Repatriation of Indigenous Artifacts

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, this question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.

Senator Gold, approaching the September 30 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Canadians are increasingly aware of the many actions needed to reach a state of reconciliation. Today I ask about the funding and policies to assist in repatriation of Indigenous artifacts and spiritual pieces from Canada and other nations to their home Indigenous communities.

Some museums have done this for several years. Some have transparent policies, and others have removed their policies from their websites. Years ago, the federal government provided funding to Alert Bay’s U’mista Cultural Centre and repatriated many magnificent large coppers that had been taken by the federal government during potlatches. That centre opened in 1980 and is amazing.

What programs does the Department of Canadian Heritage and/or the various Indigenous portfolios currently have to assist in ensuring policies and funding for temperature-controlled and secure facilities for repatriating Indigenous cultural treasures?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you, senator, for your question and for your continued advocacy on this important issue. I’m advised that programs within the department that can financially support the repatriation of Indigenous cultural property include the Movable Cultural Property Grants program and the Museums Assistance Program.

For example, in 2019, a Movable Cultural Property Grant was awarded to the Royal Ontario Museum to assist with the purchase of a Bond Head pipe, circa 1836, and related objects and documents on behalf of the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory.

I also understand that the Museums Assistance Program provided funding for a national review of museum policies and practices, which was one of the Calls to Action resulting from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

A national repatriation framework for Indigenous cultural property and ancestral remains has the potential, in the government’s opinion, to advance reconciliation and build a new relationship with Indigenous peoples while contributing to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP.

Senator Bovey: Thank you, Senator Gold. I really appreciate that response. We all know that Senator Sinclair often said, in words I have quoted many times, that art validates culture.

Does the government support this view, and will these actions taken thus far be increased in order to bring culture to this core aspect of reconciliation?

Senator Gold: Thank you again for the question. The government understands that we all have a responsibility in this journey toward reconciliation, and that includes repatriation by Indigenous peoples of their culture, history, languages and artifacts. These artifacts belong in Indigenous communities. The government fully supports Indigenous partners in this process. For example, I understand that Beothuk remains were successfully returned to Newfoundland after 191 years in Scotland.

There is still work to be done and progress to be made. The government is determined to be on that track with its Indigenous citizens.

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