British eBay Hobbyist Called Grave Robber for Selling ‘Métis’ Items

Recently a news item was published by CBC, and sources across Canada of a “Canadian Metis Chief’s Medicine Bag, feather & stick, found on grave Batoche 1885” being offered for sale on eBay, which was met with serious backlash from the Metis community. 1 At the end of the 1960 and in the beginning of the 1970s, thefts were increasing both in museums and at archaeological sites, particularly in the countries of the South. In the North, private collectors and, sometimes, official institutions, were increasingly offered objects that had been fraudulently imported or were of unidentified origin.

It is in this context, and to address such situations, the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was created in 1970 by Unesco. As well, stated in the preamble to the Hague Convention, which Canada is party to the treaty ‘… damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world’. 2 It is unknown as to how the “culturally sensitive” artifact found on grave in Batoche came into a private collector’s possession, and speculations as to its origins being First Nation other than Metis. The term culturally sensitive broadens concepts embodied in “sacred” and “holy” to include any objects demanding special respect because of their significance within their cultural context. The object’s associations with a particular individual or group invoke protocols recognized by the whole community, which is, again, a demonstration of respect. A statement made in the news article cites that the artifact is of First Nation origins, in study of Metis history, the community embraced both worlds of our ancestors, including Medicine use. Without proper study these statements are without any basis as to origin and ownership.

At the beginning of this year Louis Riel’s artifacts who were in the possession of the Federal government in the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina, were returned, over 100 years upon their collection. As with the Bell of Batoche, the long history of the artifact begins in 1885, when it was taken to Ontario as a victory symbol by Canadian soldiers after they defeated Louis Riel’s second rebellion, also known as the North-West Rebellion. The Bell is a symbol of why we engaged in that struggle, and is very important for the Métis, we were fighting to protect our way of life, our culture, our land and resources. Our communities’ artifacts and history needs to be protected by Governments when cultural items fall into private collections in foreign countries. We will be following this story this week as the bids close soon, and hopefully it is returned to the Métis or First Nation community where it was obtained from, out of respect for our communities.

(1) Ebay Listing www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Canadian-Metis-Chiefs-Medicine-Bag-feather-stick-found-on-grave-Batoche-1885/142546052666?hash=item213068263a:g:LZ8AAOSwyGZZ6ySI

(2) The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural property en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hague_Convention_for_the_Protection_of_Cultural_Property_in_the_Event_of_Armed_Conflict

(3) Louis Riel artifacts RCMP Press Release: www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en/news/2017/rcmp-signs-agreement-metis-people-return-historical-artifacts
Poundmakers Pipe in London Museum: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/poundmaker-pipe-saskatchewan-british-museum-london-1.4080776

Click here to view the release as a downloadable PDF

2 Responses to British eBay Hobbyist Called Grave Robber for Selling ‘Métis’ Items

  1. Sharon Eyford November 1, 2017 at 11:17 am #

    Tut, is nothing sacred anymore??

    Metis Elder

  2. Bitterman November 3, 2017 at 10:15 am #

    There is no follow up to this story as of yet. Bids closed at 880 British pounds which equates to 1469.55 Canadian. It is unknown where the cultural artifact ended up.. hopefully a Metis organization put out the successful bid

    We did receive an email from Canadian heritage in regards to it’s return to Canada.

    Email:

    Your email was forwarded to me by my colleague for response. I will be happy to answer your questions.

    Thank you for your interest in preserving this valuable artifact.

    To answer your question, the Government of Canada protects the national heritage through the Cultural Property Export and Import Act (Act). Under the Act, Movable Cultural Property Grants are available to designated organizations to assist in the purchase of cultural property of outstanding significance and national importance to Canada that is the subject of an export permit that has been denied by Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board, or, is available for purchase outside the country.

    A Canadian designated organization could apply for an MCP grant towards the repatriation of the Metis Chief’s medicine bag. For more information about grant application please visit MCP grant webpage. http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1459261351822

    Please click on the blue hyperlinks to be directed to the corresponding sections of the Movable Cultural Property Website.

    If you have any other questions or comments please contact me, anytime.

    Sincerely,

    Sophia Geeves

    Program Officer

    Heritage Policy and Programs Directorate

    819-997-8466

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