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What happens next? Exploring connections between repatriation, restorative justice, and reconciliation in Canada

Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
The collection and use of Indigenous ancestors and their belongings for research and display in museums has contributed to losses of cultural patrimony and to the intergenerational trauma reverberating from Indigenous peoples' experiences of colonialism. Repatriation movements, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and related Indigenous rights activism have begun to transform heritage management practices. As of 2022, in Canada and elsewhere, legislation and national policy require heritage practitioners to engage with Indigenous descendant communities and to repatriate ancestral human remains and other cultural materials. The return of ancestors and cultural materials can remediate traumatic histories, reconnect individuals with culture and community, and serve as a form of restorative justice. However, involvement in repatriation work may also carry unanticipated challenges, including struggles with unclear policies and procedures, timelines that extend for years and decades rather than weeks and months, and high financial and spiritual burdens for descendants. Many museums also perpetuate colonial dynamics by clinging to decision-making authorities and otherwise resisting change to accommodate Indigenous values, interests, and preferences. The three case studies presented here examine connections among repatriation, restorative justice, and reconciliation: 1) The return of a Tłı̨chǫ caribou skin lodge; 2) The reproduction of traditional Gwich'in clothing; and 3) The repatriation of ancestral human remains and other-than-human ancestors to Bkejwanong (Walpole Island First Nation). Each case scrutinizes what happened after repatriation was "completed" and identifies the effects that repatriation/rematriation processes and outcomes can and do have on Indigenous descendant communities. The cases also provide contexts for discussion of the roles that repatriation should play in ongoing reconciliation efforts here in Canada. Repatriation has the potential to be much more than a process of return. Conducted in good faith, with open minds and hearts, it can bring benefits to receiving communities across social, cultural, political, economic, and spiritual dimensions.
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Copyright is held by the author(s).
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Nicholas, George
Member of collection
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