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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Church says they are gifts, indigenous people demand return

Vatican City ( Associated Press) – The Vatican Museums display some of the world’s greatest art works, from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel to Egyptian antiquities to the entire Pavilion of the Papal Carriage. It also has a small collection that is causing tension ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Canada.

The Vatican’s Anima Mundi Ethnological Museum, located next to a dining room very close to the exit, contains thousands of artifacts and artistic works by indigenous peoples from around the world, many of which were sent to Rome by Catholic missionaries in 1925 went. Demonstration in Vatican Gardens.

The Vatican says feathered headdresses, carved walrus tusks, masks and embroidered animal skins are gifts to Pope Pius XI, who wanted to celebrate the global reach of the life of the Church, its missionaries and indigenous peoples who preached .

But Indigenous organizations in Canada, whose representatives saw some of the items in the collection during a visit to the Vatican to meet with the pontiff this year, question how some of those artifacts were obtained and wonder if more are in the Vatican’s vaults. What can happen; what can be done.

Some even ask them to return.

“These objects are ours and should be returned to our country,” said Cassidy Caron, president of the Metis National Council, who led the delegation that asked the Pope for the return of the Metis artifacts.

The restoration of Indigenous and Colonial-era objects, a hot potato for museums and national collections across Europe, is one of the issues Francis will address on his trip to Canada starting Sunday.

The main purpose of the visit is to personally apologize to the pope on Canadian soil, for the misdeeds at the hands of Catholic missionaries by indigenous peoples called “residential schools”.

More than 150,000 children of Native Canadians were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools from the 19th century to the 1970s, cutting them out of their homes and separating them from their culture. The goal was to Christianize them and to include them in the society created by the Europeans.

Canada’s official policy from the late 19th to the early 20th century also sought to suppress indigenous spiritual and cultural traditions.

Government agents confiscated items used in indigenous rituals, some of which ended up in museums in Canada, Europe, and the United States, as well as private collections.

Indigenous peoples may have donated their work to Catholic missionaries for the 1925 sample, or missionaries bought them. But many historians question whether the artifacts were actually handed over of their own volition in light of the imbalance of power in Catholic missions and the Canadian government’s policy of dismantling indigenous traditions, which a Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.” ” Said.

“Given the power structure that was in place at the time, it would be very difficult for me to accept that there was no coercion in handing over these items,” said Michael Galban of the Washoe tribe. Art and Culture Center of Seneca (New York State).

Gloria Bell of the American Academy in Rome and an assistant professor in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University agreed.

Bell, of the Metis native, said, “The expression ‘gift’ hides the whole story and is finishing a book on the 1925 Exposition.” You have to question the context in which these cultural objects came to the Vatican and their relationship. for indigenous communities today.

The Mohawk filmmaker, who was a spiritual advisor to the delegation that traveled to the Vatican, said he saw objects belonging to his people that should be repatriated.

“You realize they shouldn’t be there, they don’t want to be there,” he said.

The Inuit delegation asked about an Inuit kayak from the Vatican Collection.

The Vatican Museums declined to answer questions on the subject.

Upon reopening the Anima Mondi gallery after a 2019 renovation, with artworks from Oceania and a temporary display from the Amazon, Francis said the objects were cared for “with the same passion reserved for Renaissance masterpieces and sculptures ” The immortals of the Greeks. and Roman.

Visitors certainly won’t be able to see the Anima Mundi gallery if they visit the Vatican Museums for a day. It is not listed in official guided tours or audio guides. Private guides say they rarely take people to that pavilion because there are no explanatory signs about the artifacts.

Margo Neale, who helped curate an Aboriginal art exhibition at Anima Mundi in 2010, said it was inconceivable that the Aboriginal collection did not contain informative signs.

“They are not given the respect they deserve,” said Nile, a member of the Kulin and Gumbingir nations. “They are very well presented, but being treated only as ‘foreign’ objects from other cultures diminishes their cultural value.”

In Victoria, British Columbia, Gregory Scofield assembled a collection of about 100 indigenous objects, which he acquired online or at auctions during his travels and made available to Metis scholars and artists.

Scofield, a poet and author who is about to publish “Our Grandmother’s Hands: Repatriation Metis Material Art,” said the Vatican should give indigenous scholars access to the collection and return the items.

“They tell our story,” he said. “He has the energy of a paternal grandmother.”


Associated Press religious coverage is supported through The Conversation US with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. Associated Press is solely responsible for the content.

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