Stacey R. Jessiman, “The Edgy State of Decolonization at the Canadian Museum of History”

Working Abstract

The Canadian government’s colonial assimilation laws and policies with respect to Aboriginal peoples in Canada – including but not limited to the ban on cultural ceremonies and the forced removal of children to residential schools or non-indigenous families – have worked to push Aboriginal culture and identity to the precipice of existence. This paper examines whether and how the federally owned Canadian Museum of History, and its predecessor, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, have contributed to the colonial project of destroying Aboriginal culture and identity. First, it carefully examines whether the majority Conservative government’s renaming and repurposing of the museum in 2013 through amendments to the 1990 Museums Act demonstrate an intention of using the museum to continue or counteract colonial injustices. Then, highlighting current national truth-telling initiatives aimed at undoing the colonial project and reconciling Canadian society, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Idle No More movement, it analyses whether certain exhibits at the museum regarding Aboriginal peoples truthfully address colonial injustices. It also examines governance and hiring practices at the museum and the role they play in facilitating or inhibiting truth-telling. Ultimately it argues that in order to re-situate Aboriginal culture and identity within the national psyche, the museum needs to not only celebrate Aboriginal peoples’ long history and cultural achievements within the renovated multi-cultural Canada Hall at the museum, but also do more to adequately truth-tell about the injustices Aboriginal peoples have experienced, in part through ensuring Aboriginal representation among staff, management and governance at the museum.

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