Unpacking the Museum Register

Institutional Memories of the Potlatch Collection Repatriation

in Museum Worlds
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ABSTRACT

Working largely from archival documents, this article examines the material traces of the confiscated and repatriated Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw potlatch collection that remains in the museum register. I unpack the museum register to demonstrate that, in lieu of a predetermined repatriation process, museum staff relied instead on existing administrative processes to navigate this largely uncharted territory of repatriation in the 1960s. These highly formalized processes or rituals served to reaffirm institutional identity in the face of an uncontrollable element—repatriation. Using the museum register, this article provides a historical lens through which to view the personal and institutional shifts that were necessary for this early repatriation to occur. The contemporary repatriation ceremonies performed by Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw peoples and the contemporary significance of the repatriated regalia in Alert Bay and Cape Mudge point to the ways repatriation processes and relationships have changed over time.

Contributor Notes

EMMA KNIGHT is Assistant Curator in Ethnology at the Royal Alberta Museum. She previously held the position of Research Assistant for the Memory, Meaning-Making and Collections project at the University of Toronto. She is coauthor with Cara Krmpotich and Heather Howard of “From Collection to Community to Collections Again: Urban Indigenous Women, Material Culture and Belonging” in the Journal of Material Culture. Her research interests include the relationships between material culture, memory, and identity, the incorporation of indigenous knowledge into museum collection catalogs, and developing long-term, meaningful research partnerships between museums and communities. E-mail: Emma.Knight@gov.ab.ca

Museum Worlds

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