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Art Museum Studies

We Are Coming Home

Repatriation and the Restoration of Blackfoot Cultural Confidence

edited by Gerald T. Conaty

contributions by Robert R. Janes, Allan Pard, Jerry Potts, Frank Weasel Head, Herman Yellow Old Woman, Chris McHugh & John W. Ives

Athabasca University Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2015
Museum Studies, Indigenous Peoples, Native American Studies
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    Publish Date
    Mar 2015
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In 1990, Gerald Conaty was hired as senior curator of ethnology at the Glenbow Museum, with the particular mandate of improving the museum’s relationship with Aboriginal communities. That same year, the Glenbow had taken its first tentative steps toward repatriation by returning sacred objects to First Nations’ peoples. These efforts drew harsh criticism from members of the provincial government. Was it not the museum’s primary legal, ethical, and fiduciary responsibility to ensure the physical preservation of its collections? Would the return of a sacred bundle to ceremonial use not alter and diminish its historical worth and its value to the larger society? Undaunted by such criticism, Conaty oversaw the return of more than fifty medicine bundles to Blackfoot and Cree communities between the years of 1990 and 2000, at which time the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act (FNSCORA)—still the only repatriation legislation in Canada—was passed. “Repatriation,” he wrote, “is a vital component in the creation of an equitable, diverse, and respectful society.”

We Are Coming Home is the story of the highly complex process of repatriation as described by those intimately involved in the work, notably the Piikuni, Siksika, and Kainai elders who provided essential oversight and guidance. We also hear from the Glenbow Museum’s president and CEO at the time and from an archaeologist then employed at the Provincial Museum of Alberta who provides an insider’s view of the drafting of FNSCORA. These accounts are framed by Conaty’s reflections on the impact of museums on First Nations, on the history and culture of the Niitsitapi, or Blackfoot, and on the path forward. With Conaty’s passing in August of 2013, this book is also a tribute to his enduring relationships with the Blackfoot, to his rich and exemplary career, and to his commitment to innovation and mindful museum practice.

About the authors

Gerald T. Conaty was the director of Indigenous studies at the Glenbow Museum. He leaves as his legacy more than thirty articles and books, including Power Images: Portrayals of Native America, co-authored with Sarah E. Boehme. In 2003, he was inducted into the Kainai Chieftainship and given the name Sikapiistamix (Grey Bull).

Gerald T. Conaty's profile page

Robert R. Janes was the president and CEO of Glenbow Museum from 1989 to 2000. He is a visiting research fellow at the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester (UK) and an adjunct professor of archaeology at the University of Calgary.

Robert R. Janes' profile page

Allan Pard's profile page

Jerry Potts' profile page

Frank Weasel Head's profile page

Herman Yellow Old Woman's profile page

Chris McHugh's profile page

John W. (Jack) Ives is currently the Faculty of Arts Landrex Distinguished Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alberta and the executive director of the Institute of Prairie Archaeology.

John W. Ives' profile page

Excerpt: We Are Coming Home: Repatriation and the Restoration of Blackfoot Cultural Confidence (edited by Gerald T. Conaty; contributions by Robert R. Janes, Allan Pard, Jerry Potts, Frank Weasel Head, Herman Yellow Old Woman, Chris McHugh & John W. Ives)

"I brought a sacred headdress to an aaawaahskataiki (ceremonial grandparent) of the women's Maotoki society. Before leaving the museum, I had stuffed the headpiece with acid-free tissue, carefully folded the trailer around more tissue, and placed the entire piece in an acid-free archival box, padding out space with yet more tissue. When I brought the package into the elder's home, she gased with horror. The tissue was rapidly discarded and the headdress was rolled tightly, wrapped in a cloth, and secured with twine. It was, in fact, swaddled, much the way a newborn baby is enclosed for care and protection. Here, again, was an alternative way of understanding what these sacred objects are and how they should be cared for. Over time, I have also come to appreciate that the use fo these items is not detrimental to their well-being. In fact, their participation in ceremonies keeps them alive and vibrant."

Editorial Reviews

“This would be an excellent resource for Native peoples who are interested in learning about repatriation or about how communities revitalize ceremonies and cultural knowledge; anyone working in repatriation in North America; and, undergraduate and graduate classes in anthropology, Native American studies, oral history, and religious studies.”

“… deeply informative and readable…. An absence of Canadian texts in the museum field and in cultural communication leaves open the mistaken idea that we are mere ciphers for practices from abroad. By making an important Alberta story available in this fascinating and important volume, AU Press has performed an essential cultural service for all Canadians.”

“A narrative of hope and perseverance by individuals, organizations, and communities. […] It speaks to the benefits of respectful listening and collaboration in furthering cross-cultural understanding, building cross-cultural relationships, and fostering reconciliation.”

Dr. Laurie A. Milne

“I wish Gerry Conaty were still on this earth so that I could call him up to express my heartfelt congratulations for this not-to-be-missed book for anyone interested in museum collections, repatriation, Blackfoot culture, or Indian-white relations in North America. [...] Every chapter is well written, thoughtful, and engaging. [...] The volume provides an insightful, firsthand history of this groundbreaking repatriation process. Read this book!”

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