Everything Returns to Earth

by nbernier_nguyen on May 4, 2017 - 8:24pm

In his article for the Edmonton Journal on First Nations artifacts, Doug Cuthand criticises the display of these artifacts and sacred relics in museums, how museum curators treat these objects and the inexact historical statements on museum displays. He begins his article with the criticism of a display on Chief Poundmaker in the British Museum, where there was a completely false statement on the individual. He proceeds to critique the British for their theft of various antiquities and sacred relics in the colonial era, such as the Elgin marbles, and the display of First Nations artifacts throughout Europe and America. From these stolen artifacts, he gives the example of the Iron Creek Meteorite and the G’psgolox pole, both revered relics stolen from their homeland. Cuthand feels that the spirituality and history of indigenous artifacts should be respected, which is rarely the case, and feels that these artifacts are rather treated like trophies of war representing the conquering of western civilization of the indigenous world. Throughout the article, Cuthand compares the view of museum curators regarding First Nation artifacts and the indigenous view of them. Museums see them as objects from the past that need to be preserved and cared for, on the opposite side, Cuthand explains that these objects have a spirituality to them and should be returned to the Earth since to indigenous culture, “life is a circle and everything eventually returns to the Earth”.

On the contrary to Cuthand, I do not feel that the exposition of First Nation relics in museums is a testament to the submission of one civilization to another, rather I believe these serve for educational purposes, a chance to look back at the past and be able to understand present day indigenous worldviews, or any type of worldview. However, to act as an educational element, facts and statements regarding these items and individuals should be exact, which was not the case with Chief Poundmaker’s exhibition in the British Museum. Although Cuthand does not explicitly state it, he believes stolen artifacts should be returned to their rightful communities. I, on the other hand, do not concur with his views. Certain relics should remain in the care of museums for their preservation as they act as a source of knowledge and an education medium to inform individuals on the past and present indigenous worldview. However, certain artifacts may be returned if the communities requested them back. With the artifacts in their hands, indigenous communities have the right to do what they deem appropriate with them, such as return them to the Earth. Nonetheless, I still believe they should negotiate with the museum to preserve the artifacts on their territory like it was done with the G’psgolox pole.

Work Cited: Cuthand, Douglas. “Revered First Nations artifacts belong with indigenous people; In Indian Country, life is seen as a circle and all things eventually return to Earth.” Edmonton Journal, Canadian Major Dailies, http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.champlaincollege.qc.ca/ canadiannewsmajor/docview/1894530885/636FB9D8BF374D65PQ/1?accountid=44391


I found this article very interesting because there have been many events in the past that have led to one side getting things that do not belong to them to be theirs. For example, back in the days when the English were conquering different parts of the world they would not care about the other people all they wanted was the power and wealth that came with destroying other societies. With the First Nations blaming the British for the loss of their sacred relics and antiques, I can see why they are angry at the British. It was in their possession before anyone had taken it away from them just like the land that they once had. It is as if everything is getting taken away from them and they are becoming the history. We are almost using them as artifacts for our knowledge with everything that we took away. I see this as stealing and my view with people stealing is that there is no point and you are not getting anything out of it except being a "dick" in my eyes. The First Nations should have the right to all the artifacts and relics that were taken for the museum should be given back. Also this might be the case of me seeing museums as boring and that it is just not my thing to go to a museum, I would much prefer to go to a reserve or a First Nations community to learn about their history.

I read your post and I liked the way you summarized the author's opinion and the way you explained yours. Your point of view is well argued and makes sense. I agree with you that indigenous artifacts are useful to inform the population about the past and the culture of first nations.
However, I have difficulty accepting the fact that some of the First Nations' antiquities were stolen. It seems as if it was perfectly normal to "steal" the belongings of a minority to inform the rest of the society. It doesn't respect the indigenous community. I believe that museums should have asked the owners of these artifacts before using them as an educational purpose. Even if some of these artifacts were stolen long ago, I think that it is the museums' duty to make sure that First Nations are comfortable with the exhibition of their antiquities. This way, the rights of the indigenous community would be respected.
With this solution comes a new issue. What would happen if the indigenous community refused to exhibit their artifacts? What would the museums do to keep the population informed about this culture?

I liked the way you introduced the author's point of view and how you analyzed it!

I strongly believe that to understand the present, we need to understand the past... Museums are a great way to let us understand the past. That's why shools visits museums with their students. It's a good way to learn and it's good for their education. Even if some communities would like to have back their artifacts, i don't think that we should automatically give them back. If they don't have the tools or places to take care of these, they sould stay in museums. These will be better treated and have an educationnal purpose that can have an impact on the population and the future generations!

But, the museum should still collaborate with these communities. What would we do if it would create tensions like in the Oka crisis in Quebec?

Hi nicolas,
I decided to comment on your article for this simple fact that your title seemed interesting with the question mark. I am in total agreement with you that the the exposition of the First Nation is impose for educational context better than a testament to the submission of one civilization to another. Museum are made so people can learn about the past troughout something a bit more entertaining than books. Exposition are something fun to watch, at the same time students can learn many thing. It's good for education and many other things. Keeping their artifact is another debate, I think museum should be the first to keep it so everyone can have equal access to it. But how can musuem work with the other communities with everyone being happy with what they have?