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Digital Repatriation - A Canadian Perspective

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  • The dawn of the 21st Century has been a period of transition in Canadian museology marked by greater public awareness of the concept of Indigenous voice and cultural authority in the representation of past lifeways, increasing concerns over ownership and repatriation of artifacts, and expanding partnerships between museums and Indigenous communities. During this time Canadian museums have struggled to balance their mandate of preserving and sharing material history with the public, with the desire of Indigenous communities to retain and preserve both sacred and secular artifacts from their material past. Although digital repatriation provides Indigenous communities with an opportunity to explore previously inaccessible elements of their material culture, and to convey in their own voice the story of their past, an uncomfortable power dynamic exists. Indigenous peoples are being called upon to add content and consequently value to collections that remain the property of a culturally dominant other. While such projects claim to provide reciprocal benefits to both Indigenous communities and the cultural heritage and academic institutions that ultimately retain ownership of the artifacts, it can be argued that the relationship is not an equitable one. This essay seeks to examine the benefits and shortcomings of digital repatriation, and to explore the strategies employed by three Canadian digitization projects: the Reciprocal Research Network (RRN), the Knowledge Sharing Database (GKS) of the Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts and Cultures (GRASAC), and the Blackfoot Digital Library.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International