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Mi'kmaq regalia to return home to Nova Scotia after 130 years in an Australian museum

A sign at the Millbrook Cultural & Heritage Centre is pictured. (Source: explorecentralns/Instagram) A sign at the Millbrook Cultural & Heritage Centre is pictured. (Source: explorecentralns/Instagram)

Mi'kmaq regalia kept in an Australian museum for more than 130 years will finally be returned to Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia -- close to where the items are believed to have been crafted by a Mi'kmaq artist in the 1800s.

Heather Stevens, manager and senior heritage interpreter with the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre, will travel to Melbourne next month and bring the regalia home.

"This is going to touch a lot of Mi'kmaq people, it's been a long journey," Stevens said in an interview Wednesday.

Work to repatriate Mi'kmaq moccasins, a jacket, a pipe and a brooch, began 12 years ago, Stevens said.

"This is a very big part of our history to bring back to our people here in Mi'kma'ki."

She said it will be incredibly meaningful to have these important pieces returned to the place near where it is believed a Mi'kmaq artist made them.

Stevens said her understanding is that Samuel Huyghue, the son of a British soldier who was born in Prince Edward Island and moved throughout the Maritimes, saw the artist's work and commissioned the pieces that are now in the Melbourne Museum.

"A woman from either Sipekne'katik or Millbrook was making the regalia .... And he saw her making it and loved it and knew that he needed it to be with him because, in his mindset, he thought he needed to save our culture and our history because he felt that it was going to go away and that he would be able to protect at least something," Stevens said of Huyghue.

Huyghue, who was a civil servant, artist and writer, kept the regalia with him when he moved to England and then to Australia in the 1850s, where he died in 1891. Upon his death, he entrusted the Mi'kmaq pieces to the Melbourne Museum, where they have been ever since.

For years, Stevens had been developing a relationship with the Museum and making a case for why the regalia should be returned to Nova Scotia. The repatriation process came with extensive paperwork and was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And next month, Stevens, accompanied by a local Mi'kmaq pipe-carrier who will perform ceremonies in Melbourne and in Nova Scotia upon the regalia's return, will make a trip to the museum and return with the pieces to Millbrook First Nation.

"It means so much to First Nations people to bring things back; this regalia actually has spirit with it. So the regalia coming back alone is not something we believe is proper," Stevens said.

"My whole outlook was that I was going down there and I was going to bring it back with me home on the same plane, the same layovers, everything."

The plan is for these items to be displayed prominently in Millbrook's cultural centre -- they will be the first items visitors see when they walk in.

"It's going to be surreal, I'll tell you that," Stevens said. "I don't know if I'll be able to hold my emotions back each time I see it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2023.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship. Top Stories

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