Pope Francis pushes return of Indigenous artifacts

 — May 3, 20233 mai 2023

Pope Francis is getting personally involved in making sure sacred items and cultural artifacts held in the Vatican Museums are returned to Canadian Indigenous communities.

“The restitution of Indigenous things of Canada is underway, at least we agreed to do so,” Pope Francis told reporters during his news conference on the plane trip back to Rome April 30 following his papal visit to Hungary. “I will now ask how that’s going.”

Return of items from the Vatican Museums was a flashpoint in talks between Indigenous organizations and Church officials in the run-up to last year’s papal visit to Canada along with Pope Francis’ historic apology for Church complicity in Canadian policies of assimilation and cultural erasure. When Indigenous visitors to Rome were invited for a private showing of part of the Vatican Museum’s holdings, the issue of returning items from the museums only grew.

“It is imperative that the Catholic Church facilitate the return of artifacts and other items taken from Métis people and communities, which are now stored in the Vatican and other Church-run institutions,” Métis National Council president Cassidy Caron told The Catholic Register in an email.

Caron called the Pope’s remarks on repatriating Indigenous items “a positive step forward in our journey of truth, healing, justice and reconciliation.”

Read the rest of this article in the Catholic Register

Giving Indigenous people access to their own history in the form of the art and sacred objects of their ancestors could play an important role in restoring some of what was stripped away by residential schools that sought to eliminate Indigenous culture and languages, said Odawa/Ojibway elder Rosella Kinoshameg.

“They could help to instil that sense of pride that these artifacts were made by our people, by our ancestors,” said Kinoshameg. “It’s maybe something that the younger generation can pick up to carry that on.”

Kinoshameg is one of the founding members of the Guadalupe Circle, which brings together Indigenous elders from across the country with Catholic bishops.

The Indigenous heritage held in the Vatican Museums is a tiny slice of the thousands upon thousands of items held in museums across Canada and around the world. In Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario, the complications of restoring patrimony lost to Western museums was illustrated by the 2017 agreement between the Canadian War Museum and the Wikwemikong First Nation.

The Ottawa museum holds the Mookomaanish sword, worn by Chief Mookomaanish, also known as Frederic Pebamitapi, in its collection of items from the War of 1812. The War Museum acknowledged the First Nation’s right to the sword, but the community lacks a museum where it can be properly stored and displayed. The War Museum produced a replica sword for the community to use in ceremonies and educational settings, until such time as the Wikwemikong First Nation has a facility to house the item.

The Royal Ontario Museum, which has a vast collection of Indigenous cultural and sacred objects, has had a policy governing the restoration of these items to their home communities since 2001.

“It is the aim of the Royal Ontario Museum that all people have access to representation of their cultural heritage,” reads the ROM policy. “The ROM recognizes that some objects may have been acquired in circumstances which render the ROM’s title invalid.”

Pope Francis framed the issue in terms of the Seventh Commandment.

“This is the Seventh Commandment: if you have stolen something, you must give it back,” he said.

There may be circumstances where it’s difficult to do, but restoring such items to their rightful owners is the way to go, said the Pope.

“To the extent that you can return something, you should. This is good for everyone, so no one gets used to putting their hands in someone else’s pocket.”

For Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald, the Pope’s action on the museum file is one more positive step.

“We have advanced and had success on our journey with Pope Francis,” Archibald said in an email. “We asked for an apology and received his message of contrition at the Vatican and on Turtle Island. We sought an acknowledgment that genocide occurred, and he admitted that on his flight back to Rome. We petitioned for him to rescind and repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and the Vatican issued a statement of repudiation. We asked for the return of our sacred items, and they will make their way home soon.”

For the Metis, the issue is reason for continuing dialogue with the Church.

“We look forward to sitting down with representatives from the Vatican Museums to ensure that these important pieces of Métis history are returned to the communities that they are from,” said Caron.

“Inuit are optimistic that items of cultural importance may be returned to our communities,” a spokesperson for the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said in an email. “We value the relationships we have built with the Vatican Museums towards this goal. The remarks by Pope Francis are significant in that they recognize that this work is in line with Church teaching, that it is something the Vatican has agreed to do, and is a vital part of reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Metis.”

Posted: May 3, 2023 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=13652
Categories: Catholic RegisterIn this article: Indigenous peoples, Pope Francis, Reconciliation
Transmis : 3 mai 2023 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=13652
Catégorie : Catholic RegisterDans cet article : Indigenous peoples, Pope Francis, Reconciliation

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