Toronto

Pipe chief calls for Royal Ontario Museum to return Indigenous artifacts

On the eve of National Aboriginal Day, a Three Fires Confederacy Pipe Chief is demanding repatriation of sacred artifacts from the Royal Ontario Museum.

Museum says it is 'committed' to returning sacred and ceremonial objects

Nicholas Deleary is calling for the return of a pipe that descends from the Anishinaabe Three Fires Confederacy. (CBC)

On the eve of National Aboriginal Day, a Three Fires Confederacy Pipe Chief is demanding repatriation of sacred artifacts from the Royal Ontario Museum.

In particular, Nicholas Deleary is calling for the return of a peace pipe that descends from the Anishinaabe Three Fires Confederacy.

​"We want to return these to our younger people," Deleary said. "A lot of our young people don't grow up with these things in their backyard, so these objects represent our culture and are very sacred to us."

"We want to re-ignite them and put them back into circulation."

Deleary said the pipe is a very important ceremonial item. He plans to deliver the repatriation request in person to the ROM on Wednesday, which is National Aboriginal Day.

Deleary said the pipe is a very important ceremonial item. (Submitted)

"Reconciliation must go beyond paper and political cursive to real, bona fide restoration," Deleary wrote in a Facebook event for tomorrow's request. He said while the museum is making attempts at reconciliation with Indigenous communities, it's not quite enough.

"I think the ROM holds these sacred artifacts hostage," he told CBC Toronto. "They display the visual stuff — the nice stuff, the beadwork — but at the same time they're holding this particular pipe in a vault. It's not seen by anybody unless you have privilege."

On Tuesday, the ROM's deputy director of collections and research said he is looking forward to meeting with Deleary.

"[This conversation] helps us move forward with our own dialogue with how we handle these artifacts," said Mark Engstrom. "And we're committed to returning sacred and ceremonial objects to the communities in which they belong."

Engstrom said the pipe came to the museum from a donor, and it was sourced back to the Rainy River District. He confirmed the pipe is currently in the ROM's vaults.

"One of our next steps will be to contact people in the Rainy River District to see how they view the repatriation of this pipe," Engstrom told CBC Toronto.

The museum is also in what he called "active discussions" with several communities about the repatriation of various objects.

"The world's a changin' — and the ROM is changing with it," he said.

"I've heard the same thing for a while now," Deleary said in response.

There have been similar calls for the repatriation of artifacts in other Canadian provinces. Back in March, the federal government agreed to return Louis Riel's crucifix and other artifacts — which were on display at the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina — to the Métis National Council.

In 2016, the B.C. government pledged to allocate $2 million to help return First Nations artifacts from museums around the world to the province.

With files from CBC Radio's Here and Now

now