Innu Nation and Canadian Museum of History agree to work toward repatriation of cultural artifacts
After signing a memorandum of understanding with the Canadian Museum of History, the Innu Nation is looking forward to having cultural artifacts returned to Labrador, while building a relationship with the institution.
Innu Nation cultural guardian Jodie Ashini told CBC News in a recent interview that she's excited about what she called "an amazing piece of paper," signed by museum CEO Caroline Dromaguet and Innu Nation Deputy Grand Chief Mary-Ann Nui in February in Gatineau, Que., at the museum.
"It was so emotional for me to be able to get done that day," said Ashini.
Ashini has been part of a team working with the Innu Nation and the museum since 2017 to develop a database of the Innu artifacts of their collection.
The memorandum states that the museum will help Innu become qualified to care for the Innu collection, provide staff to visit Innu lands to teach about the collection and cover the cost of repatriating artifacts to Innu lands when a cultural centre is built in Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation, Ashini said.
Dromaguet said the museum was happy to sign the agreement and formalize a relationship with the Innu Nation that has been building for years.
"It's really something that we're proud of, to be working hand in hand with them and just to be in support of this ongoing repatriation work," Dromaguet said.
There's going to be a lot more work before the collections are repatriated, Ashini said. She hopes they will be able to get the tender out for the cultural centre during the winter of 2024.
Dromaguet said they hope to provide support when needed in the centre planning.
"We were very, very fortunate to be able to see some of the designs and early concepts of the cultural centre, and it was just absolutely inspiring," Dromaguet said. "So we're just really, really happy to be able to support that in the ways that we can."
Ashini has her sights set on the future, when the artifacts are in Labrador, with no cultural disconnect over them being nearly 2,000 kilometres away.
"They'll be on our land. They'll be able to be viewed by our children. They'll be able to be remade. They'll be able to be touched. They'll be able to be viewed. We'll be able to have them home," she said.
"People are starting to realize that, 'OK, we have to work with Indigenous groups.… It's theirs. They gotta go home to the rightful owners.' So it's finally, it's that time. It's coming."
Estimated 300 Labrador Innu artifacts in museum's collection
Along with the memorandum signing, a number of people with Innu Nation were in Ottawa at the Northern Lights Conference and were able to tour the Innu collection, Ashini said.
"The most amazing part for me was to see Mary-Ann Nui, deputy grand chief, get to see a suit her mother actually made," Ashini said. "And it was made in the '60s, collected in the '60s, and she's like, 'Oh, my brother probably wore that as a baby.'"
John Moses, the museum's director of repatriation and Indigenous relations, estimated the museum has 300 Labrador Innu items, collected from the 1960s to 1980s.