An Anishinaabe elder feels closer to her late parents after a museum in Winnipeg repatriated a tikinagan that was taken away from their family in the 1960s.
“My mom said I was the last baby in this tikinagan. That makes me proud to have been in this tikinagan,” said Martina Fisher.
A tikinagan is a traditional tool used by Anishinaabeg to carry infants. Fisher, who is Anishinaabe from Bloodvein First Nation, also describes it as a child’s first form of education, because they go everywhere the mother does in the community.
She recently took possession of the tikinagan that was made by her grandfather and sold to a curator from Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum around 1968.
She said that a curator travelled to Bloodvein looking for pieces for the province’s centennial anniversary, which was celebrated in 1970, and convinced her mother to sell the family heirloom for $30.
Over the years, her family knew about the piece being showcased in the museum and Fisher said that her late sister Mary Young had written letters requesting to have the item returned as early as the mid-1970s.
Fisher estimates that the tikanagan is around 85 years old and was used by half of her mother’s 23 children.
She said that her mother often talked about the tikinagan.
“I knew it was there and people were telling me it was there…. And I thought, if I go look at it, I’m going to cry and then I’d want it back. So I stayed away from it until it came to us,” said Fisher.
Fisher released a lot of tears when she found out she was going to be in possession of an item that is sacred to her and says she is grateful for the museum workers who helped with the repatriation.
“I feel a lot closer to my mom and dad because it’s part of us. It’s part of me…. It’s a puzzle that you put back,” said Fisher, who plans on keeping the tikinagan in the family’s possession.
Repatriation an act of reconciliation
Emilie Bordeleau-Laroche started working at the St. Boniface museum as a curator in September of last year and was made aware that requests were previously made for the family’s tikinagan.
She said that items that are repatriated usually have to go through a process which first starts with a community or family making official requests for items to be returned.
Bordeleau-Laroche, who is Métis from St. Boniface, said the tikinagan was likely purchased for $20 or $30 and was bought using “dodgy” business practices.
“We decided that it shouldn’t be with us and it should be with them as they’ve asked for it back,” said Bordeleau-Laroche.
Bordeleau-Laroche said that there is a larger movement to have items repatriated and said that returning items to Indigenous communities is a simple way of practicing reconciliation.
“We are admitting our fault by saying that we shouldn’t have it, and then we are giving it back to show that we have listened and that we want to partner together to make this a good relationship,” said Bordeleau-Laroche.
Fisher and the family have invited representatives from the museum to participate in a traditional welcoming home ceremony, which will take place in Winnipeg on April 16.