Sask. tourists shocked to find Poundmaker's pipe in London museum

A Saskatoon-based Indigenous lawyer was “completely surprised” to come across a rare artifact from Poundmaker Cree Nation on a recent trip to the British Museum in London.

'We also wondered what kind of repatriation efforts could be undertaken,' says Donald Worme

Chief Poundmaker — a 19th century Plains Cree leader — poses with his pipe, which is now on display at the world-famous British Museum in London. (Oliver Buell/Library and Archives Canada)

A Saskatoon-based Indigenous lawyer was "completely surprised" to come across a rare artifact from Poundmaker Cree Nation on a recent trip to the world-famous British Museum in London.

Donald Worme was visiting the museum with his family when he discovered a pipe that belonged to Chief Poundmaker — a 19th-century Plains Cree leader who joined the Riel Rebellion in 1885 and died a year later.

Worme said his wife, who is from Poundmaker Cree Nation northwest of Saskatoon, was "moved to tears," by the discovery and both wondered how the pipe ended up at the museum to begin with.

"We also wondered what kind of repatriation efforts could be undertaken."
Worme says he was "completely surprised" to find the pipe at the museum. (CBC)

Not stolen, suspects First Nation

While the British Museum, as well as other institutions, has come under fire for refusing to repatriate certain artifacts that were stolen or taken without permission, the knowledge-keeper from Poundmaker Cree Nation is not immediately concerned, nor surprised, about the pipe on display.

"There are 22 museums around the world that possess some of Poundmaker's possessions," said Eric Tootoosis, adding the First Nation catalogued the location of many of Poundmaker's artifacts in the 1980s.

Though he couldn't say exactly how the pipe ended up at the museum, he suspects it was sold by Poundmaker Cree members during the early 20th century.

"The pipe is important because it will turn your words into spirited words, and the creator will hear them, but when our relatives were going through residential schools, they had that knowledge stripped away.

"They had [these artifacts] but they didn't have the protocols around, so when buyers came, the best thing to do in order to eat and provide for your family is sell them."

According to the British Museum's online curator's comments, the pipe appears to have been gifted to someone by Poundmaker at some point during his life. The pipe bowl is engraved with the following: "To Corporal E Morell Rebellion Canada 1885. From Chief Poundmaker."

Hopeful for repatriation 

While Tootoosis is relieved to know the artifacts "are preserved and safe," he's hopeful that one day they'll be returned to the First Nation.

"We have a little historical building, but it does not meet the standard display cases that can hold ancient artifacts, so we've been working diligently to have financial sources in place to build a better one.

"It would be a tremendous gesture, if we had the proper building here, to allow us to reaffirm with our foundation and to live our foundation."

with files from Tory Gillis