Native Village Youth and Education News

May1, 2009 Issue 198 Volume 1

Maliseet "grandfather canoe" comes home for visit
by OLIVER MOORE
Condensed by Native Village


New Brunswick:  It's one of the oldest birch bark canoes known to exist. The Maliseet of New Brunswick call it  "Grandfather Canoe."  It's been held at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Now the Maliseet want it back.

 "It has spiritual and significant meaning because the hands of our ancestors worked on that canoe," said G. Wayne Brooks who still builds tribal canoes in the traditional ways. "It's a very important piece of our people. It's our great-great-great grandfathers' canoe."

Grandfather Canoe was built about 200 years ago as a freight canoe. It served like an 1800s pick-up truck for for natives living along the Saint John River. "The Maliseet people are people of the river," said Candice Paul, chief of St. Mary's First Nation, one of six that comprise the Maliseet. "That canoe is our history."

That it survived this long is remarkable - birch bark canoes are sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity.
Brooks, 53, remembers the moment he learned that the canoe had returned temporarily to Canada. "I was overwhelmed, I was almost in tears," he said. "A big chill came over my body."

The Maliseet campaign to repatriate the canoe is making headway. Articles in two Irish newspapers say National University would consider the request.

"The university is assessing the steps which it should now take," the Irish Times says. "Any decision in favour of the permanent repatriation of the canoe would require further approval at both national and EU level."

Grandfather Canoe left Canada in the mid-1800s by an Irish officer who took it home. The canoe was then donated to Queen's University. After that, Grandfather Canoe was forgotten. And that might be why the delicate artifact was saved.

"It sat up in the rafters for a long time," Chief Paul said. "What they're saying is it was probably in a damp place and the humidity kept the canoe from drying out."

Grandfather Canoe is now on display at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John. The extremely fragile vessel was transported in a specially built case 8 metres long and more than 1.5 metres across and high.  It's being displayed
under carefully controlled temperature and humidity levels.

Peter Larocque, the New Brunswick museum's curator, said the canoe benefited from only being used for one generation.  "It hadn't suffered a lot," he said. "It really is a beautiful object, the lines [and] the grace, it's a masterful piece of construction."

Chief Paul and the Maliseet Nation are seeking funding for a facility to house Grandfather Canoe, along other Maliseet items, in a controlled environment.  "There's pieces of our history in basements of museums all over the world," she said. "We need our own museum to display these."

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090402.wcanoe02/BNStory/National/home

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