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Mi’kmaw regalia repatriated from Australia after more than 150 years

Click to play video: 'Milbrook First Nation showcases grand reveal of century-old, traditional Mi’kmaw regalia dating back to the early 1800s'
Milbrook First Nation showcases grand reveal of century-old, traditional Mi’kmaw regalia dating back to the early 1800s
Milbrook First Nation celebrated National Indigenous People's Day with a highly anticipated unveiling of repatriated regalia from the early 1800s. As Megan King reports, the traditional items have returned to the community after more than a century on display in Australia. – Jun 21, 2023

National Indigenous People’s Day celebrations in Millbrook First Nation were marked this year with the return of a piece of Mi’kmaw heritage and culture that dates back to the nineteenth century.

“The first time I saw the regalia, pictures don’t do it justice,” said Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade. “What it represents and what it means and the artwork that’s been involved in the regalia, everything just came to life.”

Community members gathered at the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre for the unveiling of historic regalia repatriated from Australia.

The lifting of a red curtain revealed the artifacts displayed in a glass case and was received by the crowd with applause and exclamations of awe.

“It was just an overwhelming amount of happiness, sadness and such,” said the Centre’s manager Heather Stevens. “Sad because it’s been gone for so long from our people and it’s taken so long to get it back. But I’m happy and over the moon because it’s here for our people.”

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Stevens played a critical role in the regalia’s return to Mi’kma’ki land, as she retrieved the traditional pieces from Australia where it was being displayed for more than a century.

To get to that point, she had to first speak at The House of Commons of Canada, alongside former Nova Scotia Liberal MP Bill Casey, where the Australian Ambassador heard her request.

“This is an international movement now to get Indigenous artifacts back to their homes,” Casey said at the unveiling. “And this is a very profound and significant move. But it can be used as an example everywhere for our Canadian Indigenous communities, but also for communities elsewhere.”

The return marks a significant milestone in the preservation and revitalization of Mi’kmaw culture and heritage.

“When I first saw the crate I just went over and laid on it,” remembers Stevens. “Had my hands on it and I bawled, I cried. Because to me it was that, you know, we found it and it was coming home. And it was just an overwhelming amount of emotion that I had.”

Stevens was accompanied on the trip by Pipe Carrier Deanne Sack, a significant choice by Stevens to bring a team of women to retrieve the regalia that was first made by women in the 1800s.

Sack was still can’t describe the significance of how the energy felt bringing their ancestors back to Mi’kma’ki, who were stuck in Australia with the regalia for more than a century.

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“There was a time that I would have to take my kids to a place and point at the glass and say, ‘look, look at what your great grandmother made.’ Because that was the only access that we had,” Sack said.

“Now that’s not the case, because we can come into this…Heritage Centre and it’s welcoming and it’s inviting and it’s culturally competent.”

The long process to bring these artifacts home is being viewed as an awakening and celebration of culture — long overdue.

“Today represents a new beginning of bringing back the artifacts that should be rightfully on display and shared with Indigenous people,” Gloade said.

“Not only Indigenous people, but all people. And that’s what this is all about. Sharing the culture, the history and what that means.”

While the return of this regalia is welcome and celebrated, there are still many artifacts not yet back in the hands of Indigenous peoples.

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