|A Culture of Exploitation|
Following the Canada 150 celebrations in 2017, Canada allotted millions of dollars of funding into Indigenous arts, culture, and heritage. I worked with some of Canada’s leading institutions in these fields to begin managing the funds in ways that supported the community. After all, the distribution of Indigenous arts, culture, and heritage funding was a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. But I began noticing a trend: within the institutions that applied for this support, including my previous place of work, Canadian Art: Indigenous content, curation, and programming became mere boxes to check.
In the following years, First Nation, Inuit and Métis artists grew increasingly disillusioned left wondering about the possibilities if the funding had been distributed equitably and in a way that actually benefited Indigenous communities.
Through my work with Yellowhead Institute, I have learned that Indigenous communities are still asking for accountability from Canada’s arts, heritage, and cultural institutions for this neglect; but more, there is a desire for research, advocacy, and space that supports the fight to return our cultural inheritance and appropriated cultures to the peoples they rightfully belong to.
I believe that Yellowhead Institute can step into this role.
The Cultural Centre at Yellowhead Institute
I’m honored to be joining Yellowhead Institute as Director of Culture & Heritage. Alongside the organization’s other directors and guided by the Institute’s objective to reclaim Indigenous governance of culture and heritage, I will lead pressing policy research in arts, culture, and heritage. Supported by an advisory board composed of the host communities in Toronto, I am elated to be soon opening a cultural centre at the Institute’s new space in downtown Toronto. The cultural centre at Yellowhead Institute, which is in the process of being named, will focus primarily on industry-leading digital curation and collections. It will also be host to a film and a digital art collection that the Institute will acquire over the next several years.
The centre will strive to reclaim Indigenous sovereignties in arts, culture, and heritage, and address the appropriation of Indigenous cultures within Canada’s arts and art education institutions. We will focus on curating First Nations, Inuit, and Métis artists who are deeply rooted in their communities and claimed by a valid Indigenous community in Canada. We are committed to redefining excellence in Indigenous art alongside these values; and this includes commissioning emerging artists who have been excluded from studio arts and Canadian art institutions.
The cultural centre at Yellowhead Institute is not just a gallery for Indigenous art. We want to join our colleagues at on-reserve cultural centres and northern co-ops to become an urban, Indigenous-governed centre for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis artists to influence arts, culture, and critical heritage policy, and return what is ours. Of course, there will be a queer dance party or two because our cultures are not just the art in galleries and museums.
I look forward to embarking on this work alongside the Indigenous community in Toronto and at Toronto Metropolitan University.
Dr. Jas Morgan
Culture & Heritage Director