For the first time, the Canadian Museum of History is caring for a collection of artifacts and holding in trust for an Indigenous First Nation.
The museum signed an agreement on Tuesday with the Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik in southwestern New Brunswick to safeguard almost 200 artifacts obtained from collectors by the federal government.
The museum will hold and care for the collection until it can be relocated to New Brunswick. A selection of objects in the collection is now on view at the museum’s Resource Centre until April 2020.
“In keeping with this institution’s long history of collaboration with Indigenous communities, and in the spirit of reconciliation, we look forward to working with the Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik to research, conserve and exhibit this collection. This partnership also provides valuable opportunities to enhance our collective understanding and appreciation of Peskotomuhkati history and culture, supported by the Museum’s expertise and the traditional knowledge of the Peskotomuhkati People,” said Mark O’Neill, the museum’s president and CEO in a media release.
The artifacts come from a collection housed at a place called Camp Chiputneticook, a 1,011-hectare property and lodge on the Skutik (St. Croix) River near St. Andrews, New Brunswick. The Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik acquired these culturally significant lands in 2018. The federal government funded both purchases.
For Peskotomuhkati at Skutik Chief Hugh Akagi, “the Lodge, the lands and the collection … have created a unique opportunity for open dialogue. … This has become the foundation for moving forward into a future, freed from the need for reconciliation for a history of regret.”
He recalled in the media release and at the ceremony in the museum’s resource centre on Tuesday that “the first European settlement of French explorers in our territory in 1604, the Treaties of Peace and Friendship, and our participation in both World Wars all highlight the history we share with Canada.”
Speaking on behalf of his First Nation, Akagi said he hoped the “collection and this museum will serve as a reminder that the role played (by his people), and the sacrifices made are not to be forgotten.”
The collection includes wooden tools, beaded clothing and bags, beaded jewellery, silver jewellery, games and puzzles, bowls, drums, headdresses, canoes and woven baskets. It is one of the largest-known collections of traditional Peskotomuhkati material culture in Canada.
Akagi told ARTSFILE in an interview Tuesday that the Peskotomuhkati of Skutik have been working on this for decades.
“I have been aware of the artifacts (at Camp Chiputneticook) for about 30 years now.” But without funding there wasn’t an opportunity for the band to secure them.
He said he was told by experts that the collection was important that prompted him to begin work on saving the collection for his people.
When the federal government said they would like to get the land and the collection for the Peskotomuhkati, he said it was a “dream come true.”
He said the artifacts won’t be returning until “we are ready. Let’s be honest. I didn’t have the money to buy it. I don’t have the facility to store so I’m not going to take it back.
“I need to make sure the artifacts are safe. This is the history of the nation,” he said. They are also concrete proof of existence in that part of the world for literally thousands of years.