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Reconciliation in Canadian museums

Reconciliation in Canadian museums


Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, University of East Anglia, Norfolk NR4 7TJ, UNITED KINGDOM.


Since the late 1980s, Canadian museum personnel have been actively engaged in collaboration with Aboriginal communities on issues to do with exhibition design and collections management. Despite these collaborative successes, tensions between museum employees and Aboriginal community members are commonplace, indicating that problems still remain within the relationships that have developed.

This thesis examines the implications of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada for the future of museum practice. It argues that unresolved colonial trauma is preventing those in the museum field from moving past an initial phase of relationshipbuilding to a successful era of partnership. When viewed through the lens of trauma, the museum field is heavily influenced by denial on the part of museum personnel as to the extent of violence committed against Aboriginal peoples at Indian Residential Schools and the resulting level of dysfunction present in current relationships between Aboriginal communities and non-Aboriginal museum employees. I provide a revised account of Canadian history, which includes the aspects of colonialism that are most often censored, in order to situate these problems as part of the historical trauma that is deeply embedded in Canadian society itself.

John Ralston Saul's concept of the Métis nation is used as a framework for reconciliation, portraying Canada as a country that is heavily influenced by its Aboriginal origins despite the majority belief that the national culture has been derived from European social values. As a response to this proposition, the Circle is presented as the primary Canadian philosophical tenet that should guide both museum practice and Canadian society in the future.