Exeter to repatriate Blackfoot regalia to Siksika Nation

The regalia of Blackfoot leader Chief Crowfoot, now held at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter, will be returned to the Siksika Nation in Alberta, Canada, the Exeter City Council has decided. The regalia includes a buckskin shirt, two beaded bags, a horsewhip with beaded holsters, a knife with feather bundle and a pair of leggings.

Born in 1830, Crowfoot was a prominent Blackfoot warrior and diplomat. As chief of the Siksika Nation, he strove for peace between the peoples of the northern Great Plains and between the Blackfoot Confederacy, agents of the British government and traders like the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was instrumental in the negotiation of Treaty 7, an agreement signed by Crowfoot and other First Nations leaders in 1877 that was supposed to secure them part of their traditional lands in perpetuo and some supplies and money in exchange for allowing settlers.

Canadian officials promptly violated the terms of the treaty and by early 1882, tensions between the government/traders and the Blackfoot had escalated to the brink of violence. Crowfoot managed to stave off pitched battle and to mollify him, Lieutenant Governor Edgar Dewdney appointed a new  agent to administer the terms of Treaty 7: Cecil Denny of the North-West Mounted Police and one of the signatories on the treaty. Crowfoot knew and respected Denny and believed he would be a fair administrator, which he was, as far as that went. (Spoiler, not far at all.)

Crowfoot’s regalia are believed to have been acquired around the time of the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877. Sir Cecil Denny, 6th baronet of Tralee Castle before moving to Canada, bought them from Chief Crowfoot, but a year later they were already in Britain. Denny’s sister loaned them to RAMM in 1878. The museum bought the regalia from the Denny family for £10 in 1904 and they’ve held on tight ever since.

The Siksika have been trying since 2008 to get the regalia back. The first formal repatriation request was lodged by Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park (BCHP) in 2015. The request was supported by Alberta’s premier, but the Royal Albert Memorial Museum denied it on the grounds that the BCHP is not an accredited museum and therefore had to provide detailed conservation plans as well as information about the Nation’s governance to ensure another tribal organization wouldn’t lodge a competing claim on the objects.

After five years of wrangling, in February  RAMM suggested putting the matter of repatriation before the executive committee of Exeter’s city council. That meeting has now taken place and the council voted in favor of repatriation.

[Councillor] Rachel Sutton, Exeter City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Climate and Culture said, “When considering the claim for repatriation, the council recognised that the original injustices still reverberate today with First Nation Canadians. Giving back Crowfoot’s regalia returns control to the Siksika Nation over their cultural identity, dignity and authority and is the right thing to do.”

The objects will be repatriated to the Siksika Nation as soon as the coronavirus travel restrictions are lifted. Chief Ouray Crowfoot will go to Exeter to receive the regalia in a formal hand-over ceremony. The Siksika Nation will then transfer the regalia to the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park where it will remain on permanent loan.

Chief Crowfoot said, “As a direct descendant of the Great Chief Crowfoot, I am pleased that the regalia will be returned to its rightful home, the Siksika Nation. The returning of this regalia will contribute to healing and reconciliation and the Great Chief’s spirit can rest easy once all his belonging are gathered from the four corners of Mother Earth and returned back to his home.

“The Siksika Nation will lend Chief Crowfoot’s belongings to BCHP for display and the education of all peoples around their significance as part of world history, together with their journey to the UK and their return to the Chief’s traditional homelands.”

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