful, to ensure that future reporting is effective, accurate and encouraging of future results.
In closing, we've been guided in these comments by the text of the bill itself; by what the sponsoring member indicated about his motivations and intentions, including his comments to you on September 18; and by our own considerable experience in repatriation work and related fields as a very privileged participant and, humbly, a leading practitioner for some 40 years in this field, in anticipation of greater and more impactful efforts yet to come.
We certainly believe that the bill holds promise. We also believe that it needs some additional diligence and tighter drafting in key areas to ensure it meets its author's and this committee's expectations, so that if enacted, it can serve as a usable, effective and respectful framework for many years to come.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today. We hope the committee finds our recommendations to be of use in its deliberations.
I look forward to your questions.
Thank you very much.
Hello. Tansi. I am Travis Gladue.
I would like to thank MP David Yurdiga for the recommendation to be here today, and the heritage committee for inviting me to discuss Bill .
Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge the traditional territory of the Algonquin Tribe in Ottawa.
I'm a proud Bigstone Cree Nation member from Treaty 8 territory in northern Alberta. Our traditional territories include Chipewyan Lake, Sandy Lake, Calling Lake, and Wabasca-Desmarais, Alberta. We are a Woodland Cree tribe.
My nation is known as sakâwiyiniwak. It's also a Cree word for forest people, bush people.
Over the centuries we have had many ceremonial items taken from us by museums, collectors, churches, specifically from the Anglican and Catholic denominations. Some of the ancient artifacts, which date back prior to European contact, include arrowheads, axe heads and various ancient tools. Due to the colonization of Canada, many of these ancestral artifacts were taken from us or were destroyed.
As a nation, we are in the process of healing and reconciliation, and we greatly need to find our identity, culture and language.
Working together collectively to have these items repatriated is an empowering mechanism that will be a vital component to build the journey toward reconciliation so that our future generations can have the dignity and pride that our ancestors and grandparents had taken away from them.
Safekeeping and monitoring of these artifacts will take a collective effort and support system from all levels of government to help ensure this effort will be sustained and protected in the years to come. Furthermore, first nation, Métis and Inuit nations should work along with all parties involved into helping to preserve and protect our history.
An elder and fellow members from my nation have recently been in contact with the Royal Alberta Museum regarding some of the artifacts they have kept in their collection. A total of 11 objects are being considered for repatriation, including a pair of handmade moccasins, a drum, an axe head, and several pieces of jewellery. We are currently talking with the museum about a long-term loan basis. We have overcome a hurdle recently due to the great efforts to build a facility to house these objects.
Back in 2000, the Alberta provincial government passed the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act. The act governs the Royal Alberta Museum and the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, but mainly pertains to the Blackfoot tribe in Treaty 7 territory and only currently covers ceremonial items. Members of my nation would like to see the act expanded to include the other two main Alberta treaties, Treaty 6 and Treaty 8.
I would like to thank Mike Beaver, the former Bigstone Cree Nation Chief and current chairman of the Wabasca Museum Board. He was one of the first people to propose the repatriation of items back in 2007. I would also like to thank the former chief, Ralph Cardinal, for his support to achieve the recognition of these endeavours.
On another note, I'd like to take a moment and mention the protection and repatriation of ancestral gravesites. In 1999, a book called Kituskeenow Cultural Land-Use and Occupancy Study was published by the Arctic Institute of North America. The subjects covered in the book included native people in the Alberta region. Specifically, page 36 of this book sums it up:
|| The project recorded unregistered grave sites only. The total number of these graves exceeded 200 at more than 70 sites. Registered cemetery sites in the communities of Peerless Lake, Trout Lake, Wabasca-Desmarais, Sandy Lake and Calling Lake are not included in the count. Most of the elders in this study will be buried in these established communities rather than the bush where they were born and raised.
In early 2017, I researched the potential burial location of a former chief of Bigstone Cree Nation. Chief Maxime Beauregard served the nation from May 26, 1947, to January 31, 1962. After his time as chief of Bigstone Cree Nation, my great-grandfather became ill and was sent to the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton. He passed away on July 24, 1963. His body was not sent back to Wabasca, where he was from and where his children resided at that time and reside even to this day.
According to his death records, he was buried at the Winterburn Cemetery, which is located in Enoch Cree Nation, Alberta. We were able to find some potential burial locations, and at this point in time, we are in talks with the Enoch Cree Nation with regard to burial plots and the location of these potential plots or the names of these parties.
I would just like to conclude that this bill is very important, but it will also have to take into consideration the consultation needed in the communities. There needs to be a collective, joint effort by all parties involved.
Thank you for having me today.
I can only speak for my museum.
In fact, one of the two very direct and powerful influences of the task force report on museums in 1992 was the creation of a very powerful effort in our museum to engage in widespread repatriation talks with communities across the country, and we've been doing it ever since.
Second was the creation of the aboriginal training program in Indigenous Affairs that I mentioned, which has had a minimum of three people in it—sometimes six or seven—in response to that task force's report on the need to increase indigenous capacity across the country to handle their own provenancial materials, their own culture, their own stories. We've been doing that diligently ever since.
However, that's a very small aspect of the ways in which we, on a daily and monthly basis, engage with indigenous communities. We do everything from facilitating visits to collections to see their own material to the provision—by loan, by repatriation, or by other custodial sharing arrangements—of material back into communities.
Sometimes there are no museum-quality environmental controls to handle things, and we physically create them for those communities—for example, by putting discreet display cases in chief and band council offices. It is also sometimes redistributing or disseminating linguistic, craft and ceremonial knowledge that has resided with us for many decades—in some cases 150 years—that may in fact be lost in communities. We have done that across a broad range of areas, from the Far North to the coast of B.C. to Nova Scotia.
Finally, on a yearly basis, we send people into the field for discussions, for collecting, etc., including archaeological fieldwork. We have used all of those opportunities to talk to people about our collections and about the work they can do in their own communities.
To give you a very small example, we—
[Witness speaks in indigenous language]
Thank you so much for having me this morning. I am very glad to be here on the unceded territory of the Algonquin nation, a proud Mi'kmaq from Nova Scotia. My good friend is here, our MP Andy Fillmore. I have worked on some projects with him.
The Assembly of First Nations has not taken a position on the private member's bill, Bill , an act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of aboriginal cultural property. During our summer assembly, the Chiefs-in-Assembly passed a resolution that directed the AFN to ensure that any future national strategy on the repatriation of indigenous cultural property be created with the full participation of first nations and uphold the standards set out in the UN declaration. I expect the issue raised by this proposed Bill will be reviewed by the chiefs this coming December in our winter assembly.
First nations across the country have long expressed the need for the creation and implementation of legal protection to ensure repatriation of all ancestral remains, sacred objects and objects of cultural significance. In 1994, the Assembly of First Nations created a task force with the Canadian Museums Association that developed ethical standards on how first nations and museums would work together on respecting the interaction of repatriation.
While that work stands the test of time, we note the need for informed legal analysis on this matter, one that takes into account significant legal documents since 1994, such as the adoption of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which recognizes and affirms the treaty and inherent rights of first nations; and in 2007, adoption by the UN General Assembly of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
First nations across Canada have experienced many violations of our rights. Ancestral remains, sacred objects and objects of cultural significance have been taken without free, prior and informed consent of first nations. This is what most people think of when they speak about repatriation of our cultural property—heritage and our materials—but it's also important to note a crucial repatriation issue: intangible property.
First nations have lost access to recordings of voices, the voices and stories of our elders that were collected from our people by all the researchers. These sacred stories, histories and lessons from the land are often deposited in museums and archives, gathering dust when they could be helping rebuild our nations and connection to our landscape and to our history.
Action is needed that respects first nations protocol and our human rights as people. Guidelines were developed 24 years ago by the task force on museums and first peoples, but there was no enforceability, and there still isn't. Discretion and power have been left in the hands of the museums. This situation doesn't align with the obligations Canada has under the UN declaration. The Government of Canada has moral and legal duties to assist indigenous peoples to secure the return of property and materials that were illegally and deceptively taken from indigenous people, and they must work with indigenous people to establish a pathway home.
First nations and Canadian museums have developed a case-by-case approach to repatriation requests that respects different circumstances. After all, there are 58 different indigenous nations in this country. As your committee has heard, first nations require resources to participate in many of these endeavours or to bring about repatriation of our own items. There is a need for a full engagement process as well as a thorough legal analysis to understand the diverse situations of first nations across Canada.
We encourage Canada to explore a structured and fully supported dialogue process with first nations. I bring to your attention that the Chiefs-in-Assembly have passed numerous resolutions relating to repatriation. The chief has also directed the AFN to call upon federal and provincial and territorial governments to acknowledge their moral and fiduciary responsibilities to assist first nations across Canada in their domestic and international repatriation efforts. To deny first nations access or control is to impede first nation rights to a self-determination guaranteed by our inherent treaty rights, constitutional rights and international human rights. We must examine what policies and legal framework are required to guide museums in the relationship and interaction with first nations.
A law that simply encourages owners to return property will not achieve the aim of protecting and respecting first nation rights and advancing reconciliation. Many items were sold to museums or private collections under conditions of duress. People were starving. First nations have never consented to the relocation of their ancestral burial remains to museums.
First nations need commitment and action from the federal government to locate, gain access to and repatriate cultural items held domestically and in collections outside of Canada. Ultimately, there must be enforceable measures for those holding sacred first nation items and burial remains to respect the protocols and rights of first nations.
Our communities must be partners with agencies and authorities throughout the decision-making process and application process. Canada's role would include promoting and supporting the return of our cultural property and materials. The principles within the UN declaration should be used as a framework for any decisions on repatriation. First nations should not be limited in their presentation of their own past, present and futures.
In the spirit of reconciliation, the wilful erosion of first nation cultures and languages by previous generations calls for expenditure of public funds. Any new legislation on repatriation that seeks only to encourage repatriation does not go far enough in affirming first nation rights, especially legislation that is not co-created.
In the short term, there are a number of steps Canada can take:
Fund and take action to support first nations in the return of our tangible and intangible cultural heritage and ancestral remains. In the same way, language revitalization action is needed to preserve our protected languages. Cultural heritage faces endangerment, and we cannot wait to act on repatriation to revitalize our indigenous culture;
Develop a domestic and international catalogue. A record of objects of ancestral remains currently held by museums, archives and other institutions must be established.
We need co-development of the process. Actions should be taken to develop an indigenous peoples-led framework to equally recognize the knowledge of indigenous peoples and our rights to make decisions about our tangible and intangible heritage.
Hundreds of years of cultural erosion cannot be overcome simply through small steps. Longer-term steps should be included. There should be robust legislation that is directed by indigenous-led policy development and a review of current policies and practices that identify where indigenous peoples' values and rights have been excluded.
Provide funding and support for the inclusion of indigenous peoples' legal traditions and protocols and cultural heritage policies and legislation.
Carry out audits of museums' and other institutions' past practices in repatriation and an audit of the failure to implement the recommendations of the 1994 Task Force Report on Museums and First Peoples.
Look at reviewing international policies and legislation to understand what has and what has not worked in their repatriation legislation—for example, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The U.S. has some great successes, but it also creates stress on the relationships between parties through a rigid framework and lack of funding to support the work required.
First nations across Canada should be able to maintain, protect and have access to our religious, ceremonial and cultural sites and objects and have a collective right to repatriation of our ancestral remains, sacred objects and objects of cultural significance.
I want to thank the committee and Bill Casey, our MP back home, for raising the profile to another level. I think this is so important for us to build co-operatively with a new narrative for all Canadians and for all our people.
[Witness speaks in indigenous language
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you also to the committee.
[Witness speaks in indigenous language]
I am very honoured to be here on unceded Algonquin territory to speak about the very important bill that we're discussing today.
Aanischaaukamikw is the cultural centre for the 10 Cree communities of the Eeyou Istchee in northern Quebec. We run a 30,150-square-foot building that has 3,000 square feet of long-term and temporary exhibition space, visible storage, a documentation and resource centre, state-of-the-art collection storage, including archaeology, and workspace for approximately 40 staff.
Aboriginal cultural property is defined in the bill as “objects”. In our experience, and considering our long-term needs for repatriation, the definition should include intangible heritage, archival documentary materials and all forms of research data. As we struggle to maintain our language, ensure transmission of our culture and traditional knowledge from generation to generation and protect our cultural heritage for generations to come, we understand the importance of ensuring our ability to repatriate materials and objects such as our ceremonial items held in museums in the south and the voices of our elders, long since passed, in university archival collections of anthropologists.
This necessitates inclusion of any research data and documentary materials that are part of indigenous heritage. Much of our cultural heritage is held by museums and academic institutions beyond Eeyou Istchee throughout Canada, the U.S. and in other places in the world.
When we define cultural property, we define it in terms of heritage and identity. Heritage is inextricably linked to identity; therefore, there is no way to separate indigenous cultural property from indigenous heritage as a right.
The bill comes at a time when we're welcoming the ratification of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for its assertion that indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize cultural traditions and customs, including the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, referring to both material and intangible cultural property.
After centuries of colonization and colonial actions that have endangered our ability to authentically enact heritage as a right, we welcome actions such as Bill if the enactment is an authentic way of supporting our right to heritage and ensuring that our cultural property is protected and preserved for generations to come.
Although the scope of Bill places aboriginal cultural property wherever it is situated, in order for this to be comprehensive and meet our needs, this must be clearly understood to include holdings in other countries beyond Canada. We have items of great significance to our heritage throughout the United States and Europe as well as in many places across Canada, and much of this consists of sacred and ceremonial items.
The lack of strength in statements as a result of utilizing phrasing such as “encouraging” the return of property rather than “requiring” the return of cultural property is of concern in the light of calls for authentic implementation of the UN declaration and the TRC calls to action. The two documents, if taken seriously, require a complete reframing and revisioning of the relationship between indigenous nations, their cultural institutes and mainstream museums.
The bill refers to “owners, custodians or trustees”, which are typically self-appointed positions when it comes to indigenous heritage or intangible cultural property. This is a subtlety in power dynamics that should be more widely understood within the discourse surrounding repatriation as an act of reconciliation.
It's also worth noting that the owners, custodians or trustees referred to in this section have profited from the property they hold, using it to raise profile, develop programming, legitimize their standing as institutions and raise capital. From this view, it should be recognized that the owners, custodians or trustees are indebted to the source communities. The mainstream heritage community and the indigenous heritage community together need to collectively advocate to reframe the relationship as a matter of reconciliation. In fact, the ways in which indigenous cultural property is discussed and publicly labelled as “collections” or “artifacts” work to whitewash processes that are quite violent in nature.
In terms of our territory, items from our territory ended up in museums, academic collections or private collections through means that were more than dubious in nature. Yes, some were bought and paid for, but even when this happened, the collector was frequently in an advantaged position of wealth and power, not facing starvation or other catastrophic life events.
Take, for example, the case of ceremonial objects that we know are in museums across the country and around the world and that we know originated in our communities.
One such ceremonial item, a woman's beaded hood from the mid-1800s, used to honour our relationship with the animals that we depend on and to celebrate life events, was found in a museum in Montreal. Through our research, we tied this ceremonial hood to one of our communities in northern Quebec. We knew which family it was from and we knew who the hood-bearer was in the 1800s, but we were unable to determine how the hood ended up in the hands of a collector, and from there in a mainstream urban museum. We can only theorize that if the hood were not obtained through theft or forcibly taken, then the family would have been in such a state of extreme hardship that they would have needed to part with this important family inheritance, an important tie to their spiritual and ceremonial life.
If we are able to only discuss and acknowledge the fact that the removal of parts of our cultural heritage from our communities was facilitated by undesirable economic or social conditions, or that they were stolen or taken by force, or even unexplainably ended up in the hands of a collector, we have not arrived at the point as a society where we can merely “encourage” the return of indigenous cultural property. In keeping with this, support for the process referred to must ensure that indigenous heritage organizations and communities are not burdened with any costs related to the process of re-homing cultural property.
From our experience, transporting an object from a museum in Montreal or Toronto can cost tens of thousands of dollars. For a small non-profit institute, this is a burden that is taken on with the knowledge that our ability to provide access to parts of our tangible heritage that have fallen out of memory or use within our communities is an important aspect of cultural revival and maintenance of heritage. If we're speaking, as referred to in clause 3, of support for preservation and access, this should be understood to mean the financial support necessary to do this work properly. In addition, this support should ensure that the cost is not borne by indigenous communities or organizations. Authentic financial support takes into account transportation costs, conservation costs, and facility and operations support. There are other considerations that must be taken into account here, including support for increasing capacity within indigenous nations, human resource training, and facilities development.
Our facility, Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute, located in Oujé-Bougoumou in northern Quebec, serves our entire nation of 10 Cree communities across Eeyou Istchee. We own and operate a state-of-the-art facility that has achieved category A designation from Canadian Heritage, a designation that recognizes our facility is on a par in terms of conservation and storage facilities and capacity with many of the major museums in this country.
More and more across the country, indigenous organizations are developing these types of institutes and supporting their ability in cultural heritage management. The bill calls for support for repatriation of cultural property, which must include support for the development of the facilities necessary to house such property.
Further, regarding access, it would be preferable if there would be no room for conditional demands on indigenous communities centred in western museological norms that restrict access for any reason that an indigenous community deems valid. Control and access decisions should remain in the hands of indigenous communities or their representative organizations, and that authority must be well recognized.
Frequently we're met with resistance from museums to access because of their reliance on decision-making protocols that are based in western museological norms. These norms don't take into account our own knowledge about how ceremonial items and other items should be cared for and handled. In many instances we found that our objects are improperly cared for and disrespected in mainstream museums because of their reliance on western museological norms. In many cases as well, proper care of the object would entail its relocation to the territory it originated in and to which its spiritual life is tied.
The dislocation and disrespectful handling, even incidentally, of our most precious heritage objects is a pain that this bill could work to alleviate. It should also be noted that in many cases collective items have been subjected to less than ideal storage situations. Many sacred and ceremonial and otherwise important objects have been sprayed with pesticides and neglected as low-priority items in museums, as we have found in some of our cultural property that's held overseas.
The need for support in repatriation of indigenous heritage property is contextualized for us by the fact that much of the collecting work took place during an era of empire expansion, when indigenous cultural items were viewed as exotica, fetish and salvage. In light of these points, there's much repatriation work to be done.
In regard to claims on collections extracted from indigenous communities and territories, especially following contact with Europeans, there was rarely any form of proof of ownership in the sense of documentary evidence. The burden of proof can't be borne by indigenous communities alone. While research must be done, this must be led by indigenous communities but supported financially and otherwise, without placing costs on indigenous communities. In addition, oral tradition and oral discourse need to be valued in terms of this research that's done to place objects within their home communities.
I'd like to take a moment to recognize the work of Mr. Casey and others who developed this bill and also acknowledge that, if passed, it would be a substantial support to our efforts to ensure cultural maintenance and access to our own heritage. Repatriation of cultural property allows us to ensure access to heritage to the population we serve. It creates deep and meaningful experiences and learning opportunities that allow us to reclaim aspects of ourselves and who we are, learning about ourselves as we bring our cultural property home.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I also would like to thank the committee for giving us the opportunity to speak to you, and I would add on a personal note that I am particularly grateful to be here because I was a member of the task force on museums and first peoples, to which we owe the current guidelines we work with. I'm very happy to see this further stage finally being reached.
GRASAC is also an organization that has existed because of federal funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canada research chairs program, and SSHRC. We are indebted to federal support for the research that we've done.
We are a collaboration of academics, indigenous communities, researchers, and museum staff. We have come together in order to do some of the work that other speakers have referred to—the need to identify the locations and histories of collections of objects, both abroad and within North America.
GRASAC supports the passage of Bill . We regard repatriation as an important expression of self-determination, as expressed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Canada is now a signatory. We've described our organization's work and provided detailed comments in a written report, which will be circulated to you after translation.
Today we want to highlight key provisions and refinements we believe to be necessary for the bill to succeed in its goals. We believe that it needs to support three primary things—research leading to the identification of items for repatriation; multiple forms of access, including digital access and loans where appropriate; and infrastructure in indigenous communities.
Anong Beam, who is with me today, is executive director of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation and a member of GRASAC's steering committee. She will speak to this last, very critical issue.
Why is research necessary as a precondition for repatriation? As other speakers have said, we actually don't know where all this heritage is located. We also find that much of it is very poorly documented. In many cases, we don't know how it was collected, when, or from which community. Indigenous people need to identify items for repatriation because museums and collecting institutions will need to know these histories in order to consider the requests. They will demand this kind of information, in addition to the practical need to know where things are.
When we do this research, as we have been doing in the GRASAC project, it illuminates the different ways that aboriginal cultural property has left communities over the course of four centuries, in the case of the Great Lakes region.
I brought a few images. I hope to show you how important these things are and the ways in which they have been collected.
The first slide shows a 17th century curiosity collection in Paris that still exists. It had indigenous Great Lakes items in it. These kinds of things were collected by curiosity collectors—a beautiful Odawa bag and a very important pipe.
The bag is in the National Museum of Ireland. It was brought there by an Irish soldier who was in Canada around 1800. The pipe was brought to Scotland by a soldier who fought in the Seven Years War and who left it with his patron. It was only sold around 2006 at a Sotheby's auction, where Canadian museums did not have enough money to bid for it. It went to a private American collector, along with a whole collection of other wonderful things. Indigenous communities were completely unable to bid for these things at the time, because of lack of funding, which I'd like to point out.
A very important way that things left communities in early years was through diplomatic exchanges and rituals of gift-giving. Wampum is the most famous and best known form of item that left in this way, and you see here an important example, now in the McCord Museum.
I have learned from my colleagues in GRASAC that when gifts are received in such a context, it indicates and confirms that an agreement has been reached. There are potential consequences to returning such items, because it may simply signify that the agreement is nullified by the return. This is something to keep in mind.
During diplomatic exchanges, especially in the 18th and early 19th centuries, there were also ritual adoptions of individuals who were regarded as allies or supporters of indigenous communities, and part of such adoptions was very often the presentation of a very beautiful outfit of clothing. Lieutenant John Caldwell was adopted in 1780 by Anishinaabe people. He's wearing the outfit he received. Much of it is now in the Canadian Museum of History. It was repatriated in the 1970s when federal funding was made available for the repatriation of Canadian heritage held abroad.
Other kinds of gifts were given through the 19th century when important officials visited, such as a remarkable collection of quilled birchbark containers that is now in Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in Britain, which was Queen Victoria's family home. These were given to the Prince of Wales, and some of them directly to Queen Victoria. They may look like the kinds of items that were purchased as souvenirs, but they were actually diplomatic gifts.
Things could be commissioned, such as this magnificent and very famous cradle. The panels for it were commissioned of one of the most famous quill workers in Nova Scotia in the 19th century, Christina Morris, and there was an enormous production of souvenir work in the Great Lakes for economic purposes. It provided a very important source of income to indigenous people.
Among these items were very beautiful items of beadwork made by Haudenosaunee people throughout the northeast, and there are lots of those in collections. From the many photographs we have found of Victorian women holding these bags, you can see that they prized them greatly.
However, the largest body of materials in museums, which has already been referred to by other speakers, is the enormous amount of material collected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries under a project that is often called salvage ethnography. Anthropologists fanned out across North America to collect what they regarded as the last remnants of indigenous culture, thinking that indigenous peoples would disappear.
In my experience, this body of material is understood to have been collected under duress. People were impoverished. They had been confined to reservations and reserves. Their children were being removed to residential schools, and it was a period of great demoralization in many places. The status of this material seems to be somewhat different from the other kinds of things I have been talking about.
The important point we want to make is that items in all of these categories can do more good in indigenous communities today than in storages and drawers in museums, but they may require different forms of request to the institutions that hold them. This research phase is really critical to framing requests in ways that will be persuasive.
I agree also that the definition of “aboriginal cultural property” needs to be further refined, as stated earlier by Dean Oliver.
I will now turn our presentation over to Anong Beam, who will address the critically important need for the bill to support indigenous community infrastructure.
Okay. I'll be brief anyway.
I'm the executive director of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation. I'm from Manitoulin Island. It's located in Sheg First Nation.
We are an indigenous-controlled and run public arts-based museum and cultural centre. We represent the six first nations of the United Chiefs and Council of Mnidoo Mnising
We also have collection space. We were founded in 1974, so we are one of the longest-running indigenous cultural spaces in Canada. To my knowledge, we are one of the only indigenous cultural centres that has facilitated repatriation from our own collections to neighbouring first nations. In our experience of these matters, it is incredible to see what these objects can do when they come back.
One of the images you saw in the slide show, of the thunderbird on the Great Lakes bag, was seen in an exhibition, Patterns of Power, curated by my colleague Ruth, by an artist in our community. He was really struck by the image that came from our community, which was living and fully housed in Ireland. He created a piece of artwork for our centre, which is the thunderbird. It is the logo of our people, our community, and it is etched in the floor of our building, yet we've never seen the original or anything close to an original.
There's a huge amount of interest in revitalizing traditional arts in our centre. We have a lot of interest in textiles and fibre arts.
At this point, we have not been able to display any original pieces. The closest that we came was inviting an incredibly talented woman, Renee Dillard, from Harbor Springs, Michigan, who is anishinaabekwe.
She comes to visit us after many visits to the Smithsonian institution, where she has viewed similar such fibre arts from our region. Through viewing and accessing them in the Smithsonian, she's relearned some of these techniques and comes back to visit us with the replicas she's made from seeing those pieces. Our community is incredibly excited and honoured to have that level of engagement with these artifacts.
We have an 11,000-square-foot building. We have security, heating, and cooling, and we are in the process of becoming category A for movable cultural property. We have all of the ability. What we lack is the core funding to support continuity of staff.
The fact is that we depend on a lot of FedNor funding, or small and deeply appreciated grants that fund positions for first-time graduates. What happens is that we end up training a graduate; then they work for the year, and we don't have the means to keep them for another year. As soon as we are done the year and we have an employee who is well versed in collections management and care, displays, creating didactics, and teaching classes, we lose them. This happens over and over again.
When we are approved for a certain amount of funding, it's usually six months before we are able to fill the position, because we are not in a major centre. Our access to individuals with the skills that are needed is minimal at best. Being able to retain our staff is a huge need.
I've been informed by different members of the federal government and INAC that arts and culture are not part of the Indian Act, and they owe us no responsibility to fund core positions in this manner. I was told to write a letter to about my concerns on the issue.
I'm hoping that in your consideration of this bill, you will listen to some of the incredible people who have spoken today, and others who I'm sure you'll hear from later, and affirm our ability to have continuity of staff to care for, display, and teach about these objects.
If you don't mind, I will go first.
I think it's a very important question, the whole thing, and telling our story. Canada is doing the right stuff in reconciliation, giving that space an opportunity for making a new relationship with indigenous people.
Education is lacking. We all went to school. What was taught in your books? I remember the Prime Minister said during the time we announced the TRC calls to action that he went to a private school. He said he wasn't going to make it secret. He was in a private school and he guessed everybody knows that, but when they got to the indigenous chapter, the teacher said they should skip it because it was boring.
In today's society we all strive toward bringing better values of diversity of our people and all that, but look at what happened in Nova Scotia when we had the Cornwallis statue situation, and everywhere else. Non-education brings racism and doesn't bring out the good values of our people.
If you look at first contact—not the show, but first contact itself—it was like an Atlantic tsunami wave that comes and erases the culture. When you find nobody in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, it's because the tsunami wave was first contact. The wave didn't reach B.C. Then we ask why B.C. has all these very cultural vibrant places. The wave comes back. We're affected the most and the longest by with European contact.
This is why we need repatriation of those items to properly tell those stories, because right now our people are trying to learn their identity. Remember—one minute, and I'm closing on this—we were labelled Indians, then savages, then Indians again, then aboriginals, then after the longest time everybody was comfortable with first nations people. Then overnight we were indigenous people. We keep getting relabelled because we can't tell our own story. We have other people telling us on our behalf who we are.
I'm Mi'kmaq. The day will come when it's not a hindrance on the government that there are too many tribes. There are 58 tribes here. Embrace that. Don't look at it as a problem. We're not the Indian problem. There's a vibrant diversity of cultures here. My kids need to learn the Mi'kmaq way, but they have learned the Algonquin way, the Cree, the Dene. They borrowed those styles because they really wanted to be part of the identity of an indigenous person. I need to be able to teach them properly by bringing some of that stuff back home properly, whether it's tapes or whatever.