Bristol Museum to return caribou-hide hunting coat to Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee, Canada

Bristol Museum to return caribou-hide hunting coat to Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee, Canada

A partnership between Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute (ACCI), will see the transfer of a hunting coat from Bristol to Canada this week.

14 October 2021

A hand-painted caribou hide hunting coat from the Cree First Nation of Northern Canada will be returned to what is now known as Quebec, after being part of Bristol’s world cultures collection since the 1830-40s.

Bristol City Council took the decision to return the coat in January 2020 after receiving a letter from ACCI officially requesting the transfer of the coat into their guardianship as the cultural custodians for the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee. Initial plans to return the coat in April 2020 were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Alexander Moses, President of the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute, said:

“We are extremely pleased to have the transfer of this Painted Caribou Jacket to Aanischaaukamikw.  It represents an important part of our cultural history and will enable our people to rediscover aspects of our traditions that may have fallen out of widespread practice. Having the jacket at Aanischaaukamikw will allow our community members the ability to learn more without having to travel out of our own region. The relationship that has been built with Bristol Museum & Art Gallery through this transfer has been a wonderful experience and we look forward to future collaboration.”

Councillor Craig Cheney, Deputy Mayor of Bristol with the responsibility for Culture, said:

“It has been fantastic to work with Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute on the return of the hunting coat to Canada. The coat holds special significance for indigenous communities who are trying to rebuild their connections with their ancestors and their traditional ways of life. Returning the coat will give them the opportunity to see and engage with material that they consider of profound spiritual and emotional value. The staff at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery are committed to building relationships and collaborating with originating communities so it’s wonderful to see this hard work come to fruition.”

Such coats were made by Naskapi, Cree, Innu, and Montagnais peoples between 1700 and 1930.  During this time European fashions influenced the makers, and they adapted their traditional style and cut to reflect this. Hunting was a spiritual and vital occupation. Motifs and designs that decorated the coats would aid the hunter in their quest. The coats were often traded with or taken by outsiders.

Although records from the time are incomplete, the coat is believed to have been gifted to Bristol Museum & Art Gallery by the widow of a man called Henry Goldwyer in the 1830-40s.

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