FREDERICTON — The six chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick want the return of Indigenous artifacts from the New Brunswick Museum.
In a statement Thursday, the chiefs called on Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn to begin the process of returning the unspecified items.
The museum recently announced the closure of its exhibition space in Market Square in Saint John and said artifacts were being placed in storage.
The Wolastoqey chiefs say they are concerned about what the closure means for the fate of items that have significant cultural value, adding that it’s time they are returned to their “rightful owners.”
“The thought that our culture, our history, is languishing in some basement, draped in bubble wrap, is unbearable,” Chief Ross Perley of Neqotkuk First Nation wrote. “We have a responsibility to our past, and to our future generations, to take action.”
In a statement late Thursday, the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs said they had received the request from the chiefs and a response would be shared with them in due course.
“Facilities and exhibitions renewal are a crucial phase in every institution’s operational cycle, and the New Brunswick Museum is entering into this phase,” the statement said. “Currently, museum staff are working to prepare collections for any required moves as part of this project. None of the Indigenous artifacts housed at the museum have been packed or moved.”
The premier announced a commitment to the New Brunswick Museum during his recent State of The Province address. The details have yet to be announced.
The chiefs say members of their community have held discussions dating back years with the province regarding the repatriation of artifacts, including human remains, from repositories in New Brunswick, in other provinces and around the world. They say the discussions came to a halt more than a year ago when they were told the provincial government was conducting an internal review of First Nations initiatives.
The government statement says Minister Dunn and Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture Tammy Scott-Wallace fully support reconvening the Archeology Bilateral Table, as the Wolastoqey Chiefs have requested.