ABSTRACT

We seldom know much about their other realities, about the quite different sets of meanings attached to them within their source communities, about who the people in such photographs are to their relatives, who often recognize them and reattach biography and history to their images. This paper discusses a project in which 33 referentially anthropometric photographs of Kainai people1 in Alberta, Canada, taken in 1925 by Oxford anthropologist Beatrice Blackwood, were reattached to their contemporary meanings within the Kainai community through a visual repatriation project begun by Pitt Rivers Museum staff in 2001. For some eighty years the photographs had been thinly captioned in their ‘home’, the photographs and manuscripts department of the Pitt Rivers Museum, in ways which emphasized their intended meanings within anthropological thought: ‘Mrs Ethel Tail Feathers. Half Breed’; ‘Shot on Both Sides, Head Chief of the Bloods. Full blood’; ‘Adult male, full length, full face and profile’. When we took them back to the Kainai, though, elder Margaret Weasel Fat immediately responded,

‘What you have brought us; I would say you have brought us a lot of our history. Just by bringing these photographs…’(Margaret Weasel Fat, interview 05.12.01). ‘Our history’ – Kainai history – not anthropological history. As we have come to learn through our work with Kainai people, there are rich, deep narratives and meanings tied to these images – Kainai understandings, which have been shared with us largely for Kainai purposes. These photographs, made within outsider, scholarly, anthropological modes of thought, have ceased to be Blackwood’s images, or just the Pitt Rivers Museum’s. Instead, they have become Kainai images, with reappropriated Kainai meanings and cultural perspectives, and are now used for teaching aspects of culture and strengthening cultural identity across the community.