On November 3rd, the Royal BC Museum announced that it would begin closing sections of its existing galleries to embark on a process of community consultation to decolonize long-established exhibits, increase cultural safety in the museum, and ensure that the Provincial museum is a welcoming place for everyone.
The BC Museums Association (BCMA) welcomes this positive news. For decades, Indigenous advocates and members of racialized communities have called upon the Royal BC Museum and the Province of BC to take action in acknowledging and redressing harmful narratives and representations in the museum and this is welcome progress. This announcement is a critical first step in reimagining a space that has largely been static for decades.
The Royal BC Museum is a member of the BCMA and for several years the Association has had its office in the Museum – there are a great many creative, compassionate, and caring people working at the Royal BC Museum and past and current staff have also tirelessly advocated to make the institution better. We are excited to see how the Royal BC Museum team will blend their skills and ideas with community voices to reimagine the space so that more British Columbians see themselves and their stories reflected in the Museum.
Royal BC Museum CEO Daniel Muzyka, has stressed “decolonization of the museum’s galleries is important and long overdue” – the BCMA looks forward to supporting this work in any way possible and working with the Royal BC Museum to share updates, learnings, and calls to action generated through this critical work with museums, galleries, and heritage organizations across British Columbia.
BCMA’s Brain offers a collection of resources suitable for Indigenous communities, cultural centres and museums of all shapes and sizes. Help keep our collective Brain active and growing by sharing your ideas for new resources and innovative practices here.
A note from BC Museums Association Executive Director, Ryan Hunt:
On a personal note, I was born and raised in Victoria and view the exhibits at the Royal BC Museum as an essential part of the fabric of my childhood. It almost feels as if I could close my eyes and walk through the exhibits. I am nothing but excited to see what the reimagined spaces will look like. This change is long overdue. The Royal BC Museum is a platform that is viewed by millions of visitors from around the world – do we as citizens want this platform to reinforce outdated colonial narratives, or do we want to use this platform to highlight the richness of our province and help equip visitors to critically engage with our shared history?
While recent press may focus heavily on “an outcry from the public and charges of erasing history,” I urge people to reflect on what emotions tied to this announcement actually mean. As someone with a deep emotional connection to the museum, there is a part of me that is sad that exhibits I have viewed my entire life may change – it feels like a part of my childhood may be leaving and that is painful.
But this pain is eclipsed by knowing that for Indigenous communities, racialized communities, 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, and disabled communities – hundreds of thousands of British Columbians – these exhibits are a constant reminder of past and present injustices, harms, and erasures. If you fear that history may be erased through these long-overdue updates, I encourage you to reflect on who is already being erased and harmed by these decades-old exhibits.
Museums have the power to shape how communities view the past. This is a massive responsibility and as museum professionals, we have an obligation to use this power to uplift and not to oppress. I eagerly await to see how the Royal BC Museum uses its power to tell a better story for British Columbians.
If you are looking for further reading on this topic or want to access information to help reframe your understanding of the history of British Columbia, I recommend the following:
If you would like to learn more about decolonizing museums, please explore these resources:
In this two-day virtual workshop with Chris & France (Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires), we invite participants to join a support network of peers and explore how museums came to be, as well as the roles that staff and boards play in our ever-evolving museum communities.
Join Ta7talíya Nahanee and Chepximiya Siyam’ Chief Janice George for a facilitated discussion of how you can take meaningful steps to improve your practices no matter where you are in your decolonizing journey.
Koy Tayler and Leia Patterson, the BCMA’s Indigenous Engagement team, discuss some key decolonization, repatriation, and allyship resources for non-Indigenous museums and heritage organizations.
Koy Tayler and Leia Patterson, the BCMA’s Indigenous Engagement team, in Part 2 of their discussion about key decolonization, repatriation, and allyship resources for non-Indigenous museums and heritage organizations.