Want to see some of the NWT’s oldest, most meaningful objects? All one needs to do is ask.
“People think these things are in a bank vault,” said Sarah Carr-Locke, director at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, in an interview last week.
“They’re in a safe place, but the reason why we have these things is so that people can see them. They’re kept in the best condition so that when researchers or artists or family members or community members want to look at those things, they’re available for them.”
Carr-Locke said anyone can contact the museum and make an appointment to see its treasures.
While communities may have troves of treasured items, documents and recordings, it can be difficult, without resources or facilities, to store and protect them. As well, it can be difficult to keep them organized so that people can access them.
Carr-Locke says this is where the museum serves a truly special purpose in the territory.
The Native Communications Society recently entrusted the museum with all its old photography and the Gwich’in Tribal Council donated a priceless trove of language and oral history to the archives.
“Our territorial archivist went up to Tsiigehtchic (to obtain the Gwich’in records) and the community requested a ceremony and a feast to turn the records over, and that was very significant to her and to myself,” said Carr-Locke.
“This community has trusted us with these things and we want to honour that by doing everything we can to keep them safe and make them accessible.”
It’s a dream job for Carr-Locke, who wrote her doctoral thesis in archaeology and museum anthropology on collaboration between Indigenous peoples and museums.
She says she always wants to reinforce that the museum may possess the items, but the community retains the rights to the content and intellectual property.
Even more importantly, if a community gets the resources to build their own archives and wants to take their records back, the museum has a repatriation policy to facilitate that transfer.
“One of the really big highlights that we have in the archaeology collection are some beautiful pieces from the Inuvialuit region, from a site called Kuukpak (near the mouth of the Mackenzie River),” said Carr-Locke.
“We’ve made some replicas and we’ve worked to bring some of those objects up north to make sure the Inuvialuit have access to that piece of their history.”
Some of these items include an 800-year-old sealskin boot, tools and harpoon heads.
“I think for a lot of the staff, it’s a huge honour to be able to work with this material and any time we have a chance to talk to community and understand from community the value and the importance of this material, it’s very humbling for us,” said Carr-Locke.
“We love doing this work.”