'We can learn from it': Cree grand chief asks for return of ceremonial beaded hood

The grand chief of the James Bay Cree has asked the mayor of Montreal for the return of a ceremonial hood held in the Lachine Museum since 1948.

The 160-year-old hood has been housed in Montreal's Lachine Museum since 1948

A 10-kilometre walk during a ceremony celebrating a Cree hunter's first caribou. The young hunter is in the lead with a ceremonial hood bearer in the rear. The Cree grand chief has requested the return of a 160-year-old ceremonial hood from the City of Montreal. (Submitted by the Chisasibi Heritage and Cultural Centre)

Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum has asked the mayor of Montreal to return a 160-year-old ceremonial beaded hood to the Cree Nation because it is an artifact with deep cultural and historical significance.

The beaded hood is now housed at the Lachine Museum, which has had it since it was donated in 1948 by Lachine, Que., resident Fred Russel Hamilton. The museum estimates that it was made in 1850 and belonged to Jane Gunner, wife of former chief of Mistassini Joseph Gunner.

"We can learn from it," Bosum said. "We can use it for historical and educational purposes. It's regaining a bit of our culture that we might have lost."

Bosum feels the timing is right and reuniting the artifact with the Cree people would be an opportunity for the City of Montreal to be a part of the reconciliation process, and a way of giving back to First Nation people.

According to Bosum, the hood is an important cultural artifact among many that exist outside the Cree Nation. He says bringing them home is an important step in rediscovering the ceremonies that artifacts such as the beaded hood were used in.

The grand chief said Mayor Valérie Plante has assigned the file to members of her office to process the request.

Paula Menarick of the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute displays a replica of a Cree ceremonial hood. (Submitted by the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute)

Still used today

Beverly Cox, director of the Chisasibi Heritage and Cultural Centre in the northern Cree community of Chisasibi, Que., says the hoods are an essential part of conducting Cree ceremonies and are still used today. She says the use of the hoods and the ceremonies they are used in come directly from teachings of the elders.

"It comes from the legends. Those are our instructions for celebrating life," Cox said.

Trifona Simard of the Aanischaaukamikw museum in Oujé-Bougoumou, Que., is the great-granddaughter of the original owner of the beaded hood, Jane Gunner. Simard says the hood is a part of her heritage and a direct link to her ancestors and their way of life.

 "We hope and pray that it comes back to our people," Simard said.  "Its home is here and it is something very special to me, to my family and to the Cree."