Elaine de Kooning, Elands and Bull (Cave #46), 1985, Collection of Glenbow

Repatriation at Glenbow

We are committed to supporting repatriation efforts and communities.

Art + Objects

What is Repatriation?

Repatriation refers to the return of cultural belongings held in museums to the original communities who created them. This includes communities across North America and around the world.

Glenbow was founded in an era when collecting and curatorial ambitions were inseparable from a Eurocentric, colonialist worldview. We acknowledge our historical context and resulting complexities and commit to best practices which address colonialism in our work. This includes ensuring the ethical stewardship of the belongings in our care and ongoing provenance research and repatriation efforts.

Since 1990, Glenbow has worked with Niitsitaapi/Blackfoot communities in Alberta to repatriate sacred and ceremonial belongings. Glenbow is committed to continuing this work with other communities nationally and internationally.


Legislation

Alberta is the only Canadian province with dedicated legislation for the repatriation of sacred objects:

This legislation provides only for repatriation to the nations of the Siksikaitsitapi-Blackfoot Confederacy in Alberta, which includes Siksika, Piikani and Kainaiwa. Although this legislation does not currently apply to all Indigenous nations whose belongings are represented in the collections, Glenbow strongly supports repatriating belongings more broadly.


History

Following leadership and collaborative discussions with communities, Glenbow supported the return of over 50 medicine bundles to various communities between 1990 and 2000 at which time the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Repatriation Act (FNSCORA) was passed. Glenbow continues to support more repatriation efforts as we move forward.

  • 1989: The Canadian Museums Association and the Assembly of First Nations form the Task Force on Museums and First Peoples to find resolutions to issues concerning representation of First Peoples in Canadian museums.
  • 1990: Glenbow begins repatriating belongings to Nêhiyawak/Cree and Niitsitapi/Blackfoot communities, returning 50 Nêhiyawak/Cree and Niitsitapi/Blackfoot bundles by 2000.
  • 1992: The Task Force on Museums and First Peoples issues its final report.
  • 1998: Glenbow signs a Memorandum of Understanding with Mookaakin Cultural and Heritage Society (Kainaiwa), outlining Glenbow’s commitment to including Kainaiwa in collecting, researching, programming and exhibiting Kainaiwa or Niitsitapi/Blackfoot culture.
  • 2000: Government of Alberta passes the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act.
  • 2000 – 2001: Glenbow repatriates 251 bundles to Niitsitapi/Blackfoot communities.
  • 2004: Government of Alberta introduces the Blackfoot First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Regulation.
  • Present: Glenbow facilitates repatriation requests on an ongoing basis and continues to advocate for increased repatriation efforts.

Culturally Sensitive Materials

Culturally sensitive materials are items that require special care and handling and may only be accessed by certain people. Permission to access culturally sensitive materials must be obtained from the appropriate community or group of Elders prior to access being provided.

Glenbow places an emphasis on respecting the values and spiritual beliefs of the cultures represented in its collections. These communities retain cultural, spiritual and ceremonial rights to the belongings within the collections, including the associated privileges and knowledge the pieces contain. Glenbow works with communities and Elders to identify culturally sensitive materials.

As described in the Historical Considerations and Repatriation sections of the Moved to Action: Activating UNDRIP in Canadian Museums report delivered by the Canadian Museums Association, the plundering of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Nations was motivated and bolstered by the overt genocidal policies and practices of the Canadian government. The removal of ancestral remains and cultural belongings happened in conjunction with land dispossession, forced relocation and attempted erasure of Indigenous Nations. Indigenous peoples seeking the return of their cultural belongings and ancestral remains have long asserted that these were removed under duress due to political or religious coercion, dire economic circumstances, and other circumstances that meet the definition of duress.

Any acquisitions taken from Indigenous communities under duress are considered unethical. For Indigenous belongings in what is currently Canada, many link the period of duress to the application of the strict laws under Indian Act (1876-1951). However, as outlined in the Moved to Action report, the new standard is to consider that in many cases the period of duress begins with contact and continues today. [1]

As a result of these events, many belongings were taken from their communities and entered the colonial art market, which then and came to Glenbow through purchase and donation; this includes belongings from other cultures and communities around the world.

[1] More Than Giving Back: Repatriation Toolkit (Moved to Action: Activating UNDRIP in Canadian Museums), Canadian Museums Association.

Indigenous Access to Collections & Repatriation Requests

Glenbow receives ongoing requests for repatriation of Niitsitapi/Blackfoot material. As most Indigenous belongings at Glenbow are part of the Government of Alberta collection, Glenbow works with the Royal Alberta Museum (which represents the Government of Alberta) and Elders when considering requests. The final decision for these belongings rests with the Government of Alberta.

Case-by-case discussions are ongoing regarding the repatriation of cultural belongings originating from other communities, such as the Nêhiyawak/Cree, Anishinaabe, Îyârhe Nakoda, Inuit, Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw.

Glenbow supports the return of sacred and ceremonial material to Indigenous communities when supported by ceremonial Knowledge Keepers, hereditary chiefs and others with the lived experience to know the proper transfer, care and protocols connected to the sacred belongings in our care.

Glenbow welcomes discussions with communities regarding the proper care, display, storage and possible repatriation of belongings.

If you have a question or concern about current practices, please contact collections@glenbow.org.

The Blackfoot First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Regulation (2004) currently provides for repatriation to the nations of the Siksikaitsitapi-Blackfoot Confederacy in Alberta, which includes Siksika, Piikani and Kainaiwa. There are two deadlines for Blackfoot repatriation applications each year: February 15 and September 1.

Download the application for repatriation

If your community has belongings stewarded by Glenbow that you would like to visit, please contact us at collections@glenbow.org to arrange a visit.

Please note that Glenbow is currently under construction as we transform the museum through the Glenbow Reimagined project. Because of this, access to collections involves passing through an active construction environment.

When visiting, all visitors to Glenbow are required to wear PPE, including a hard hat, vest and steel-toed boots. These items will be provided to visitors upon arrival. Additionally, visitors must wear long-sleeved shirts, pants and socks and are required to complete a waiver. For safety reasons, we are not able to accommodate the use of walkers, wheelchairs and canes at this time.

We will do our best to fulfill all requests to visit, but at times it may not be possible due to changing conditions.

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