U of S student focusing on repatriation, returning artifacts to home communities

Micaela Champagne said archeology has a dark past where people would take items without consent. Now a University of Saskatchewan student is hoping to tell their stories and return them to their communities. 

Micaela Champagne says archeology has a dark past

Micaela Champagne is finishing up her degree in archeology with a focus on returning artifacts and remains to their original homes. (Submitted by Micaela Champagne)

Many Indigenous remains and artifacts are sitting in museums and institutions around Canada. Now a University of Saskatchewan archeology student is hoping to tell their stories and return them to their communities.

Micaela Champagne recently won a leadership award at the Indigenous Student Achievement Awards. One of her goals is to use her degree to return pieces to their rightful owners.

Champagne said archeology has a dark history.

"Not in the too far past … they thought Indigenous people were almost like an extinct civilization," Champagne told Saskatoon Morning.

She said this led archeologists to gather as many artifacts and remains as possible for study and preservation.

"Of course, Indigenous people have always been here. We are still here," she said. "It wasn't fair to have many of our ancestral remains and artifacts to be taken away from us and studied without informed consent."

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On a trip to Egypt, Micaela Champagne saw an archeological dig at King Tut's Tomb. It sparked an interest in artifacts. (Submitted by Micaela Champagne)

Returning the stolen items to their communities is also important for reconciliation, she said. Champagne said her own family has experienced generations of systematic, institutionalized racism and learning about their experiences pushed her to make things easier for the generations to come.

"My own mother, she is a fantastically strong woman, but she's definitely broken down a lot of barriers within her own workplace and personal life," Champagne said. "So I'm just hoping to do the same. And I think that this will definitely help when I'm talking about repatriation of artifacts and remains."

Champagne didn't plan to get into archeology. She started in pre-med with a goal of getting a medical degree. However, while taking some time off, she travelled to Egypt.

"I actually had witnessed a university doing some restoration on King Tut's tomb on some of the wall paintings," she said. "It kind of made me realize, 'Oh, this is potentially something that I could do, something that isn't just seen in movies.'"

Champagne returned to the U of S, took some archeology courses and "fell down that rabbit hole." She's now completing her degree. She participated in a dig in Israel and was scheduled to be in Siberia in the summer of 2020, but the project was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Micaela Champagne is an archeology student at the University of Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Micaela Champagne)

Through it all, Champagne remains focusing on doing things like her mom, "in a good way." 

"I just want to be able to honour her and all of my ancestors just in the best way possible. But I think right now [that] is to try to right some of those past wrongs, especially in a practice that was so deeply rooted in colonialism," she said. 

Champagne said she would like to see federal legislation to keep artifacts and remains in their home communities, as currently they are governed by provincial laws, she said. 

"I think we need stricter control through federal laws with harsher punishments for people who are trafficking artifacts, as well as for artifacts and remains that are in institutions abroad."

With files from Saskatoon Morning