Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Repatriation - a right or responsibility?

One of the sessions chaired by Alicia Hawkins at the Wendat/Wyendot conference noted in the previous post was on the subject of the Wendat of Quebec and their developing relationship with the Province of Ontario with particular regard to archaeology the preservation of the Huron/Wendat sites in this province. One of the most pressing issues has been that of the repatriation of human remains, funeral articles and other sacred items from museums and other institutions that have collected, studied and housed these items over the past 150 years.
In 1999, through the sacrificial efforts and years of work of Michelle Gros-Louis and Annette Vincent, the ROM returned the human remains and artifacts exhumed from the ossuary at National Historic site of Ossossane to the Wendat community for repatriation to the place from where they came.
In late September of this year after lengthy negotiations the Wendat Nation will repatriate the human remains and funeral items collected, studied and housed at the U of T. This repatriation will take place at a site near Klienburg Ont.and will mark another milestone in restoring relationships between the archaeological community and the historic First Nation whose civilization we have been researching since the time when Europeans first settled here and found the evidence of prior occupation in their farm fields
In the US there are laws that mandate repatriation, not so here in Canada. These laws in the US have been in effect for the past 20 years and the repatriation efforts continue. In Canada, at least in Ontario some progress has been but is it enough? Do the First Nations have to have repatriation seen as their right and negotiate for the care of their ancestors or is it the responsibility of the various museums and other institutions to seek out the appropriate First Nation and return these sacred remains to the descendants who can give them the dignity that we all would hope our ancestors deserve. 
On the question of repatriation the the following site is well worth a read -

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