RRFN to rebury sacred objects

Sam Odrowski

A lot can be learned from the collaborative efforts taking place between Rainy River First Nations and the Royal Ontario Museum.
The partnership started in 2016 after community elder Albert Hunter sent letters out to museums across North America in search of sacred objects and ancestors that were excavated from burial mounds at the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung and Rainy River First Nations grounds.
Some of the burial mounds date back 1,000-2,000 years, and were damaged or destroyed by Royal Ontario Museum curator Walter Kenyon in an effort to extract artifacts from 1950-70.
“In reality, the [ROM] shouldn’t have had these items in the first place and it’s something that’s actually going on all across North America,” said Kayleigh Speirs, Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung administration manager.
“Part of why we wanted to share in the process is just to educate the public about these issues,” she noted.
“I think people are just coming to realize how much stuff from communities is being held in museums.”
Since the collaborative effort began between RRFN and ROM, the museum has recognized its participation in the past excavations and acknowledged it presently houses ancestors and sacred objects from the RRFN, which will be returned after carbon dating and 3D scans occur.
It is important for people to recognize that these pieces of indigenous history were wrongfully taken and that it’s possible to get these types of things returned, said RRFN councillor Shawn Brown.
“We hope to share the awareness that it is possible to get this stuff back from museums,” he remarked.
“And for people to just know the history that’s in this area because some people aren’t aware.
“It will be a good learning tool for the historical centre,” Brown added.
The sacred objects that were taken include pottery, beads, arrowheads, burial bundles, bones, stone tools, and other artifacts.
“It’s just a bunch of stuff they found in the burial mounds,” Brown explained. “They took the whole mound apart and took whatever they found.”
Still, he’s thankful to the ROM for being so co-operative throughout this collaborative effort.
“The ROM is being so open and co-operating with our requests,” Brown said.
“I think that’s a really big part of this whole process,” he added. “To have them open, willing to share, and willing to let us take our items back.”
Speirs is grateful for the ROM’s co-operation, as well.
“Anything we need, they find a way to make it happen, so they’ve been great partners,” she remarked.
“We’re in touch with them on a regular basis and we’re just sort of figuring out some of the specifics in terms of how to actually go about the return.”
Once all the scared objects are returned, they will be placed back into the grounds where they were taken.
It is not yet confirmed whether they will be put into a new burial mound or existing ones, but members of the RRFN have agreed they should be put back into the earth.
“We have a general sense that the community would like everything to be reburied,” Speirs said. “We still have to figure out the details and specifics but we know that will be happening.”
“It’s important to let the community decide what they want done with them,” she added.
With the 3D scans, the community will be able to make replicas of the objects if they would like to create an exhibit at the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre or have a physical representation of what was reburied.
Once the ROM is finished taking 3D scans and carbon dating the artifacts, they will be returned to the RRFN, which is hoped to happen around this spring or summer.