Inuvialuit want their kayak back from the Vatican Museums

The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation wants an Inuvialuit-made kayak to return to where it was made.

The kayak, along with several other native artifacts, is currently on display in the Vatican Museums in Rome.

“It’s not ‘the pope’s kayak’ and it rightfully belongs to the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, where its lessons and importance can benefit Inuvialuit culture and communities,” a statement read. press of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, which represents Inuit interests in the western Arctic, known collectively as the Inuvialuit.

The organization called the exhibit of the artifacts “insensitive” given ongoing revelations about the abuse and deaths of Indigenous children at residential schools.

The return of kayaking to the Inuit of the western Arctic presents some challenges because the object is fragile. Everything from light levels to temperature needs to be considered. (Submitted by Ken Lister)

Ry Moran, Associate University Librarian for Reconciliation at the University of Victoria, says the repatriation of Indigenous artifacts is important, “so that we can both regain control of this information and, fundamentally, put it to work for the better. healing and well-being both now and in the future. “

The repatriation of these items is spelled out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said Moran, who is Métis.

He said museums need to be transparent about what they hold and open to returning materials if that’s what a community wants.

Ongoing consent is needed, he said.

This is something the Inuvialuit made clear that the Vatican Museums do not have.

Ry Moran, Associate University Librarian for Reconciliation at the University of Victoria, says museums need to be transparent about what they hold and open to return material if that’s what a community wants. (Nardella Photography Inc./University of Victoria)

Canadian bishops ready to help

CBC News was unable to reach Vatican officials before press time. However, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said: “With respect to this or other requests for the return of artifacts, the CCCB would be willing to help mediate this conversation with the Vatican.”

Bishop Jon Hansen is the Catholic Bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, which includes the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.

Jon Hansen is the Bishop of the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, where the Inuvialuit live. He says if the repatriation of the artifacts can help reconciliation and healing, then this is a dialogue that needs to be engaged between the Inuvialuit and the Vatican Museum. (Mackenzie Scott / CBC)

He said the reason the kayak and other previously stored artifacts were shown for display “was primarily so that the Pope could accommodate the delegation coming to Rome in December.” (The visit of indigenous delegates to the Vatican was postponed on Tuesday due to concerns about the omicron variant of COVID-19.)

Hansen said the exhibit was meant “to honor these people and welcome them in the right way.”

At a pre-delegation meeting, indigenous delegates learned that a tour of the exhibit featuring these artifacts was on their route, he said.

“I know a woman traveling with the Tuktoyaktuk delegation. She heard about the kayaking at one of the pre-delegation meetings, and she couldn’t wait to see it, ”he said.

However, said Hansen, “if the repatriation of these artifacts can aid reconciliation and healing, then it is certainly a dialogue that must be engaged.”

What could happen next?

Two things need to be considered, Hansen said, and the first is about the people who created it.

“If this is definitely their wish that it be returned to them, I think it should be honored and respected,” said Hansen.

The Canadian Bishops’ Conference and the Holy See have endorsed UNDRIP as a good way forward in relations between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, he said.

Hansen also said museum archivists have expressed a desire to hear from the communities that made the kayak and restore it.

The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation has said it wants the return of an Inuvialuit kayak currently on display at the Vatican Museums in Rome. Emily Angulalik, pictured, executive director of the Kitikmeot Heritage Society in Nunavut, said that in certain situations where an artifact could be damaged while transporting it, elders and knowledge keepers have been dispatched to view it and share their stories. and their experiences. (Submitted by Emily Angulalik)

But the second problem is the kayak itself, which is said to be over 100 years old, Hansen said. Is it possible to transport it without damaging it, and is there a place where it resides when it arrives in Canada where it will be picked up?

Emily Angulalik and Kim Crockatt, co-founders of the Kitikmeot Heritage Society in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, have specialist knowledge of kayak repatriation approaches from experiences in their own museum.

“They are so fragile,” Crockatt said.

“It’s really complicated”

But there are other means of repatriation. In situations where it appears that an artefact could be damaged by transporting it again, elders and knowledge keepers have been sent overseas or down south to view an artefact and share their stories and experiences with others. objects like this, Angulalik said.

Tommy Epakhoak, Dedre Maksagak, Jessie Apsaktaun, and Ovide Alakannuaq reconstruct an Inuinnait-style qajaq in 2009, using images and measurements of a 1914 qajaq in the Canadian Museum of History. (Submitted by the Kitikmeot Heritage Society)

The Kitikmeot Heritage Society created experiences where elders returned to their communities and recreated a kayak in the traditional way based on what they saw and documented, Crockatt said. She said the museum has a couple on display as part of their collection. Other times the item loans made sense, she said.

Everything from light levels and temperature controls to the type of windows in the space where the kayak will be displayed should be considered when returning an object, Crockatt said.

“It’s really complicated,” she said.

It is certainly possible that expertise and an appropriate space exist in the region, she said.

Community members see a Kugluktuk qajaq repatriated to the Kitikmeot Heritage Society in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, in 2015. (Submitted by the Kitikmeot Heritage Society)

CBC News was unable to reach a representative from the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation at press time to find out what plans are for the future kayak house.

The company has asked the Canadian government to help repatriate the kayak and other items.

In a statement, Global Affairs Canada said, “We welcome the frank exchanges between Indigenous leaders and the Vatican to advance continued efforts at reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, including the preservation and proper custody of Indigenous artefacts stored at the Vatican. Vatican Museum. “

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