Founding of the IHC

From Karen Aird, the Founder of the IHC:

For the past 25 years I have been fortunate to work in the heritage field, first as an archaeologist and, more recently, as a cultural heritage manager. While I have watched the heritage field and concepts of stewardship transform and advance over the last few decades, many of the challenges related to the recognition, protection, and ownership of intangible and tangible Indigenous cultural heritage 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’ in British Columbia consists of issuing a permit to remove the object.

When asked to be an expert witness for the Treaty 8 First Nations in B.C. on the Site C Dam Environmental Panel hearings in 2012, I expressed concerns about the impact of the project to Treaty rights and heritage. The joint Federal and Provincial panel echoed the concerns, but the B.C. government approved the project. In addition to impacting burial sites, traditional use sites, and intangible heritage values, over 300 archaeological sites were destroyed.

At the same time that I watched in devastation the loss of thousands of years of heritage on the lands of my ancestors, I was fortunate to present on a Indigenous cultural Heritage panel at a national conference with three amazing women: Dr. Yvonne Boyer (appointed to the Senate of Canada in 2018); Madeleine Redfern (the former mayor of Iqaluit), and historian Julie Harris. It was the first time that Indigenous heritage had been discussed at this conference. What grew out this meeting was mutual frustration over the inequalities and lack of inclusion of Indigenous cultural heritage and a critical need to make systemic change. The four of us, we called ourselves the Conveners at that time, tried unsuccessfully to engage non-Indigenous institutions and organizations in organizing a national dialogue. We were blatantly informed by a leading heritage institution that no one would fund or be interested in such an event. We spent nearly 2 years trying to advocate for inclusion and equality, voluntarily attending numerous meetings and conferences to present on Indigenous cultural heritage. What we learned was that colonial bodies, laws, policies, and programs did not understand or have an interest in safeguarding Indigenous heritage. In the end, the only solution was to form a national, non-profit entity, the Indigenous Heritage Circle (IHC).

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