The following statement was issued on April 14, 2020 by the six chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick. The Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs told CBC that the artifacts have yet to be stored or moved and they are preparing an official response to the chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation.
WOLASTOQEY TERRITORY – The six chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick are calling on Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn to kick start a process that will lead to the return of Indigenous artifacts from the New Brunswick Museum.
With the recent news of the closure of the New Brunswick Museum’s exhibition space in Market Square in Saint John, all artifacts are being boxed up for storage.
The Wolastoqey chiefs believe now is the perfect time to once again open the dialogue about reappropriating artifacts that belong to the Indigenous peoples of this land.
The chiefs are alarmed and concerned about what the closure of the museum means for these artifacts that have significant cultural value and believe it is time that they return to their rightful owners.
They will be asking officials at the New Brunswick Museum to return artifacts and other cultural resources that were housed at the museum.
The Chiefs are also calling on the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to immediately reconvene the Archaeology Bilateral Table and continue work on many important longer-term issues.
Over the past several years there has been a growing movement to see artifacts and remains returned to their Indigenous nations. Some provincial museums have already begun this process, including in British Columbia. Once a suitable location has been established to house these artifacts, the chiefs believe the provincial government should, in good faith, return these remains and artifacts to the people of the Wolastoqey Nation.
For several years, staff of Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick have had discussions with representatives of the provincial archaeological services as part of an Archaeological Bilateral Table. Both parties were working on terms of reference which included, amongst other things, a commitment for the repatriation of any archaeological resources, including human remains, from repositories in New Brunswick, other provinces and other countries. These important discussions came to halt more than a year ago when WNNB was told the provincial government was conducting an internal review of First Nation initiatives.
“We have inherited this land from our ancestors who have walked these lands for time immemorial. The sacred responsibility of caring for these artifacts lies in our hands as the beneficiaries of Wolastoq and all the lands its water touches. Our ancestors speak to us through the objects, stories and songs they have left behind,” said Chief Ross Perley of Neqotkuk First Nation.
“The thought that our culture, our history, is languishing in some basement, draped in bubble wrap, is unbearable. We have a responsibility to our past, and to our future generations, to take action.”