Chelsea Meloche

PhD Candidate, George Nicholas

Areas of interest

Repatriation, Restorative Justice, Critical Cultural Heritage Studies, Collaborative and Decolonizing Research Strategies in Archaeology and Biological Anthropology, Archaeological Theory, Ethnography


  • MA: University of Windsor, 2014
  • BA: University of Windsor, 2010

PhD Defence Friday Feb 18, 2022 12:00pm, online

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What Happens Next? Exploring Connections between Repatriation, Restorative Justice, and Reconciliation in Canada


George Nicholas, Professor, Supervisor
John R. Welch, Professor, Committee Member
Natasha Lyons, Adjunct Professor, Examiner
Margaret Bruchac, Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, External Examiner
Catherine D'Andrea, Professor, Chair


The collection and use of Indigenous ancestors and their belongings for research and display in museums has contributed to losses of cultural patrimony and to the intergenerational trauma reverberating from Indigenous peoples’ experiences of colonialism. Repatriation movements, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and related Indigenous rights activism have begun to transform heritage management practices. As of 2022, in Canada and elsewhere, legislation and national policy require heritage practitioners to engage with Indigenous descendant communities and to repatriate ancestral human remains and other cultural materials.

The return of ancestors and cultural materials can remediate traumatic histories, reconnect individuals with culture and community, and serve as a form of restorative justice. However, involvement in repatriation work may also carry unanticipated challenges, including struggles with unclear policies and procedures, timelines that extend for years and decades rather than weeks and months, and high financial and spiritual burdens for descendants. Many museums also perpetuate colonial dynamics by clinging to decision-making authorities and otherwise resisting change to accommodate Indigenous values, interests, and preferences.

The three case studies presented here examine connections among repatriation, restorative justice, and reconciliation: 1) The return of a Tłı̨chǫ caribou skin lodge; 2) The reproduction of traditional Gwich’in clothing; and 3) The repatriation of ancestral human remains and other-than-human ancestors to Bkejwanong (Walpole Island First Nation). Each case scrutinizes what happened after repatriation was “completed” and identifies the effects that repatriation/rematriation processes and outcomes can and do have on Indigenous descendant communities. The cases also provide contexts for discussion of the roles that repatriation should play in ongoing reconciliation efforts here in Canada. Repatriation has the potential to be much more than a process of return. Conducted in good faith, with open minds and hearts, it can bring benefits to receiving communities across social, cultural, political, economic, and spiritual dimensions.


My dissertation project seeks to explore the effects of repatriation on receiving communities and, more generally, to consider the role of repatriation for reconciliation efforts today. My overarching research question asks what happens after a repatriation is “completed”? To explore this, I am working with several First Nations communities in Canada to examine their experiences with repatriation and the work involved. My goal for this work is to contribute to a better understanding of how both repatriation itself and the process(es) involved may affect those seeking the return of their ancestors, belongings, and cultural knowledge.

This project developed from previous work related to the 2014 repatriation of ancestors from the University of Windsor to Walpole Island First Nation (WIFN) in Ontario. From 2012–2014, I worked with members of each to facilitate the return of those ancestors, document the process of return, and consider its importance to those involved in negotiations. In June 2014, I was invited to attend the reburial ceremony alongside other representatives from the University. That the repatriation was able to be completed during my research was very fortunate as it provided me with the opportunity to witness the significant impact that it had on the community. My thesis work identified important outcomes like opportunities to share traditional knowledge across generations, create and sustain community relationships, and fulfill obligations to the ancestors, as motivations for repatriation. This work began to document the knowledge of those involved and will inform the development of an internal protocol for repatriation.


Forthcoming (Nicholas, G., C. Springer, C.H. Meloche, and L. Spake) Assessing Knowledge Mobilization and Retention in Teaching Archaeological Theory. Journal of Archaeology and Education

Forthcoming (Hogg, E.A., C.H. Meloche, G.P. Nicholas, and J.R. Welch) Whose Rights, Whose Heritage: Policy Changes in Canada. In Cultural Heritage, Rights, and Democratic Practice, edited by Jon Daehnke and Kathryn Lafrenz Samuels. University Press of Florida, Gainsville, FL.

Forthcoming (Meloche, C.H., K.L. Nichols, and E. Simons) Seeking Work Along the Collaborative Continuum: PhD Experiences with Community-oriented Archaeology in Canada. In The Community-Based PhD: Complexities and Triumphs of Conducting CBPR, edited by Alexandra McCleary and Sonya Atalay. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

2021 (Meloche, C.H., L. Spake, and K.L. Nichols, editors) Working with and for Ancestors: Collaboration in the Care and Study of Ancestral Remains. Routledge, London and New York.

2021 (Meloche, C.H., L. Spake, and K.L. Nichols, editors) Introduction—Working Together to do Better. In Working with and for Ancestors: Collaboration in the Care and Study of Ancestral Remains, edited by Chelsea H. Meloche, Laure Spake, and Katherine L. Nichols, pp. 1–17. Routledge, London and New York.

2019 (Meloche, C.H., and L. Spake) Ancestral Human Remains in Legacy Collections: Research Opportunities and Ethical Responsibility. Proceedings of the 50th Annual Chacmool Conference, Calgary, AB.


2018 (Meloche, C.H.) What Happens Next? Repatriation as an Essential Part of Reconciliation. Paper presented in the “Learning from the Ancestors II: Collaboration and Community Engagement” session at the 51st Annual Meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association, Winnipeg, MB

2017 (Meloche, C.H.) Finding Skeletons in Our Closets: Legacy Collections and Repatriation. Paper presented at the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, BC


2021 (Meloche, C.H., L. Spake, and K.L. Nichols) Research Options Factsheet. In Working with and for Ancestors: Collaboration in the Care and Study of Ancestral Remains, Appendix A.

2021 (Spake, L., C.H. Meloche, and K.L. Nichols) Questions to Inform and Guide the Collaborative Process. In Working with and for Ancestors: Collaboration in the Care and Study of Ancestral Remains, Appendix B.

2021 (Meloche, C.H., L. Spake, and K.L. Nichols) Essential Concepts and Resources for Decolonizing Work. In Working with and for Ancestors: Collaboration in the Care and Study of Ancestral Remains, Appendix A.

2021 (Meloche, C. H., L. Spake, and K.L. Nichols) Review of ‘Repatriation and Erasing the Past.’ Canadian Journal of Archaeology 45(1).

2017 (Meloche, C.H.) Review of ‘Breaking Ground: The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and the Unearthing of Tse-whit-zen Village.’ Canadian Journal of Archaeology 41(1): 128–131.

2015 (Meloche, C.H.) Returning Ancestral Remains: Lessons Learned from the Rickley Collection. Online blog post for IPinCH: Intellectual Property Rights in Cultural Heritage, November 25, 2015.