When the First Nations gallery was re-developed in the late 1980s, Elders were involved in the process, providing their advice and knowledge on what was appropriate to put in the gallery. One of the things Elders asked was that the museum stop displaying First Nations sacred and ceremonial objects. The museum listened to the Elders and with their help, identified all the sacred items in the Ethnology Collection. The pipes, pipe stems, pipe bags, eagle feathers, drums and other sacred items were placed into a new collection called The Ethnology Reserve Collection. This special collection currently holds 199 items that have never been displayed again. Sixty-five percent (65%) of the collection belongs to the Treaty Four area. In the latter 1990s, Elders from a number of First Nations asked about repatriation of their sacred and ceremonial objects in the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM). The process to set up an internal policy for the care and repatriation of The Ethnology Reserve Collection began around 2004 with discussions with a number of Elders in Saskatchewan and the Elders Committee of the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Center (SICC).
A plan for meetings with traditional Elders from all the tribal councils was set up. A Museums Assistance Program grant (federal funding) was matched by the province to cover the costs for the meetings. Two sets of meetings took place during 2006 and 2007. One meeting was held at each of the tribal councils. Elders asked that the second meetings take place at the RSM in order to view the sacred objects collection. From the discussions with Elders, a policy was developed to address the future care of the 199 sacred and ceremonial items. At present, there is no space for ceremonies to take place in the building where the collection is kept. There are four options available for the continued care of the sacred objects including repatriation, co-stewardship/co-management, replication of specific items for education purposes, or simply leaving them in the continued care of the RSM is also one of the options. This flexibility was requested by the Elders. This policy is only for people and communities with direct ties to the items listed in The Ethnology Reserve Collection. A list of all 199 items and known information on them is only included with the paper copy of the policy and can be provided upon request. The policy, procedures and forms are available to view and download.
The title, “Policy for the Management and repatriation of sacred and culturally sensitive objects of Aboriginal origin in The Ethnology Reserve Collection”, purposely includes the use of the term “Aboriginal”. The collection is primarily of First Nation origin at present. However, there may be Métis items that have yet to be completely identified and who knows what future donations might contain. If donations come from other jurisdictions, perhaps international in scope, the term “Aboriginal” has been established and defined in the Canadian constitution and may help facilitate future repatriation efforts.
Elders emphasized that protocols, prayers and ceremonies were extremely important in caring for the individual items in this special collection. Anyone with connections to an item must be prepared to care for the item in the proper way if they wish to reconnect with it. This reconnection can take place on an individual or community level, perhaps even organizational, but the proper care of these very special objects is what is most important in the entire process. The RSM will continue to keep and care for the collection as long as needed.
The policy was implemented in January 2011. Paper copies of the policy with the list of sacred items are available to First Nations people who may wish to reconnect with their cultural patrimony. Contact the Aboriginal Studies Program at the RSM by phone at 306-787-1644.