The Searching for Our Heritage (SFOH) project locates artifacts of Yukon First Nations origin 45 years of age or older housed in institutions around the world. This project helps track and find these collections that were removed from Yukon. Tracking and finding these artifacts brings a lost legacy home to those eager to rediscover a cultural identity that is invaluable to their holistic well-being. First Nation artifacts reconnect individuals with their environment, attesting to the meaning of the artifact which can then be incorporated into the contemporary world. A collaboration of efforts by many different stakeholders, the Searching for Our Heritage Project has become an invaluable research tool for all of Yukon First Nation people and those interested in our rich cultural history.
Ongoing since 1977, this information is stored for the benefit of Yukon communities, First Nations and participating institutions. Artifacts have been collected from museums and collections around the globe. SFOH also directly assists Yukon First Nations to develop programs, staff and facilities.
The goals of this project are to:
- increase awareness of collections held outside Yukon
- share knowledge about these collections
- pass knowledge on to younger generations
- build capacity for Yukon First Nations
- Cultural rediscovery
- intellectual access
Many Aboriginal artifacts from Yukon are housed in museums and private collections worldwide. Early newcomers in the North such as traders, scientists, whalers, missionaries and ethnographers obtained artifacts and returned home with these items. Collections were gathered, traded, purchased and sometime given as gifts; however in many cases information such as materials used in the making of the artifact, or where it came from, the maker, language group and use of the artifact were not recorded. Therefore, research and investigation has been essential in this project.
Collections stored outside of Yukon represent a “lost legacy” to First Nation people living in Yukon today. Even though in many cases we cannot bring back the actual artifact, it is hoped that by cataloging the knowledge and provenance of the artifact we will help First Nations reinvigorate a cultural identity. This work falls under the principles of cultural and intellectual access.
There are many possible uses of the information being gathered such as:
- Clothing and tool making workshops
- Cultural Centre exhibits
- Yukon First Nations publications and materials
- Historical art styles and materials
In 1987, a Young Canada Works summer student corresponded with museums around the world to ask each institution what Yukon artifacts they had in their collections. Over 25 museums responded positively. Yukon artifacts have been identified in museums worldwide.
During the past 25 years funding has come from the following partners: Museum Assistance Program (MAP); Young Canada Works; Museum Program Yukon government, Arts Section and the Land Claim Implementation Fund.
In the 1990s Canada’s Museum Assistance Program funded and designed a database to collect, store and make available information. This database utilized FileMaker Pro. It soon became apparent that the system did not meet the needs of the museum community and today, the SFOH database is now online.
Today’s database assists with fulfilling the requirements of the Umbrella Final Agreement
“To promote public awareness, appreciation and understanding of all aspects of culture and heritage in the Yukon and, in particular, to respect and foster the culture and heritage of Yukon Indian People.”
Making the database accessible online gives First Nations community members, institution partners and researchers the opportunity to view and contribute to the collections online. Anyone with internet connection is able to access the database with permission.
The SFOH project thrives on partnerships, those partnerships which already exist, and those yet to come. We encourage institutions and individuals to participate in the project by donating artifact information and images to this growing online database. Individuals are encouraged to use the feedback form to provide additional information regarding artifacts, or to find and record existing artifacts at institutions outside of Yukon.
Enquires may be directed to Doug Bishop, First Nations Heritage Advisor, Yukon government, Department of Tourism and Culture Doug.Bishop@gov.yk.ca or by phone (867) 667-8905. Partner institutions will now be able to log onto the database from anywhere in the world.
The project has been active and growing for a very long time. With support from others the SFOH project will continue to be relevant and engaging far into the future.