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Should the Vatican return Indigenous artifacts to Canada?

But the Pope’s visit to Canada is shedding light on an issue that hasn’t garnered much attention: the countless Indigenous artifacts from Canada still at the Vatican.
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File photo.

Indigenous leaders say Pope Francis’ arrival in Canada and apology on Indigenous lands is a step in the right direction towards reconciliation.

But Indigenous groups across the country are wanting more than just words. They say they want to see real action.

The Vatican Museums are home to some of the most spectacular and coveted artworks in the world. But the Pope’s visit to Canada is shedding light on an issue that hasn’t garnered much attention: the countless Indigenous artifacts from Canada still at the Vatican.

“It’s a great dispute whether these were actually gifts or not,” said reconciliation consultant and speaker Kyle Mason. “A lot of us feel they were not gifts, so they should be returned to our peoples.

“They need to return what is largely considered stolen artifacts towards our peoples.”

Indigenous artist Carey Newman says it’s not known what exact Indigenous artifacts the Vatican has in its possession.

“I guess it is really hard to say what’s there and that’s why I think it is so important for them to be more willing to work with Indigenous curators, Indigenous anthropologists, Indigenous communities to allow access, to start that conversation,” said Newman.

Newman is the creator of the Witness Blanket, a large-scale art installation made from pieces of history, including items from residential schools, churches and government buildings. As an Indigenous artist, he says it is frustrating that the Vatican, up until this point, is not willing to return the art.

“What I want to see is an alignment between the words that are being spoken and the actions that we are seeing every day,” he said.

CityNews reached out to the Vatican Museums for comment but did not immediately hear back.

Mason says it’s important for the dialogue to continue beyond the Pope’s visit to Canada.

“It’s kind of rude and seems insincere if someone says, ‘I am sorry for breaking into your house and stealing this, this and this. I’m sorry about that. Oh, you want it back? No sorry, that was a gift.’”

“There’s nothing stopping them from being proactive, going above and beyond saying, ‘as a sign of good faith and a good new relationship, we would like to return these to you.’”

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