In 1860, His Royal Highness Albert Edward, Prince of Wales — the eldest son of Queen Victoria was heir apparent for almost 60 years, finally becoming King in 1901 — toured North America. During a stop at Rice Like, Michi Saagiig women presented him with hand-made birch bark gifts.
Now, thanks to a $153,817 grant to Hiawatha First Nation and the Peterborough Museum & Archives from the Department of Canadian Heritage Museum Assistance Program’s Indigenous Heritage stream, these items will be returning to their ancestral home for a planned exhibition in Peterborough-Nogojiwanong in 2023.
‘To Honour and Respect: Gifts from Michi Saagiig Women to the Prince of Wales, 1860’ will facilitate the loan of a group of quilled birch bark items from the Royal Collection Trust in England, which cares for the Royal Collection and manages the public opening of the official residences of Her Majesty The Queen.
“It is so exciting to have our ancestors come back home to our First Nation, our traditional territory,” said Chief Laurie Carr of Hiawatha First Nation in a media release. “All of these gifts given to the Prince in 1860 are interwoven from our past, to our present, and into our future. The spirit of our ancestors lives in these gifts and it is such an overwhelming feeling to know that we will be able to meet them and have ceremony and bring together many generations.”
Peterborough Museum & Archives will provide a safe and accessible home for the ancestral items while they are in Canada, with Hiawatha First Nation leading all associated programming, such as workshops on quillwork, birch bark arts, and the Michi Saagiig language.
“I would like to say ‘chi-miigwetch’ to the Royal Collection Trust for working with us to have these items loaned, the Department of Canadian Heritage for the grant approval, and to the Peterborough Museum & Archives for partnering with Hiawatha to host our ancestors,” Chief Carr said.
“I would also like to acknowledge and give thanks to Dr. Lori Beavis and Dr. Laura Peers for all their hard work and dedication to have our ancestors come back home to be honoured and have ceremony with all our Michi Saagiig peoples,” Chief Carr added.
“To our sister Michi Saagiig Nations of Alderville, Curve Lake, Mississaugas of Credit, Missisaugi, and Scugog Island, we give thanks for your support and partnership in this honour of all our ancestors.”