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In recent years, Vatican officials, including Pope Francis, have made a number of commitments relating to reconciliation and returning Indigenous cultural belongings still held in the Vatican’s museums. Despite these pledges, a Globe and Mail investigation has found no evidence that, in the past year, the Vatican has had direct talks or repatriated anything to Inuit, Métis and First Nations groups, which are calling for their items to come home.

December 2021 – Father Nicola Mapelli, curator of Anima Mundi, the Vatican’s ethnological museum, offers to go to the Mackenzie Delta area in 2022 as part of a learning process about a Western Arctic kayak, and says that the kayak might go on tour at some point.

March 2022 – In the Vatican’s Anima Mundi museum, Father Mapelli speaks to Inuit, Métis and First Nations delegates about his desire to work with them to learn more about the artifacts from Canada and to seek their guidance about what should be returned to local communities, and what should be shared with the museum’s visitors. A statement, emailed to reporters at the time, says he has reached out to Indigenous leadership to discuss some of these items, “with additional dialogue planned.”

March 2022 – Inuit leader Natan Obed says, based on a meeting with the Vatican’s curator, that the museum is open to repatriating Indigenous items. “The curator was quite open to any scenario that we proposed, including repatriation,” he tells the CBC. “Nothing is off the table, as they have said to us.”

July 2022 Ahead of the papal visit to Canada, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni doesn’t rule out that Pope Francis might repatriate some items during the coming trip, according to press reports, telling reporters: “We’ll see what happens in the coming days.”

July 2022 During the papal visit, in Quebec City, Pope Francis says local Catholic communities are committed to promoting Indigenous cultures and customs “in the spirt of” the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This declaration includes the right to revitalize their cultural traditions, and the right to use and control their ceremonial objects.

July 2022 At the end of the papal visit, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops says it has heard, after conversations with Indigenous peoples, their calls for the the issue of Indigenous items held at the Vatican’s museum to be addressed. The Canadian bishops reiterate a pledge to “continue dialogue with Indigenous communities and engagement with the Vatican regarding artifacts.”

April 2023 Pope Francis, in answering a reporter’s question about repatriation of Indigenous items to groups in Canada, invokes one of the commandments – Thou shalt not steal – to express his agreement on the importance of restitution. “The restitution of Indigenous things: this is going on, with Canada, at least we were in agreement to do so,” he said.

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