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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The repatriation of cultural belongings : transformations and restrictions reconsidered through DRIPA legislation Warawa, Suzen Leanne


Comments about the repatriation of Indigenous cultural belongings and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples are often heard in Canadian news and in statements and speeches from politicians at the level of municipal governments up to the Prime Minister’s Office. The repatriation of the Potlatch Collection to the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw is one of the largest and most significant returns in Canadian history. How does the historic experience of repatriation and the current governmental focus on reconciliation inform the future practice of repatriation of Indigenous cultural belongings in B.C.? This thesis will address the multiple meanings of the Potlatch Collection, transformed through historic interventions, and the limitations of decolonization as a theoretical framework for repatriation and reconciliation from an art historical and legal perspective. The most significant area of research is the data collected from individuals who generously shared their knowledge. These are people closely connected to the Potlatch Collection, currently residing at U’mista Cultural Centre, or connected with other Indigenous museums or cultural centres. This thesis aims to promote the further decolonization of repatriation practice and institutionally imposed restrictions on display and preservation of Indigenous cultural belongings in light of the recent legislation in British Columbia (B.C.), the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, R.S.B.C. 2019 (DRIPA) which adopts the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of which Article 11 relates to Indigenous Peoples’ rights to their visual art and cultural property. Current legislation (DRIPA) has far reaching implications not just for art history practice but for Indigenous Peoples’ rights to their cultural belongings. The Indigenous museum or cultural centre is a unique space that contributes to the decolonization not only of their cultural displays but of those displays of cultural belongings found in mainstream museums. There is a nexus of law and art history where DRIPA legislation and the new meaning and role of the cultural belongings of the Potlatch Collection returned to the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw can inform decolonization practices.

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