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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