The Binding Nature of Borders: Exploring Sovereign versus National Borders in Indigenous Repatriation Claims

Authors: Ashleigh Breske*, Virginia Tech
Topics: Political Geography, Cultural Geography, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: Indigenous Rights, Cultural Geography, Political Geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Bacchus, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Indigenous communities in North America established traditional territories long before the US and Canada carved up the territory and established an international border. Although both countries recognize Indigenous sovereignty, traditional territorial borders conflict with national ones and this can create problems for communities that sit on both sides of the border. Indigenous communities making repatriation claims on sacred cultural objects or ancestral remains held by museums and other institutions are restricted by the border formation. A clear example of this problem is the Blackfoot Nation that has traditional territorial and sovereignty claims to both sides of the US-Canadian border. During repatriation requests from either side of the border, help must be given from the citizens of the country holding the remains/objects to make the requests based on the national (or provincial) governance rules, even though the groups view themselves as one sovereign, transnational group. Essentially, requests are not honored across the border because the governments view them as separate peoples—the governments do not recognize their traditional territorial borders. Legal experts are required to go through the proper channels to make requests and if the claim is accepted, more obstacles, and extensive costs, are in place to get sacred objects or human remains through customs (more transnational border crossing issues) and back to the community. This paper seeks to critically examine how these transnational repatriation claims can disrupt the narrative that national borders are more legitimate and binding than the traditional borders of the Blackfoot people.

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