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Sacred headdress to be handed over to Siksika Nation delegation at Exeter’s museum

A delegation from the Siksika Nation in Canada will take possession of the ceremonial bird bundle, in the form of a headdress, in a handover event in Exeter on 5 June 2024.

Exeter, UK – A ceremonial Buffalo Woman’s Headdress, crafted with buffalo horns, sacred bird feathers, porcupine quills, and adorned with red cloth and brass bells, is finally about to be back in the safekeeping of the people from which it originated. Siksika Nation representatives, Councillor Strater Crowfoot, Councillor Marsha Wolf Collar, Kent Ayoungman, Herman Yellow Old Woman and Joset Melting Tallow have travelled to Exeter, England to repatriate a Buffalo Woman’s Headdress back to the Blackfoot tribe of Siksika Nation in a ceremony on June 5, 2024 at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM).

The ceremonial headdress has been held at RAMM in Exeter, England since 1920, when it was handed over to the Museum by Edgar Dewdney, a Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories. Although the exact means of acquisition is undocumented, it was likely acquired through the enforcement of colonial assimilation policy in connection to Treaty 7 and the Indian Act (the 1889 amendment to section 114).

Through meticulous and dedicated research, delegates from Siksika Nation, in collaboration with Kainai and Blackfeet Nations identified the headdress as a sacred ceremonial item, once traditionally worn by a holy woman of the Blackfoot Holy Buffalo Woman Society known as the Motokiks. The cultivation of a meaningful partnership with Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery has previously allowed for the repatriation of Chief Crowfoot’s regalia in 2022, and now the Buffalo Woman’s Headdress.

In September 2022, RAMM received a formal letter from the Blackfoot (Siksika) requesting an act of repatriation.

Joset Melting Tallow, of the Siksika Nation said: ‘The ceremonial Buffalo Woman’s Headdress holds immense sacred significance to the Blackfoot people. Its return to Siksika Nation symbolizes not only the preservation of our cultural heritage, but also the recognition of our history and traditions, and is a profound testament to our ancestors’ spiritual and cultural practices. We are grateful to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum for their commitment to honouring and respecting the sacredness of this headdress by facilitating its repatriation.’

Julien Parsons, RAMM’s Collections & Content Manager said: ‘The return of the ceremonial bird bundle represents a significant moment in the museum’s history and our relationship with the Siksika. Over a century after the headdress came to RAMM, we are pleased that it will be used once more for its original purpose.’

The sacred bundle is being returned to the Motokiks so that it is returned to use by the holy women who fought to protect the continuity of their culture.