Historical Blackfoot artifacts to be recreated as 3D models through U of L project

A University of Lethbridge research team and some Blackfoot elders are heading to Europe to create 3D renditions of Blackfoot artifacts in European museums

University of Lethbridge research team and Blackfoot elders will journey to Europe

A rendering of an Iniskim owned by Martin Heavy Head in the 3D imaging (photogrammetry) process. (Martin Heavy Head)

A team of University of Lethbridge researchers is looking to create detailed 3D models of non-sacred Blackfoot artifacts held in European museums.

The focus is to provide virtual access to the historical Blackfoot objects that are not available in Canada.

The historical objects cannot be returned to their origins as European museums don't recognize Alberta's repatriation claims act.

Back in 2000, the province passed the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act to enable First Nations to retrieve their sacred objects from public collections and archives from museums.

As a result of the rejection, U of L researchers, in partnership with their British colleagues, found a way to create 3D models of the non-sacred materials.

Danielle Heavy Head is the Blackfoot Digital Library liaison. She's one of a group of University of Lethbridge researchers heading to London to create 3D models of non-sacred Blackfoot materials. (Ryan Heavy Head)

Elders helping

The project is federally funded by the New Frontiers in Research Fund and will receive direction from a group of Blackfoot elders.

The university research team chose several Blackfoot elders to help with the effort.

Piikani Nation elder Jerry Potts was excited to be a part of the project.

"It allows us to tell a story from a different perspective," said Potts.

Potts said the university is stepping out of the box with the project and that it's something new.

"I believe they will be getting something huge in return for it," Potts said. "The project is going to speak so much for younger people."

The 3D models will be available through the Blackfoot Digital Library website, live events and exhibitions at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

"Some of it is [artifacts] from the late 1700s and 1800s," Potts said. "It's very interesting because some of it might be ceremonial material."

Student Tyler Heaton captures images that will be processed to create a 3D model of the object at a workshop held in January. (Christine Clark)

The Piikani elder added that "some of the items are not public knowledge. The best thing we can do is to look at it including the craftsmanship that went into it."

This might be an opportunity to develop imaging around some of this material over there and might capture the style of quill work, beading, designs and age, said Potts.

Trip to England

Blackfoot elders, students and the research team will begin the project with a trip to England.

Blackfoot Digital Library liaison Danielle Heavy Head said the project is expected to take a few years to complete.

"We're going to work on this project for a few years," she said. "It's just not something we're doing with only one museum — it will be done with other museums as well."

The group will produce digital images of the artifacts from the British Museum, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, and the Horniman Museum in London.

"We have a group of elders that are deciding on what the students and artists are allowed to capture on 3D, and so we have a list of what we're going through and stuff," said Heavy Head. "We will be the ones that will be deciding on who handles what and that kind of thing."

The U of L research team, students and Blackfoot elders will head to the United Kingdom at the end of June.

With files from The Homestretch.


Livia Manywounds is a reporter with the CBC in Calgary, a rodeo competitor and a proud member of the Tsuut’ina First Nation.