Exeter museum poised to return sacred indigenous artefacts – which belonged to tribal chief – to Cananda

Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) looks set to return sacred indigenous artefacts to the descendants of a 19th century tribal chief in Canada.  

City council bosses are poised to relinquish and repatriate the regalia back across the Atlantic to the Blackfoot Nation, also known as the Siksika.

The haul includes a buckskin shirt and leggings, a dee-hide necklace strung with grizzly bear claws, a hardwood bow and arrow, a knife with feather bundle, two beaded bags and a pair of horsewhips.

A campaign had been launched to see the belongings returned so they can be housed in a cultural and educational centre in Canada close to where the chief was buried.

The RAMM, which is owned by Exeter City Council, bought the items for £10 more than a century ago.

They were purchased from the family of Cecil Denny, an English-born member of the Canadian mounted police, who was one of the signatories of a treaty Crowfoot signed with the Crown in 1877.

Exeter City Council’s executive has been recommended to approve the relinquishment of the regalia to the Siksika Tribal Council.

In a report to members, museums manager and cultural lead Camilla Hampshire says that, to the Siksika people, the Crowfoot regalia are sacred items.

It is believed their return would allow the chief’s spirit to rest in peace and contribute to a process of healing and reconciliation.

She adds that refusing the repatriation request would leave the council liable to a large amount of negative coverage in the media.

It would also come under fire from groups who support the rights of indigenous communities in recovering cultural heritage held in UK museums.

There would be the danger of reputational damage to the RAMM – which has been regarded as a leader in the field of repatriation, says the report.

Councillor Rachel Sutton, portfolio holder for climate and culture, said: “Following our recent approach to the Siksika Nation, and with their support, we are now able to accelerate the process associated with repatriation requests and we are pleased to deal with the formal decision sooner than planned.

“I am very positive that both parties are now working together to achieve the best possible outcome.”

Chief Ouray Crowfoot, of the Siksika Nation, added: “As a direct descendant of the Great Chief Crowfoot, I very much hope that the regalia will be returned to its rightful home, the Siksika Nation.

“The returning of this regalia will contribute to healing and reconciliation and the Great Chief’s spirit can rest easy once all his belongings are gathered from the four corners of Mother Earth and returned back to his home.”

The regalia was loaned to the RAMM by Cecil Denny’s sister in 1878 and was purchased by RAMM in 1904.

Crowfoot was a chief of the Siksika First Nation and a renowned warrior and peacemaker who was held in high esteem.

When he died in 1890, some 800 members of his nation attended his funeral along with dignitaries of the colonial authority.

Cecil Edward Denny, who originally acquired the items, had fostered a relationship with Chief Crowfoot based on mutual trust.

The city council’s executive is set to consider the matter on Tuesday.

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