royal alberta museum
13,791,155
visitors since 1967

Ethnology: Collections

The Ethnology collections hold approximately 15,000 objects. While less than 5% are on display at any one time, the other 95% are also important, helping meet the needs of heritage preservation, communities, and researchers.

All of the objects featured here are part of our behind-the-scenes collections and are not usually on display. Click on the image or section heading for a glimpse of some of the artifacts stored in our collections cabinets.

Preservation

Baby Belt

Some objects are so delicate they can't be put on display without damaging them. The collection rooms' temperature and humidity-controlled environment protects them against deterioration. Storage inside sealed metal cabinets prevents exposure to light and insect pests.

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Community Connections

Melissa inspects a Fire Bag

The collections are an important community resource. Artists find inspiration by consulting them. Educators and students examine older styles of garments and traditional decorative arts techniques first-hand. Community youth groups make a collections tour a regular stop on their museum visits. And, every summer since 1998, the Museum has offered two intern placements for Aboriginal students. The Museum Practices internship, co-sponsored by the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation and Syncrude Canada and supervised by the Ethnology program, has introduced more than 20 First Nations and Métis students to hands-on museum practices.

The Museum, for its part, benefits from collaborative consultation with communities. First Nations and Métis advisors work with staff in developing exhibits, and Elders provide guidance on how to handle objects of spiritual significance. Museum staff and ceremonialists worked together to help draft the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act, provincial legislation that is the first of its kind in Canada, and we work collaboratively with communities on its implementation.

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Research

Nokum's Bag

The collections are an important resource for researchers. Scholars have consulted the collections while researching topics ranging from Métis clothing and decorative arts to Plains archery, Cree design traditions, and Blackfoot war art. Comparison of objects from different historic eras and communities allows researchers to discern patterns, understand how objects were made, connect objects with people, and follow changes over time.

Staff members' research has focused on hide tanning methods, the Southesk collection of mid-19th century decorative arts, and arts and crafts items made by patients at Edmonton's Charles Camsell Hospital. Our current projects include Nakoda clothing and decorative arts, the Paul Coze collection of early 20th-century material from western Canada, the historical meaning of selected objects from the collection, and the cultural significance and construction of dewclaw bags.

The Museum, for its part, benefits from collaborative consultation with communities. First Nations and Métis advisors work with staff in developing exhibits, and Elders provide guidance on how to handle objects of spiritual significance. Museum staff and ceremonialists worked together to help draft the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act, provincial legislation that is the first of its kind in Canada, and we work collaboratively with communities on its implementation.

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Objects and Stories

Katoy'is

Collections are a starting point for exploring culture and history. The objects that they hold provide tangible evidence of ways of life and systems of knowledge.

Objects also work on a personal level. They can trigger memory, spark conversation, and create connections with other people through the stories that they evoke.

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