Steps Museums and Museum Professionals Can Take to Make a Difference
Reconciliation Canada held public online gatherings designed to create an understanding of the impacts of this confirmation and support the long-term healing of those affected each morning from May 29 to June 1.
Archived versions of these gatherings can be found on Reconciliation Canada’s website.
The BCMA Council and staff extend our most sincere sympathies to Indigenous communities for whom Thursday’s tragic news brings grief, trauma, and feelings of unimaginable loss.
Please note that this post will be updated as we receive feedback and learn of new resources (updated June 2, 2021).
This tragic news is an undeniable reminder of the violent genocide of Indigenous peoples and cultures upon which the nation known as Canada was founded. On a human level, it is difficult to comprehend the loss and suffering experienced by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation and to the many Nations whose children were also stolen and sent to Kamloops Indian Residential School, or, to quote the words of a survivor, “the evil place.” We extend our sympathies to all Indigenous peoples for whom this news brings up deeply traumatic memories. For settlers, confronting our colonial legacy and making meaningful steps towards truth and reconciliation can feel like an impossible task compared to the enormity of pain we have caused.
But now is not the time for inaction. There are tangible, concrete steps that museums and museum professionals can take today that can make a difference.
If you are offended, saddened, or enraged by Thursday’s news and want to do your part, here are things you can do to take action.
Mental Health and Support Resources
Please keep in mind that Thursday’s news is triggering and many survivors of residential schools and their families are experiencing tremendous grief, anguish, and anger right now. Please be empathetic when sharing news stories and if you are going to discuss this painful topic, also share the following mental health and support resources:
- A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. The emotional and crisis referral services can be accessed by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
- The Indian Residential School Survivors Society offers a crisis line for grief, crisis, and trauma counseling: 1-800-721-0066.
- For information on mental wellness and substance use, please visit: https://www.fnha.ca/what-we-do/mental-wellness-and-substance-use
- Within BC, the KUU-US Crisis Line Society provides a First Nations and Indigenous-specific crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s toll-free and can be reached at 1-800-588-8717 or online at kuu-uscrisisline.com.
The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre also maintain an excellent list of healing and wellness resources on their site if you are looking for additional support resources.
ACTIONS FOR INDIVIDUALS:
Acknowledge the Reality of the Indian Residential School System
Thursday’s news, while tragic and horrific, should not come as a surprise to Canadians. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) concluded that more than 4,100 children died in the residential school system. It is believed that the deaths of the children confirmed to be buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School were undocumented. The TRC has an on-going Missing Children Project – if you are interested in supporting this work, the TRC has a list of steps you can take on their website.
It is critical that all Canadians acknowledge the reality of the Indian Residential School System. While it can feel like Thursday’s news is un-Canadian or reflects our culture at a “dark point in our history,” the ongoing colonization of Canada is founded upon violence against Indigenous communities and violence that persists to this very day. Instead of viewing this news as an aberration, we must view this as the norm, confront our collective roles in perpetuating violence, and continue to work on reducing the harm that our society creates for Indigenous communities.
As museum professionals, we have an added responsibility to ensure that we never forget this when communicating history and heritage to our communities.
Make a Donation to an Indigenous Museum, Cultural Centre, Community, or Support Organization
COVID-19 has been incredibly hard on museums, heritage sites, and cultural spaces across Canada. If you have the financial means to make a donation to an Indigenous museum or cultural centre, your money will help ensure those organizations can continue to share their stories and support their communities.
Indigenous Tourism BC maintains a list of Indigenous cultural centres on their website, but if you are trying to donate to a specific museum or cultural centre in your community, you can also contact the BCMA (email@example.com) and we can help to connect you.
We also encourage donations to the First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation, a non-profit society and registered charity established in 2000 to preserve and revitalize British Columbia’s 34 Indigenous languages and over 90 dialects, as well as their cultural and artistic practices: http://fpcf.ca/support-us/
You may also wish to consider making a donation to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (https://www.irsss.ca/donate). IRSSS provides physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual growth, development, and healing through culturally-based values and guiding principles for Survivors, Families, and Communities.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation has now issued an official statement and noted that they welcome donations to support ongoing work related to the unmarked burial sites of Kamloops
Indian Residential School. If you are interested in making a donation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Write to your MPs, MLAs, and Elected Local Government Officials
On May 14, Jody Wilson-Raybould, Independent MP for Vancouver Granville, asked the following question in Parliament,
“Madam Speaker, speaking to the UNDRIP legislation today, the justice minister said that if Bill C-262 had not been delayed in the last Parliament, the government would be working on an action plan for its implementation. Let us not kid ourselves. The fact is the government delayed the important work of true reconciliation due to political expediency. There have been over five years of promises, and very little action on rights recognition. Bill C-15 is a small first step. Will the government stop making excuses, do its work, get its own house in order and change its laws, policies and operational practices to ensure indigenous peoples can be self-determining?”
First introduced in 2019 as a private members bill, Bill C-262 would ensure that Canada’s federal laws are consistent with UNDRIP. To date, this bill has still not been signed into law. Writing to your local Member of Parliament and requesting that Canada officially sign UNDRIP into law is one small way to take action.
To find and contact your MP, visit this directory: https://www.ourcommons.ca/members/en
The number of Indigenous ancestors held in public and private collections across Canada and around the world is currently unknown, but in BC alone, likely is in the thousands. It is critical that the Province of British Columbia provides monetary support for Indigenous communities to bring their ancestors home. If you want to make a difference in supporting the return of ancestors, write to your MLA and let them know that ongoing repatriation funding is a critical step in reconciliation.
Additionally, more research into the horrific legacies of residential schools in British Columbia is needed. There can be no reconciliation without truth and Indigenous communities require funding and the full cooperation of the Province to fully bring the true impact of residential schools to light. Consider writing to your local MLA and requesting that funding is established to support Indigenous communities to continue this research.
To find and contact your MLA, visit this directory: https://www.leg.bc.ca/learn-about-us/members
Local governments also have critical roles to play in supporting truth and reconciliation. Every local government is different, so do your research and find out where your local government stands in supporting truth and reconciliation. Does your local government have a relationship with neighbouring nations? Do your elected officials support using land acknowledgments in local government meetings? Does your local government maintain collections that house Indigenous ancestors or cultural property? If there are local issues that you can lend your voice in support of, contact your local elected representatives.
To find and contact local government officials in your community, visit this directory: https://www.civicinfo.bc.ca/
ACTIONS FOR INSTITUTIONS:
Read the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
Did you know that at the current pace of completing 2.25 Calls to Action per year, that it will take roughly 38 more years to complete the 94 Calls to Action? That means the TRC Calls to Action won’t be completed until 2057 (source). The Assembly of First Nations provides a yearly report card on the implementation of 94 Calls to Action; you can view 2020’s report here
While the 94 Calls to Action specifically note the need for a national review of museum policies and their compliance with UNDRIP, this is something all museums, large and small, should do. The Canadian Museums Association provides regular updates on their reconciliation program (Spring 2021 is available here). If you are a CMA member, it is critical that you follow these updates and urge the CMA and the Federal Government to prioritize this important work.
Provide Space to Indigenous Staff, Volunteers, and Board Members
Thursday’s news is extremely triggering for Indigenous communities. If you have Indigenous staff, volunteers, or board members make sure to provide them with as much space as they need to process the news and their feelings. Now is a difficult time, so be sure to approach your staff, volunteers, and board members with empathy and compassion.
Don’t expect Indigenous staff, volunteers, or board members to want to talk about this in the workplace and especially do not ask Indigenous members of your community to perform the difficult emotional labour of helping your organization address this news. If someone comes to you wanting to help bring your community together to work through this, support them, but do not request someone do this work because you never know how someone is working through it themselves.
Incorporate Reconciliation into Your Organizational Practices
Animikii has recently published an open-source policy guide for decolonizing statutory holidays by allowing staff to choose their own culturally significant holidays. Because this policy is open-sourced through Creative Commons, Animikii encourages organizations to incorporate the framework into their own human resource policies. Here are some resources from Animikii to help bring reconciliation into your institutional practices:
Use Your Voice and Influence to Educate Your Community
Museums play a trusted role in Canada – nearly 9 out of 10 Canadians say that they trust museums as sources of information. It is our moral obligation to use this position of trust to make our country a better place and a critical part of this responsibility is to honestly and openly confront our nation’s violent colonial legacy.
Exhibits, programs, and information that overlook colonial violence or try to “tell both sides” of residential school experiences only perpetuate this violence and bring us further from truth and further from reconciliation.
Museums and museum professionals have the responsibility of helping to shape how Canadians view our shared histories. We cannot avoid discussing difficult topics.