We Are Coming Home
Repatriation and the Restoration of Blackfoot Cultural Confidence
In 1990, Gerald Conaty was hired as senior curator of ethnology atthe Glenbow Museum, with the particular mandate of improving themuseum’s relationship with Aboriginal communities. That sameyear, the Glenbow had taken its first tentative steps towardrepatriation by returning sacred objects to First Nations’peoples. These efforts drew harsh criticism from members of theprovincial government. Was it not the museum’s primary legal,ethical, and fiduciary responsibility to ensure the physicalpreservation of its collections? Would the return of a sacred bundle toceremonial use not alter and diminish its historical worth and itsvalue to the larger society? Undaunted by such criticism, Conatyoversaw the return of more than fifty medicine bundles to Blackfoot andCree communities between the years of 1990 and 2000, at which time theFirst Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act(FNSCORA)—still the only repatriation legislation inCanada—was passed. “Repatriation,” he wrote,“is a vital component in the creation of an equitable, diverse,and respectful society.”
We Are Coming Home is the story of the highly complexprocess of repatriation as described by those intimately involved inthe work, notably the Piikuni, Siksika, and Kainai elders who providedessential oversight and guidance. We also hear from the GlenbowMuseum’s president and CEO at the time and from an archaeologistthen employed at the Provincial Museum of Alberta who provides aninsider’s view of the drafting of FNSCORA. These accounts areframed by Conaty’s reflections on the impact of museums on FirstNations, on the history and culture of the Niitsitapi, or Blackfoot,and on the path forward. With Conaty’s passing in August of 2013,this book is also a tribute to his enduring relationships with theBlackfoot, to his rich and exemplary career, and to his commitment toinnovation and mindful museum practice.
Gerald T. Conaty was the director of Indigenousstudies at the Glenbow Museum. He leaves as his legacy more than thirtyarticles and books, including Powerful Images: Portrayals of NativeAmerica, co-authored with Sarah E. Boehme. In 2003, he wasinducted into the Kainai Chieftainship and given the name Sikapiistamix(Grey Bull).
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