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Searching For Our Heritage

TitleSearching For Our Heritage
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsCharlie, S., & Krahn E.
Secondary TitleInternational Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting - ICHIM07: Proceedings
Conference Start DateOctober 24-26
PublisherArchives & Museum Informatics
Place PublishedToronto, Ontario, Canada
EditorTrant, J., & Bearman D.
Keywordsartefacts, Community Informatics, database, First Nations, Information retrieval, museums, repatriation, Yukon

The Searching for Our Heritage project locates artifacts and natural history collections housed in institutions around the world that originated from Yukon. This project helps track and find these collections that were removed from Yukon. Tracking and finding these artifacts brings a lost legacy home to those eager to rediscover a cultural identity that is invaluable to their holistic well-being. Aboriginal artifacts reconnect individuals with their environment, attesting to the meaning of the artifact which then can then be incorporated into the contemporary world. The 1986 Yukon Museums Policy and System Plan Report, stated that "over half of the known artifacts and specimens of Yukon's heritage in Canadian public collections are outside of the territory." In 1987, the Yukon Heritage Branch hired students to undertake the role of identifying, documenting and further researching material based on leads provided by the Smithsonian Institute. Museum organizations were contacted and artifacts were identified. Information that was gathered was then entered onto a computer database. Over the years, records were standardized using uniform fields of information. Digital cameras and scanners were used to provide a visual record of the collections. Funding was received from the Federal Museums Assistance Program to develop the database. Since then, many more museums have been contacted and have agreed to share information and images. Funding has been received yearly through the Yukon Land Claims Implementation Fund to keep the project moving forward. Copies of this database have been shared with First Nation communities around the Yukon, along with researchers as new information is found, or additional museums participate, or the original database is updated with more photos, new copies of the updated database are sent to the communities. A Power Point background on the project was developed and delivered to various Yukon First Nation communities and other interested stakeholders. Binders containing photographs of artifacts have been compiled and shared with elders fro their input and knowledge. It is important to remember that many artifacts hold sacred or religious meaning and it is vital that they are treated with the proper respect born out of First Nation customs. The Elders are the keepers of traditional knowledge and their input is vital to identifying the contexts, social, and spiritual meaning attached to the artifacts. There is a legal obligation and responsibility to help Yukon First Nations find their lost legacy. Chapter 13.4.3 of the Yukon First Nations' Umbrella Final Agreement states that: Government, where practicable, shall assist Yukon First Nations to develop programs, staff and facilities to enable the repatriation of Moveable and Documentary Heritage Resources relating to the culture and history of Yukon Indian People which have been removed from the Yukon, or are retained at present in the Yukon, where this is consistent with the maintenance of the integrity of national or territorial collections. It is hoped that by working together, deep divisions that might arise between museums and First Nations on how to preserve First Nation artifacts, can be alleviated. It is imperative not to ignore the Aboriginal perspective on the importance of these Yukon First Nation artifacts or we run the risk of failing in our duty to assist them in safeguarding their cultural legacy. With help, and leads from the public, we can continue to locate and identify the many artifacts that have found their way into museums and private collections worldwide. In this way we are able to provide intellectual access to the legacies of the past. The briefing will also discuss the challenges related to dealing with sacred objects, copyright issues, delivery of information to aging population, literacy issues, increasing use of the web to research the information, engaging the First Nations in the process, database information transfer to the public.