Alberta Moves to Protect Indigenous Sacred Objects

Indigenous women Elders The Eagle Feathers and Smudge along with tobacco at City Hall - Image taken with permission
The Eagle Feathers and Smudge along with tobacco at Thunder Bay City Hall - Image taken with permission

Indigenous women Elders The Eagle Feathers and Smudge along with tobacco at City Hall - Image taken with permission
The Eagle Feathers and Smudge along with tobacco at Thunder Bay City Hall – Image taken with permission

EDMONTON – Alberta is taking long desired steps to protect the sacred ceremonial objects that are currently in provincial collections. “In introducing this Bill, we are signalling our government’s commitment to continue to engage and work with First Nations and Métis leaders as partners to ensure that sacred ceremonial objects currently held in provincial collections are returned. I am looking forward to hearing the input and advice from Indigenous communities in Alberta in advance of revisiting the legislation in the fall,” stated Ricardo Miranda, Minister of Culture and Tourism.

Introduction of Bill 22, An Act to Provide for the Repatriation of Indigenous Peoples’ Sacred Ceremonial Objects, is the first step  in helping to ensure that all Indigenous communities will be able to reclaim sacred ceremonial objects in provincial collections, now and in the future.

The Alberta government has begun conversations about Bill 22 with Indigenous communities across the province and will be continuing this engagement throughout the summer.

Introduction of Bill 22 has been prompted in part by a review of current statutes by Alberta Justice and Solicitor General in March 2013. The review revealed that Section 2 of the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act(FNSCORA) which previously provided the means for the repatriation of sacred ceremonial objects had not been proclaimed.

The Bill is intended to reinforce the validity of past repatriations and to allow for the development of regulations for the return of sacred ceremonial objects to all First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.

In other jurisdictions, there appears to remain confusion over how Sacred Objects are treated. This ranges from staff at airport security. Assembly of Manitoba Grand Chief Nepinak recently went through a situation where his sacred bundle was mishandled at the airport.

While the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have a policy in place on Sacred Items, other provincial police services do not yet have formal policies in place.

Quick facts

  • The First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act (FNSCORA) came into effect in 2000 as a means of returning Crown-held sacred ceremonial objects to First Nations communities. The legislation was the first of its kind in Canada.
  • At the time the Act was proclaimed, 251 objects previously considered on loan were immediately repatriated. Since then, approximately 40 additional repatriation agreements have occurred through the Blackfoot First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Regulation (proclaimed in 2004). These agreements involved hundreds of objects returned to Alberta Blackfoot First Nations from the collections of the Glenbow and Royal Alberta museums.