Monthly Archives: March 2009

Native American chief asks NUI Galway to return ‘iconic’ canoe

The Maliseet community of New Brunswick is working towards the return of a birch-bark canoe which was taken to Ireland almost 200 years ago. It presently resides in the Canadian Museum of Civilization, but the Maliseet band is working towards a permanent repatriation. It is unclear if the object changed hands under any kind of illegal circumstances, but the article does say that it has been mostly left to decay in the National University of Ireland.

Native American chief asks NUI Galway to return ‘iconic’ canoe

LORNA SIGGINS, Western Correspondent

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A NATIVE American chief has appealed to NUI Galway to return the world’s oldest known birch-bark canoe to his community in Canada.

The “Grandfather Akwiten” canoe had spent almost two centuries in Ireland before it was sent temporarily to Canada two years ago by NUI Galway (NUIG) for conservation and subsequent exhibition. The canoe remains in Canada.

The 180-year-old craft, which was donated to the university in the mid-19th century, is an “iconic” and “powerful symbol” of the Native Americans’ way of life, according to Chief Candice Paul of the St Mary’s First Nation Wolastokwiyik (Maliseet) community of New Brunswick.

However, he says it suffered more than 150 years of “isolation and neglect” and “served primarily as a home for pigeons in an institution dedicated to geological collections” at the university.

The Maliseet chief credits Dr Kathryn Moore of NUI for her work in “rescuing” the craft which she has described as a “symbol of national importance”.

The canoe was one of three built by the native American Maliseet community for British lieutenant-governor Sir Howard Douglas who arrived in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1824.

It passed into the hands of Lieut Stepney St George, who was then serving with the British imperial forces in Canada.

He transported it back home to Headford Castle, Co Galway. In 1852, it was donated to what was then known as Queen’s University in Galway by a tenant of Headford Castle, Edward Lombard Hunt.

It hung from the roof of NUIG’s Quadrangle building for decades.

Chief Candice Paul says that as indigenous people, his community suffered “many of the same forms of oppression as the Irish people at the hands of colonialism” and “much of this oppression continues”.

He says his community was not informed beforehand about or invited to a public display of the canoe at the Canadian Museum of Civilisation. His community has received much political support for permanent repatriation, he says, but says that this needs to be confirmed before the canoe is sent back to Galway this summer.

In a statement, NUIG said many members of staff, “inspired by the personal interest and commitment of Dr Kathryn Moore, were involved in the efforts to secure its conservation” in Canada.

In light of interest generated there “the university is assessing the steps which it should now take,” NUIG said.

“Any decision in favour of the permanent repatriation of the canoe would require further approval at both national and EU level,” it said.

It noted “there may be competing claims for the canoe from museums interested in conservation and display, and from representatives of those whose ancestors built the canoe” but it would “work to achieve appropriate short-term and long-term solutions”. International loans of certain artefacts are subject to national and EU regulation.

In this particular case, I find it interesting that the Maliseet are using their similar experiences of oppression to relate with the Irish people. I’ll be following new developments on the Maliseet canoe.


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Maxwell Anderson on “Through the Looking Glass: Museums and Internet-Based Transparency”

I recently came across this talk on the Smithsonian’s website entitled “Through the Looking Glass: Museums and Internet-Based Transparency”, given by Dr. Maxwell Anderson, the CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Take a look.

Dr. Anderson gives some great examples of how the IMA is using its website to become more accessible to its audience. Though it doesn’t deal directly with repatriation, I like that museums are taking steps towards becoming more transparent. Much of the issue with repatriation is the difficulty indigenous communities have with obtaining information. Beginning to make more information available online is going to make for easier communication between these communities and the museums.

And it’s about time museums started doing this more. During our class discussions and the reactions of museums to repatriation claims, I’ve perceived a pretty negative reputation associated with art museums. The general consensus seems to be that art museums are pretty stodgy, closed off institutions that care only about the objects in their collections and not so much about their provenance or cultural significance. You only have to look at the list of museums who signed the Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums. They are all major American or European art museums.

In case you are not familiar with the Declaration, it’s a statement made by a group of museums saying that they label themselves “universal museums” and exist to serve the whole world and contain its global heritage, and should thus be immune to repatriation claims. It has come under fire since its inception in 2002, recently when the Art Institute of Chicago held an exhibit of African art, this past summer. (Source)

So I welcome these developments coming out of the IMA. Museum websites being, for the most part, quite confusing to navigate, I hope other institutions start making better use of online resources.

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Musée du Quai Branly symposium on human remains

Last year, in February 2008, the Musée du Quai Branly held a symposium on human remains in museums. I’ve been working my way through the transcript of the symposium, because it all seems a bit hypocritical to me. After all, as far as I know the museum still refuses to return Maori warrior heads in its collection, despite the requests of the Te Papa museum. I’m curious about how Michael Brown can say the following

With few exceptions, the existence of the remains of indigenous people in the world’s metropolitan museums is a shameful vestige of colonialism and a continuing affront to human dignity.

in such a context, and I commend him for it.

Press release about the symposium (in French)

Full transcript of the symposium (in French, English and Maori)

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Training event: The Social Media Exchange for the Museums (London/UK, 1 June 2009)

via The Attic

From H-Museum:

MONDAY 1 JUNE 2009 – The Resource Centre London, N7

As we know, it’s more important than ever to make sure your web presence is
reaching as many people as possible. But are you making the most of your
online strategies? Are you waiting for people to come to you – when you
could be going directly to them? Social networking, blogging, podcasting
and the plethora of new social media applications create great opportunities
for the Cultural and Heritage sectors. They’re cost-effective, quick to get
going and have the potential to reach and engage new audiences.

On Monday 1 June sounddelivery is hosting The Social Media Exchange for the
Museums, Cultural and Heritage Sectors in London. This practical training
event is specifically aimed at staff working in museums, galleries,
libraries, archives and heritage sites. The day will feature bitesize
masterclasses, practical social media surgeries, discussions, and
collaboration and networking opportunities. This event will bring together
experts in the sector who are using social media tools and will share their
experiences with you.

For more information and do download a booking form all you have to do is
go to

You will:
. Get a solid understanding of not just the what and why but the how of
social media in an informal and relaxed environment.
. Get up to speed on the changing media climate, the increasing role of
social media and how this can apply to your work.
. Be given practical examples of how podcasts, social networks, blogs,
digital storytelling,twitter and other applications are actively being used
in the sector.
. Meet like-minded people within the sector who are using social media tools
in their work and who want to share what they have learnt with their peers.
. Actively participate in sessions and be encouraged to bring your ideas and
projects to the event for development and brainstorming.

The day will include:
. 20 Interactive Masterclasses focusing on social media, journalism and
. Practical group surgeries in blogging, podcasting, twitter, video and
mobile technology.
. A panel discussion including representatives from Google.
. Opportunities to make connections, learn new skills, compare, contrast and
bounce ideas off other delegates
. Liveblogging, Twittering, Live Podcast Production, Video Feedback.

Masterclasses include:
. Powerful Podcasts
. The Power of the Blog
. Mobile Learning – from mobile phones to the iPpod Touch
. Building up a social media presence from scratch
. How to promote your events online … on a budget
. Digital Storytelling – creating content through audio slideshows
. Using social media to tackle the learning agenda
. Getting Savvy with Social Networks
. Social Inclusion and Social Media
. How to Engage the Media

This is the opportunity for you and your colleagues to make connections,
compare, contrast and bounce ideas off other organisations. You’ll leave the
event with practical skills, fresh ideas and inspiration.

We would really appreciate it if you would forward the details of this event
to your networks and colleagues.

Best wishes

Jude Habib
Director sounddelivery
07803 721481

I love the growing interest museums have in social media. The Smithsonian Institution has been particularly active in this sphere. I recently listened to and enjoyed the Folkways Collection podcast, and there are many other podcasts to choose from. Museums twitter too, and they are worth following if you are a twitter user. Try @Smithsonian, @ManitobaMuseum, @brooklynmusem and @MuseumModernArt. I’d love to get MOA (UBC’s Museum of Anthropology) on twitter, I’ll have to remember to suggest that.

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UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage

UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, ratified by 111 states, seeks to protect intangible culture like song, dance and cultural events or festivals.

Article 1 – Purposes of the Convention

The purposes of this Convention are:

(a) to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage;

(b) to ensure respect for the intangible cultural heritage of the communities, groups and individuals concerned;

(c) to raise awareness at the local, national and international levels of the importance of the intangible cultural heritage, and of ensuring mutual appreciation thereof;

(d) to provide for international cooperation and assistance.

Article 2 – Definitions

For the purposes of this Convention,

1. The “intangible cultural heritage” means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. For the purposes of this Convention, consideration will be given solely to such intangible cultural heritage as is compatible with existing international human rights instruments, as well as with the requirements of mutual respect among communities, groups and individuals, and of sustainable development.

2. The “intangible cultural heritage”, as defined in paragraph 1 above, is manifested inter alia in the following domains:

(a) oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;

(b) performing arts;

(c) social practices, rituals and festive events;

(d) knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;

(e) traditional craftsmanship.

Along with the text of the Convention, UNESCO provides a list of masterpieces of intangible culture to be protected. One such item is the Carnaval de Oruro, the Bolivian cultural festival. This video includes some footage of dancing from the 2006 festival.

Youtuber TynansAnger, upset that UNESCO’s list included no material from the United States, made the following video suggesting the work of Andy Warhol belongs on the list.

I’d love to see some American Indian or First Nations material on the list, personally.

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Dr. Patty Gerstenblith on “The International Market in Ancient Art and Artifacts”

Case Western University in Cleveland recently posted this talk on their Youtube page. Dr. Patty Gerstenblith spoke there in January, about the looting of antiquities. It’s a long video but it’s a good overview of the state of looting and the worldwide black market of antiquities.

What particularly interested me about this talk was thinking about the differences between the repatriation of looted antiquities and the repatriation of cultural material to indigenous communities. Dr. Gerstenblith focuses on the legislation that exists to prevent the traffic of looted objects, but doesn’t really say anything about the responsibility of museums in the matter. From her talk, one gathers that looted antiquities should be returned because they are illegal, not because it is morally right for any reason.

In cases of cultural repatriation concerning indigenous communities, the moral question is usually at the forefront. Particularly here in Canada, where there is no legislation in place concerning repatriation, museums return objects because it is the right thing to do, or to seek forgiveness for past wrongs or abuses of native communities.

It strikes me that the agents seeking to repatriate antiquities like the Elgin Marbles are often countries with some measure of political pull, so legislation might just work better in those cases. Native communities still being relatively politically weak, the moral argument is a more effective one.

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Another excerpt from “The Return of Cultural Treasures” by Jeanette Greenfield

That is to say there are two approaches [to defining cultural property]: one internationalist and one nationalist. In the former case cultural property is referred to as the common heritage of mankind. This is misleading because cultural property cannot, being within any state’s sovereignty, be regarded as res nullius (property belonging to no one), or res communis (property belonging to the whole world). It is a concept which can have little bearing on the issue of the return of cultural property, because making ‘cultural property’ universal contradicts the notion of ‘return’. (365)

More on the book.

The concept of res communis leads me to the dilemma I often face when thinking about repatriation and restitution. On the one hand, I think illegally acquired cultural objects should be returned to their rightful owner(s). On the other hand, that conviction is fueled by an idea that these objects have some measure of value or significance. That has been the hardest thing for me to reconcile when thinking about these issues. I see and agree with the moral rectitude of repatriation, but the academic in me can’t help but feel the loss of potential knowledge that comes with it.

At the same time, I don’t think that the concept of a universal museum, gathering all cultural heritage under one roof for the world to see, is necessarily a good one, because I think it turns the museum into a cartoony, Epcot centre type institution. But in North American cases, like I have been looking at, repatriated objects are usually sacred, or spiritually or religiously significant, or they are associated with human remains. Which means, in many cases, that they will hidden, buried or destroyed upon return. And while I will fight to the end for the right to dispose of one’s cultural heritage as one desires, I can’t help but feel a twinge of sympathy for the scientific side of the debate.

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