Calgary estate sale auctioning Indigenous items brings calls for repatriation

An estate sale in Calgary has hundreds of Indigenous items, including pipes, moccasins, beadwork and regalia up for auction, and is prompting calls from Indigenous youth to repatriate the items.

Collector amassed hundreds of Indigenous and 'Western' items

The information on one of the items from the Holt collection auction reads: "Sioux? Indians fully beaded vest." (Frank Hall Appraisal & Estate Sales)

An estate sale in Calgary has hundreds of Indigenous items, including pipes, moccasins, beadwork and regalia up for auction, and is prompting calls from Indigenous youth to repatriate the items.

Frank Hall Appraisals and Estate Sales is handling the sale of the Frank Holt Collection. On the auction site, it says Holt's collection includes 19th and early 20th century beaded moccasins, cradleboard, tomahawk pipes, beadwork buckskin vests, rifle sheaths, arrow cases, pouches, necklaces and chokers. Some of the items are labelled as Blackfoot, Sioux and Stoney pieces. It also includes other items like cowboy hats, leather leggings, spurs and furniture.

"This needs to stop. These items and things that are going up for sale like this... These are family stories," said Matt Provost, who is Blackfoot from Piikani Nation, and a student at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

He said he called the auction house earlier this week and left a message and got a call back the next day.

"He didn't give me his name... We were talking and I was like 'I just have some questions about the auction,'" said Provost.

Matt Provost would like to see items from Frank Holt's collection returned to First Nations in the region. (Karishma Photography)

Provost asked the man on the phone if he considered how harmful it is to Indigenous people to sell traditional items and told him that it is problematic.

He said that not too long after the conversation started, the person from the company asked him if he went to school and Provost replied yes.

"He was like 'Do you pay for your education'? And I was like 'Well I'm on scholarship from my band,'" said Provost.

"And he said, 'Well exactly. So you don't. Someone else is paying for it.' And he said 'I don't have time for this,' and he hung up."

Provost said he would like to see the items returned to the First Nations near Calgary.

Museums, collectors need to take the lead, says artist

When Seth Cardinal Dodginghorse saw the online sale, the first thing he noticed was the auction's description that reads "very fine Plains Indian material."

"Seeing the objects and then seeing how each individual item was titled, there were a few that had their nations listed and the majority of them didn't have," said Cardinal Dodginghorse.

Cardinal Dodginghorse, who is Blackfoot and Cree from Tsuut'ina Nation, is an artist who graduated from the Alberta University of the Arts.

Seth Cardinal Dodginghorse is an artist from Tsuut'ina Nation. He is holding a picture of his great-great grandmother Winnie Bull Crowchild in her regalia circa 1910, and says that some of her items have ended up in museums. (Cateri Cardinal Dodginghorse)

As someone who grew up fascinated by seeing old photos of his family in regalia, Cardinal Dodginghorse has taken it upon himself to study and research where these items have gone.

"I've been working on a film that talks about my family, repatriation and finding family objects in museums. I'm trying to understand how these things ended up in museums," said Cardinal Dodginghorse.

He said when it comes to repatriating traditional and cultural items, Indigenous people often have to reach out and put effort in to have them reclaimed. What he would like to see is an effort on the part of museums and private collectors to reach out to Indigenous nations from where the items originate.

Collector loved the 'wild west' 

The auction for the Frank Holt collection began on Tuesday. According to the auction company's website, Holt's real name was Frank Jurgen Hoeldtke, and he is listed as a "famous trick roper and movie producer."

A death notice in the Calgary Herald said Hoeldtke was born in 1937 in West Prussia and that he died on May 5, 2019. It said "his love for the wild west pervaded his entire life."

There are a few ceremonial pipes that are listed as part of the Holt collection on the auction site. (Frank Hall Appraisal & Estate Sales)

Frank Hall, the owner of the auction company, has been in the business since 1979.

He said he knew Holt personally and that he was a "very honourable guy."

Since the sale has gone live, Hall said he has been receiving a lot of phone calls.

"We have had some intelligent people call and really objectionable people who just want to rant. It's an important issue for us all," Hall said.

Hall said he knows there is criticism from the Indigenous community about the auction, but said Holt's collection "isn't that important."

He said there are more important items out there that should be repatriated, and that most of Holt's collection contains things like moccasins, which he said are often produced in high volume. 

He said a teepee from the Holt estate was returned to the Siksika Nation this week.

"It was the right thing to do. I don't speak for the estate but I advised them that it would be the right thing to do," said Hall.

Items made available to Siksika Nation

Siksika Chief Ouray Crowfoot said the First Nation purchased the teepee, but got a good deal for it. 

"It wasn't for free but I would rather risk paying a little bit right now and getting that history back, than it going up for auction, and we never know where it's at," he said.

Crowfoot said Hall contacted him before the auction went live on Tuesday and told him there were ceremonial items that would be of interest to Siksika. Hall allowed elders from Siksika to inspect them, and a handful of traditional items were repatriated back to the community.

"He did not have to do that," said Crowfoot. "I want to say thank you to Mr. Hall and his company for contacting us and repatriating them back to Siksika."

The sale will continue until Sunday.

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1