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L.A. Beat

Long journey for ‘our ancestors to come and visit’ at the Galt

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It has been a long journey, over the past six years, but after a couple weeks of intensive workshops with Blackfoot people and Museum volunteers and experts, the Galt Museum has opened its doors to the public for their new exhibit ‘Our Ancestors Have Come To Visit.’
The  five  traditional  Blackfoot  shirts, collected in 1841 by Hudson’s Bay Company head  George Simpson and his Blanche Bruisedhead and Laura Peers discuss one of the shirts. Photo by Richard Ameryassistant Edward Hopkins, will be on loan to the Galt Museum until Aug. 29 through the Pitt River Museum in Oxford, England.
The five shirts  have been put on dummies in display cases which are accompanied by  booklets outlining their historical significance. In addition, the Galt has arranged to borrow two traditional Blackfoot dresses, which are  a little  younger than the shirts. And, because the shirts were traditionally worn and designed to reflect the owners’ accomplishments, modern uniforms have also been included including graduation gowns.
“It’s just  such a great feeling to see these shirts. Their contexts are magnified,” said Dr. Laura Peers, curator of Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, who who has been working with Blackfoot elders as well as  Heather Richardson and  Dr. Alison K Brown from the University of Aberdeen to bring these shirts back home for a visit. Their work is just beginning. they are working on a book about the project and the history of the shirts, which should be out around 2013.
“This project is not really about getting new knowledge about the shirts. It’s really about what  they mean to the Blackfoot people. I’ve seen  Blackfoot  people teaching each other about them. We’ve been thrilled  to have so many Blackfoot people  arriving,” Peers said.
‘The handling sessions have gone really well. There have been about 300 people  who have got to spend time with them¯” Brown said.
“ It helps that we’re so close to the Piikani reserve. We’ve had people driving out  on a whim in hopes that they would be able to see them and we‘ve been able to accommodate them. And most of the conversations have been in Blackfoot. These shirts have got people to think about the language. And that’s pretty special. There have been lots of young people,” Brown said.
The Galt museum is pretty ecstatic about the project.
“Personally I’m very, very pleased. This is a very significant event for the Galt museum,” said Galt curator Wendy Aitkens.
“They are very special to the Blackfoot people and a lot of non-native people will get to see them. I’m very excited. I’m thrilled  everybody will get to see them,”  she continued.
 The exhibit runs June 5-Aug. 29 at the Galt Museum.
— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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