As Indigenous people, we are all too familiar with the theft and displacement of that which is sacred to us. Across the globe, non-Aboriginal museums, art galleries, archives and private collections are filled with our totems and ceremonial regalia, even the remains of our ancestors.
The widespread theft of our sacred objects reflects a gap between Indigenous and western systems of meaning, and the way this gap manifests in law and other sites of power. During the early days of colonialism, the theft of our artifacts was seen as a way of capturing a ‘dead’ or ‘dying’ race; removal of those items, therefore, was meant to preserve or salvage remembrances of past-tense people.
Here in the present, we see that — despite the unrelenting efforts to assimilate us or obliterate our ceremonies — Indigenous peoples and cultures are thriving.