Plains Cree are asking the Alberta Provincial Museum to return a 145-kilogram iron meteorite, which the Cree people call Papamihaw Asiniy. The ’flying rock’ is regarded as a sacred object.

The meteorite is the third largest in Canada.

Ron Mussieux, curator of geology at the Provincial Museum, thinks the asteroid fragment should remain at the museum.

History shows that the spiritual aspect of the rock was paramount to Plains people.

Lt.-Gen. Sir William F. Butler, a British officer commissioned to study the Canadian northwest, noted that “no tribe or portion of a tribe would pass in the vicinity without paying a visit to the great medicine” rock.

“The old medicine men declared that its removal would lead to great misfortunes, and that war, disease and death of buffalo would afflict the tribes.”

Despite the warnings, local missionaries loaded the rock onto the back of a cart and shipped it to a mission near Smoky Lake, about 135 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, in 1866.

By 1886, the meteorite was being studied at Victoria University in Cobourg, Ont. It eventually landed in an obscure corner of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, where it stayed until 1973, when it was returned to Alberta.

All three evils did befall the native people occupying the land in and around where the rock had rested: In 1869, war between the Plains Cree and Blackfoot escalated, with more than 400 people dying; the ravages of smallpox claimed the lives of 3,500 native people the following year; and that winter, hundreds died of starvation when the buffalo failed to come north.

While the Provincial Museum has yet to repatriate any items, it has sacred bundles on long-term loan to Blackfoot communities.