‘Akwiten’ canoe

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 4 (Jul/Aug 2009), Letters, Volume 17

Sir,

—Allow me to respond to your ‘Sidelines’ piece in the last issue(HI 17.3, May/June 2009). I was a member of the Maliseet-Wolastoqiyik‘Akwiten’ canoe repatriation group, along with Chief Candice Paul andother St Mary’s First Nation community members. As a dualIrish–Canadian citizen, I provided some advice on how best to proceedin Ireland. I say ‘was’ as, after your May/June issue was published,NUI Galway generously and rightly agreed to return the canoepermanently to Canada. It arrives soon in Fredericton, New Brunswick,where it was built by the Maliseet 180 years ago. It will be on displayat the Beaverbrook Art Gallery as the centerpiece of a Maliseet artexhibit this summer.
Returning heritage objects from one culture to the culture of originis, as you say, tricky. In this case, however, there was no argument.The value and spiritual significance of Akwiten to the Maliseet peopleis vastly greater than any possible value it could have in Ireland,where it would just be another foreign artefact among many. NUI Galwayrecognised this quickly and did the decent thing. So did public figuresin Ireland, including Eamon Ó Cuiv and Michael D. Higgins, whocontacted the Maliseet to indicate their support.
You mentioned the Book of Kells. This is a fair parallel in terms ofsignificance but not in terms of repatriation. Iona and Kells were partof the same culture and wider monastic community. By contrast, Akwitenmoved from one very distinct culture to another. Furthermore, theMaliseet claim that it was one of three canoes stolen at the timebefore coming into the possession—possibly through a third party—of theBritish officer who took it to Ireland. To answer your question: Wheredoes it all stop? Every repatriation request is unique and has to bejudged on its own particular merits.—Yours etc.
GERRY McALISTER
Irish Studies Programme
St Thomas University
Fredericton, New Brunswick

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