I am so happy to see the book about the Blackfoot Shirts Project, Visiting with the Ancestors: Blackfoot Shirts in Museum Spaces, finally available in material form!
It is available as a gorgeous paperback, and as a FREE pdf download, from the University of Athabasca press:
Visiting with the Ancestors
Blackfoot Shirts in Museum Spaces
Laura Peers and Alison K. Brown
In 2010, five magnificent Blackfoot shirts, now in the collections of the University of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, were brought to Alberta to be exhibited at the Glenbow Museum, in Calgary, and the Galt Museum, in Lethbridge. The shirts had not returned to Blackfoot territory since 1841, when officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company acquired them. The shirts were later transported to England, where they had remained ever since.
Exhibiting the shirts at the museums was however, only one part of the project undertaken by Laura Peers and Alison Brown. Guided by the Blackfoot, the project included a process of reconnection with these important heritage items. Prior to the installation of the exhibits, groups of Blackfoot people—hundreds altogether—participated in special handling sessions, in which they were able to touch the shirts and examine them up close. Engaging with the shirts, some of which are painted with mineral pigments and adorned with porcupine quillwork and locks of human and horse hair, was a powerful experience for those who saw and touched them. Stories, knowledge and memory came together, and many participants described a powerful sense of connection with the spirits of the ancestors who made and wore the shirts.
In the pages of this beautifully illustrated volume is the story of an effort to build a bridge between museums and Indigenous communities, in hopes of establishing stronger, more sustaining relationships between the two and spurring change in museum policies. Negotiating the tension between a museum’s institutional protocol and Blackfoot cultural protocol was challenging, but the experience described both by the authors and by Blackfoot contributors to the volume was transformative. For Blackfoot people today, these shirts are a living presence, one that evokes a sense of continuity and inspires pride in Blackfoot cultural heritage.