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Sacred items returned to Siksika Nation after 144 years in U.K. museum

Calgary Herald logo Calgary Herald 2022-05-21 Brittany Gervais
Siksika Nation chief and council representatives travelled to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery in the UK to receive regalia believed to have belonged to Blackfoot leader Chief Crowfoot. © Provided by Calgary Herald Siksika Nation chief and council representatives travelled to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery in the UK to receive regalia believed to have belonged to Blackfoot leader Chief Crowfoot.
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Sacred items and regalia that belonged to an important late 19-century Blackfoot leader were returned to the Siksika Nation after 144 years inside a British museum.

Siksika Chief Ouray Crowfoot and a delegation of councillors travelled to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery in Exeter, England, to collect the items in a repatriation ceremony on Thursday.

A buckskin shirt, a pair of leggings, a knife with feather bundle, two beaded bags and a horsewhip displayed at the museum belonged to Chief Crowfoot. These items are believed to have been housed at the museum since 1878.

The ceremony to bring the items home was a result of years of effort, explained Siksika elder Herman Yellow Old Woman during a media availability.

“I knew it was going to be emotional for me. And I know what was with the rest of the team that is here,” Yellow Old Woman said.

Yellow Old Woman fought for the repatriation of Chief Crowfoot’s regalia from the museum for more than a decade.

He was also essential in the development of the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act, and the repatriation of over 260 sacred and ceremonial objects from museum collections.

“It’s really hard to explain the overwhelming feelings that we’ve had. Even at night, going back to the motels and trying to get a night’s rest, the emotions and the feelings and the dreams of returning our ancestral material back home has been very overwhelming.”

Chief Crowfoot, who was also called by his adult name, Isapo-muxika, died in 1890. He was a prominent chief in Canada and a respected leader and warrior in the Blackfoot community.

After he negotiated with the Crown on behalf of his people, Chief Crowfoot was one of the signatories to Treaty 7, one of the 11 treaties signed between First Nations and the Crown to establish reserve areas.

 Looking over some of the recovered regalia, believed to have belonged to Blackfoot leader Chief Crowfoot. Looking over some of the recovered regalia, believed to have belonged to Blackfoot leader Chief Crowfoot.

Museums and historical sites like Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park specifically commemorate Chief Crowfoot.

There is a living spirit within the material of the items returned, Yellow Old Woman explained, and repatriation efforts of Chief Crowfoot’s belongings are particularly meaningful.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced this in the many repatriations that we have had in Canada and in the United States. This one is very, very powerful and moving for me.”

 Some of the items returned to Siksika Nation. Some of the items returned to Siksika Nation.

Chief Ouray Crowfoot said representatives from the museum reached out to Siksika to continue the work left by Yellow Old Woman in March 2020. The Blackfoot delegation is now the first to look at the collection, he said.

“When you get to hear the songs to go with (the items), when you’re lifting these things up, when you’re holding them in your hands, it’s hard not to find that connection,” Crowfoot said, who is a descendant of Chief Crowfoot. “You couldn’t help but feel that emotion.”

Crowfoot said the Siksika Nation is trying to build relationships with museums with Indigenous sacred items and regalia in efforts to bring collections back.

 From left: Siksika Nation Coun. Carlin Black Rabbit, Coun. Jenny Goodin, Chief Ouray Crowfoot, Coun. Samuel Crowfoot, Coun. Tracy McHugh and Coun. Kent Ayoungman. From left: Siksika Nation Coun. Carlin Black Rabbit, Coun. Jenny Goodin, Chief Ouray Crowfoot, Coun. Samuel Crowfoot, Coun. Tracy McHugh and Coun. Kent Ayoungman.

The pandemic prevented the delegation from going to the museum for two years, but being able to bring these items back is a significant milestone, he said.

“I think it’s going to be very groundbreaking. Not just us, but for other First Nations and other Indigenous people to repatriate these items and bring these items back,” he said. “This is one major piece of that puzzle, but there’s a lot of pieces out there.”

The delegation will return to Calgary on May 25, where there will be a ceremony to greet the items back into the Blackfoot community.

bgervais@postmedia.com

Twitter: @BrittGervaisAB

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