NUI GALWAY (NUIG) has announced in a statement that it is “assessing the steps it should now take”, following interest from a group of Native Americans in a canoe which the university has acted as custodian of for the past 150 years. The tribe have expressed interest in obtaining the canoe and bringing it back to their community in Canada.
The canoe, constructed by the Native American Maliseet community, is 180 years old and was donated to the university in 1852.The canoe is reportedly the world’s oldest known birch bark canoe.
It has been reported that a Native American Chief, Candice Paul of the St Mary’s First Nation Wolastokwiyk (Maliseet) community of New Brunswick, has appealed for the university to return the canoe to his community. The canoe has been in Canada for the past two years, sent temporarily by the university for conservation and to be exhibited.
Chief Candice Paul is also reported to have said that his community had not been informed of the transfer of the canoe beforehand or invited to its display. He has reportedly argued that his community had received much political support for the reparation of the canoe.
Chief Candice Paul is reported to have acknowledged the work of Dr Kathryn Moore of NUIG in conserving the canoe and said that the canoe represents a powerful and iconic symbol of the Native American way of life.
The statement released by NUIG said “Many members of staff, inspired by the personal interest and commitment of Dr Kathryn Moore, were involved in the efforts to secure its conservation over recent years.”
The university has stated that it “is fully committed to an assessment of all of the complex factors relevant to the canoe’s future and will work to achieve appropriate short-term and long-term solutions.” However, an international loan of an artefact from Irish museums requires a number of licences and the repatriation of the canoe “would require further approval at both national and EU level.”
In addition, NUIG declared that, as lengthy custodians of the artefact, they have to ensure “that any transfer of ownership should be appropriate”, citing “competing claims for the canoe from museums interested in conservation and display and from representatives of those whose ancestors built the canoe.”