Why the IHC Matters – A Message from Karen Aird, President
For the past 23 years I have been fortunate to work in the heritage field, first as an archaeologist and more recently as a cultural heritage strategist. Most of my work has been with my own people in the Treaty 8 territory of BC, where I am a member of Saulteau First Nations through my mother Marlene Cameron/Desjarlais. I have also worked with the Gitxsan, Nlaka’pamux and Secwepemc in central British Columbia. I have watched the heritage field evolve over the last few decades in good ways but have been dismayed by the number of challenges related to the protection of intangible and tangible Indigenous cultural heritage that remain.
For example, in British Columbia any heritage object pre-dating 1846 is provided limited protection under the Heritage Conservation Act as a prehistoric or archaeological object. Frequently, ‘protection’ is only offered through the issuing of a permit to remove the object, not through the conservation of the object in-situ and certainly not by protecting the land itself. .
When asked to be an expert witness on behalf of Treaty 8 First Nations during the Site C Dam Environmental Panel hearings three years ago, I expressed concerns about the impact of the project on Treaty rights and heritage. The joint Federal and Provincial panel echoed the concerns, but the BC government approved the project. In addition to impacts to burial sites, traditional use sites, and intangible heritage values, over 300 archaeological sites are being destroyed by Site C proving once again that there are big gaps in legislation and processes that should protect Indigenous heritage.
After years of failing to advance Indigenous cultural heritage issues within conventional organizations and processes, it became apparent that a new approach was needed. Together with the first directors of the IHC, I agreed that it was time to set up a separate organization dedicated to Indigenous heritage.
The IHC is the only Canada-wide, inclusive (First Nations, Metis, and Inuit), not-for-profit organization dedicated to the work of advancing the identification, management, ownership and protection of Indigenous cultural heritage. The IHC describes Indigenous cultural heritage as ideas, objects, artistic expressions, practices, languages, knowledge and places that are valued because they are culturally necessary and meaningful, connected to shared memory, or linked to collective identity and life. The IHC’s concept of “heritage” is rooted in Indigenous realities rather than in standard approaches and divisions between types of heritage. Through multiple channels for dialogue and learning, the IHC hopes to serve as a trusted and inclusive organization that shares information, ideas and issues related to Indigenous cultural places, landscapes, narratives, languages, practices, traditional arts, legal traditions, protocols and collections. It aims to transform expectations about cultural heritage in Canada by making Indigenous views heard and addressed in all related issues and decisions.
This work is another real step toward meeting and fulfilling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations and acknowledgements of the importance of Indigenous heritage and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states, among other articles related to Indigenous knowledge, culture, lands and language:
Article 5: Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.
Article 31 (1): Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.
Karen Aird, President
Karen Aird is a member of Saulteau First Nations in Treaty No. 8 territory in BC. For almost 20 years, she has worked on projects that integrate stories, legal traditions and intangible and tangible elements into Indigenous cultural heritage planning. She has worked extensively with the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, the Tse’K’wa Heritage Society and the Treaty 8 Coordinating Lands Office (Nun Wadee Society). She is currently the project lead for the T’Kemlups te Secwepemc Cultural Heritage Study.
Madeleine Redfern is the current and a past Mayor of Iqaluit, recipient of an Indspire award, and strong social advocate and businessperson. Holding an LLB from the University of Victoria, she was the first Inuk to work as a clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada. She served as Executive Director of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission from 2007 to 2010, a highly regarded examination of the relationship between government and Inuit in the period from 1950-1980.
Walking in “two worlds”, Art Napoleon is as comfortable on a big city stage or boardroom as he is skinning a moose in a hailstorm with a pocketknife. Tapping into rich and profound ancestral knowledge to create sustainable and ethical alternatives for the modern world are the foundations that guide him in his many projects. A former Chief of the Saulteau First Nations in northeastern BC, Art is a conservationist, naturalist, faith–‐keeper and educator who interprets life through the holistic lens of the Cree worldview. Art also has an MA degree from the University of Victoria in Indigenous Language Revitalization, where one of his goals is to help communities revitalize endangered languages and in the wisdom embedded in these ancient languages. Art is co-host of the hit TV show “Moosemeat and Marmalade”.
Joella Hogan is a Northern Tutchone and a member of the Crow Clan. She has a Bsc in Environmental Planning and an MA in Rural and Community Planning. She currently works as the Manager of Heritage & Culture for the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun in Mayo, Yukon.
Julie Harris is a non-Indigenous heritage consultant and public historian based in Ottawa who supports the IHC in a secretarial capacity. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals.
- Don Bain
- Dr. Yvonne Boyer