A special medallion given to the first chief of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation at the signing of Treaty 8 in 1899 has been repatriated.
The treaty medallion was given to the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) in the 1970s, according to Chief Allan Adam.
It was returned to the First Nation last week.
Adam says the history of the piece holds a lot of significance for members.
We were relieved that the medallion came back to us because it was a significant event and when it was gone we had no significant symbols to honour, to reflect the meaning of the signing of Treaty 8 when it was signed in 1899, said Adam.
The sturdy medallion pictures a settler and Indigenous man shaking hands, with Queen Victoria's profile on the other side.
The artifact was returned to Elder Rene Bruno, the eldest Dene member of the community, whose own grandfather was present at the signing of Treaty 8.
Adam said the First Nation had been looking for the medallion for years. He said members called provincial officials and museums in hopes of narrowing down where it ended up.
When the medallion was returned to us, it was a significant relief for the First Nation because we had been searching for it, the chief explained
We wrote letters to the Alberta government and to the museum.
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Tanya Harnett, associate professor of Native Studies at the University of Alberta and board member of the RAM says repatriation of these pieces is essential.
Having the medallion come back to the people there means a lot because it is a recognition of a time spent establishing treaty relations.
Harnett said while these items belong to the people they came from, keeping artifacts in museums can help preserve history.
If we didn't have some things in the museum, we may not have known about them. So things like traditional ways of making things would have been lost. But the repatriation of things is important too. It's delicate, Harnett said.
Adam said he was shocked to find out the museum had eight artifacts relating to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, including the Treaty 8 medal and an associated leather strap, a Treaty 8 headman's suit, pants and jacket, two fish boxes, and a canoe.
All of the items will be gradually returned to the First Nation, Adam told CBC.
Since the items are considered fragile and significant historical pieces, the First Nation is constructing a keeping house that will be temperature controlled and secured.
The Chiefs were supposed to be in possession of the medallion, that's how it was supposed to be handed down, said Adam.
But, because of the significance of that historic medallion, we will have it within the nation itself in safekeeping.
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