The Ethnology program cares for objects of cultural and historic value created by indigenous peoples of the world. Primary emphasis is on the Northern Plains and Subarctic regions of North America. Blackfoot, Cree, Dene, Nakoda, and Métis objects form the collection's greatest strengths. Objects in the collection date from the mid-1800s to the present.
Ethnology program staff played a major role in developing the Syncrude Gallery of Aboriginal Culture, a permanent gallery that opened at the Royal Alberta Museum in November 1997. Presenting an overview of 11,000 years of Aboriginal history in Alberta, the gallery showcases about 300 artifacts from the Ethnology collections. Smaller feature exhibitions recently curated by Ethnology staff include The Frontier in Bronze: Sculptures by Bob Scriver and Stories from the Southesk Collection: A 150-Year Journey. An on-line version of the latter exhibition can be viewed at: royalalbertamuseum.ca/exhibits/online/southesk/
In 2000, Alberta became the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact repatriation legislation. The First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act (FNSCORA) oversees the repatriation of sacred objects vital to ceremonial life that are held in the collections of the Glenbow and Royal Alberta Museums. Ethnology staff members helped to develop this legislation, as well as the Blackfoot First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Regulation. Both the Act and the Blackfoot Regulation were developed in close consultation with First Nations ceremonialists. To date, more than 1,200 objects have been repatriated to Alberta Blackfoot First Nations. Repatriation to non-Blackfoot First Nations awaits the development of appropriate regulations.