A collection of Indigenous artifacts from the museum at Simon Fraser University was officially repatriated to its home communities at a ceremony on National Aboriginal Day last week.
The Tse’K’wa artifacts are part of the Donaldson collection held by the university museum and brought home to the Treaty 8 Tribal Association in the Peace River region in northeastern BC.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Diane Abel, the director of administration with Treaty 8. “We have been working towards trying to get an interpretive centre established in one of our historic sites, so basically this is the first large repatriation.”
The repatriation ceremony saw SFU’s museum director Barbara Winter in attendance to officially repatriate the artifacts.
The Tse’K’wa collection includes a multitude of stone objects, some thought to be thousands of years old, gathered by Len Donaldson over a lifetime of farming near one of the oldest archeological sites in North America.
The SFU museum accepted the Donaldson collection with the intention to return it to the north.
“Knowing that our people actually used those tools — and to be able to touch them and hold them — it just makes you think about the history, our history throughout this whole valley and the Peace River area,” Abel noted. “I think it’s important to share that and to educate people.
Formerly known as the Charlie Lake Cave archeological site, Tse’K’wa was purchased by the tribal association five years ago. It holds clues to 11,000 years of human activity and was originally excavated by SFU archeology professors Jonathan Driver and Knut Fladmark.
Treaty 8 has been working to establish the Tse’K’wa Interpretive Centre at Charlie Lake, which will become the final home for the repatriated collection of artifacts.
Abel remarked that SFU’s Jonathan Driver and Barbara Winter were instrumental in assisting with its development.
“They played a key role in getting the [artifacts] back to us and helping us with Tse’K’wa,” she said.
Students from the university catalogued the artifacts after the Donaldson collection was acquired in 2014 and prepared them for repatriation. As they organized the pieces ahead of the journey, the process was displayed in an exhibit called “Bringing the Tse’K’wa Collection Home.”
The students also developed teaching kits for use by the Treaty 8 Tribal Association to teach the lifeways of First Nations in the Peace River region.
Though the artifacts would not usually go to a museum as they weren’t collected by an archeologist, they hold a lot of significance to the communities. Not only the First Nation communities, but also Fort Saint John and Dawson Creek residents recognized how big of a deal the repatriation was, said Abel.
“When we did the ceremony on [National] Aboriginal Day, we got lots of compliments and people were excited about it,” she said. “That gets us excited because this is not just for us, it is for the people of this region.”
The treaty association is looking to bring further collections of artifacts home and work with local community members to develop their collection.