Canadian museums have pushed for a review of practices to empower Indigenous peoples

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dated: 2022-11-25 14:53:29 .

The Canadian Museums Association (CMA) released a landmark report calling for support for Indigenous organizations, initiatives and empowerment at all levels of museum work and in all museum positions. While the report calls for the repatriation of Indigenous property to Canadian institutions, it goes “far beyond repatriation” and includes the principle that self-determination is defined as Indigenous groups “gaining control over all rights to themselves in all aspects of their lives to govern their political, social, economic and cultural life,” says CMA communications director Rebecca MacKenzie. The report calls for legislation and funding to enable Canadian museums to better work with Indigenous peoples and align with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) of 2007. Canada is passed the law on harmonization with the declaration in 2021.

Museums should orient themselves towards indigenous peoples in the management of collections, exhibitions, daily museum work and career advancement

Rebecca MacKenzie, Canadian Association of Museums

“Every element of how museums engage in their work can impact UNDRIP,” says MacKenzie. “If the business involves tribal people, the tribal people must run that business and have authority over it. Museums should orient themselves towards indigenous peoples in the management of collections, exhibitions, daily museum work and career advancement. You may not have indigenous items in your collection, but you may be on indigenous land and indigenous peoples may come as visitors.”

The CMA wants continued, “reliable funding to Indigenous organizations and cultural centers to ensure the presence of Indigenous leadership that museums can work with,” adds MacKenzie, “and overall greater government investment” to support UNDRIP implementation.

The report is in response to a 2015 call from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) seeking federal funding for the CMA to work with Indigenous peoples to review Canadian museum policies and practices and make recommendations to museums to implement UNDRIP to become more compliant .

The CMA’s recommendations call for legislation and funding to support repatriation, the development of coherent collection strategies and a national strategy for the professional development of museum professionals to better implement the UNDRIP principles. Museums should adopt “meaningful indigenous governance with decision-making powers” rather than having only “advisory bodies”, the report said. The report is linked to Canada’s ongoing investigation into historical practices towards Indigenous peoples documented in the TRC’s 2015 findings. It found that for more than a century the country had tried to suppress Indigenous governments and rights to encourage assimilation, including boarding schools where thousands of children died in to what the TRC called “cultural genocide”. .

Repatriation remains difficult

“Museums and colonial endeavors are inextricable from erasing the history of indigenous peoples,” the CMA report said, including the “removal of indigenous ancestral remains and cultural assets”. She adds that, based on testimony from Indigenous communities and current collection data, “the frequency and quality of returns from Canadian museums is not consistent with UNDRIP” because, among other things, “the strength… [is] still owned by the museum” over policies and collections, making “repatriation” difficult for indigenous communities.

“Museums need to let go of their sense of ownership and overcome their sense of anxiety about giving up their ‘stuff,’” the report said, citing a 2021 community engagement roundtable at the Burnaby Village Museum in British Columbia, one of a series of events including Indigenous communities, Indigenous museum experts and partner institutions consulted for the report.

A 2019 government survey found that about 6.7 million Indigenous cultural objects are in heritage sites across the country — about two million each in Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec, and about 310,000 in British Columbia.

The report says items eligible for repatriation include not only ancestral remains and cultural property, but also related information such as “research findings, photographs, artworks, maps, archival documents, poems, plants, seeds, voice recordings, digital material” and anything else related to the “traditional knowledge, cultures, history and intellectual property” of indigenous peoples. Museums should recognize that “Indigenous peoples have intellectual sovereignty over all materials created by or about them,” as well as “the right to control access” to the materials.

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Canadian museums have pushed for a review of practices to empower Indigenous peoples

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