Poundmaker Cree Nation hoping to repatriate art and artifacts after painting sells for $200k

An official with Saskatchewan's Poundmaker Cree Nation says his community can't compete with wealthy bidders who are snapping up historical items, like portraits, of its famous chief.

A painting of 19th century Cree leader, Chief Poundmaker, by P.E.I. artist Robert Harris was recently auctioned off to an unknown bidder for $204,000.

"We could not afford to bid for pieces of art like this. We are at a huge disadvantage," Poundmaker Headman Milton Tootoosis told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

Tootoosis said he's seen other art and artifacts in museums across Europe, at the Royal Alberta Museum, and at the RCMP museum in Regina. He said it's always very emotional.

"I think it's very special. It's a spiritual experience that I can't explain," he said.

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Tootoosis said he'd like to bring them home to Poundmaker. He's been talking to other museums and collectors about loaning or gifting items back to them.

First, he said the Poundmaker Cree Nation, approximately 175 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, needs better temperature controls, security and other measures at its local museum. They're in talks with the federal government to fund those improvements.

Olivia Stefanovich/CBC

Chief Poundmaker was exonerated last year for his wrongful conviction for treason-felony. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and hundreds of others attended the elaborate ceremony on the First Nation located roughly 150 kilometres west of Saskatoon.

-with files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.