Not many people are aware that a Cultural Institute file exists and is active. Kenny Mianscum met recently with The Nation to talk about a mutual desire—to see a Cree museum a reality. The Cultural Institute facilities are looking at the possibilities of housing a museum, a theater/stage, the CSB Cree Language Commission, the Cree Cultural Education Center and JBCCS. Kenny told us he and the working group along with Michael Lundholm are just working on the functional planning stage. This should be ready around the end of August Construction may start in the summer of 1996 with a doors opening in December 1996 at a site located in Ouje-Bougoumou. All Cree communities should see tours of Cree historical artifacts to Cree schools beginning in 1997.
Mianscum is looking at this institute as being a place all Cree and non-Natives will want to visit “I would consider it a success then,” he told The Nation, going on to say, “We can correct the past from exhibitions. It’s a chance to correct the history books.”
Mianscum said that the importance of this project cannot be overlooked as helping youth with understanding their Cree identity. “Now the youth can look at these things from our past and say it’s me and not even consider being ashamed of who or what they are because this is a direct connection to their past,” said Mianscum Mianscum is not the only one to understand the power of Cree history. Back in 1991 at a GCCQ Annual General Assembly people agreed upon the need and passed a resolution to support this. Mianscum will be going to the next AGA to give a progress report on that mandate.
Mianscum has also seen progress in the form of voluntary repatriation—the giving back of Native artifacts to the Native groups that made them—in Canada. The Museum of Civilization went even farther than just voluntary repatriation when they offered training of potential Cree museum employees. Cree representatives also met with the Quebec Minister of Culture to discuss repatriation of archeological digs that took place in James Bay during the building of La Grande. The response, Mianscum says, is positive so far.
In the United States a special act was passed concerning the repatriation of Native artifacts from museums. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was passed in 1990.
Concerning the discussions of repatriation of Aboriginal artifacts to their ancestors, Susan Shown Harjo, a Washington-based Indian rights advocate, said it best: “In these negotiations those of us on the Indian side had an image of the non-Indians not wanting us to have some of the most important things in our history and religions. And the image on the other side was no doubt us going up and down museum hallways with shopping carts.”
This was the beginning of the battle in the United States over the repatriation or giving back of Native artifacts to the people and tribes they came from. In 1990 U.S. President George Bush signed the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act While neither side was happy with the results it formed a working document people could start from. Many First Nations have used this act to reclaim their past These First Nations peoples also include Canadian groups. What Aboriginal Peoples can claim back are the bones of ancestors who can be finally and respectfully laid to rest, instead of being displayed to strangers who wouldn’t want us looking at their ancestors’ banes. Along with the bones are any items that may have been buried with the people. Another type of items that has to be returned is sacred objects. The final type of item to be returned under the U.S. law is cultural patrimony. These are things that have an on-going historical, traditional or cultural importance central to a Native American group or culture itself, rather than belonging to an individual Native American.
This act in my opinion is important It is yet another way for Crees to be true to our way of life and show respect for those who went before us. To return the bones of our ancestors to their rightful resting places.
Personally I have visited one museum to inventory Cree artifacts. There were no Cree remains in this museum but I did find a number of possible Cree artifacts that fell under the cultural patrimony portion of the American act and could possibly be reclaimed. I would encourage other people taking trips to take a little time to visit a museum and see if there are Cree artifacts on display and in storage.
It would give a helping hand to allow a Cree museum to thrive and grow. If anyone out there is interested in learning more or having their Cree artifact inventoried call Kenny Mianscum at the Ouje-Bougoumou office at (418 )745-3911 or fax (418)745-3426.