Indigenous Success Stories

Museums and Archives (67-70)

Three BC Museums

February 4, 2022

Globe and Mail – Royal BC Museum, Museum of North Vancouver, Fraser River Discovery Centre
Royal BC Museum

Royal BC Museum is de-colonizing the museum, closing:

  • First Peoples Gallery, with its Indigenous artifacts lifeless behind glass
  • Our Living Languages: First Peoples’ Voices in BC, a newer exhibition that served as something of a corrective
  • Becoming BC – including Old Town, a folksy walk through British Columbia’s history

Melanie Mark, the minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, who is Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Cree and Ojibway, takes seriously the UN Declaration that states Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. Many museums are taking it seriously too. From the grand RBCM, to smaller exhibit halls around the province, museums are working toward a more authentic, inclusive, truthful way to reflect history.

“What I think is interesting is the timing of this happening at this moment in time when I’m the first and only First Nations woman to serve in cabinet,” Mark says. “What I hope to bring to the table is my own cultural lens and that commitment to share the values, the principles of ‘nothing about us without us.’”
“Indigenous people haven’t always played a role in museums that curate the artifacts, specimens, etc.,” Mark says. The more Indigenous people inhabit that role, the more influence they will have in how stories are told, she says. “And that’s why diversity at museums – the people that work there – is incredibly important.”

Museum of North Vancouver

The day before the Museum of North Vancouver opened its doors to the public in December, Monova officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding and Protocol Agreement with the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations. After the signing, participants walked out to the lobby for the unveiling of Squamish carver Wade Baker’s Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn: The Twin Sisters, and rubbed it with cedar branches.

“We say that’s awakening their spirit,” Sheryl Rivers of the Squamish Nation says. “They’re like our ancestors, so we cherish them and respect them and look upon them for prayers and strength.” Rivers is a founding member of Monova’s Indigenous Voices Advisory Committee. The memorandum sets out a roadmap for that collaboration.
In this permanent exhibition, Indigenous history is part of everything – the timeline, displays about shipbuilding, mountaineering, arts and culture.“What I love about this is that we’re integrated throughout the museum,” Rivers says. “This is the first time we’re not behind a glass case and ‘This is Squamish nation, how they lived here. This is Salish and how they lived here. This is the city of North Van and how they lived here’ – so segregated. In today’s world, we’re all interconnected. We’re all woven together.”

Fraser River Discovery Centre

Housed in a giant riverside space in New Westminster, the FRDC is a place where visitors can learn about the Fraser River: its history, its contents, its industries. FRDC’s Stephen Bruyneel, Director of External Relations and Development and Nolan Charles, a Musqueam Council Member on the FRDC’s board, began talking about making change.

The parties developed a Memorandum of Understanding that acknowledges that the Fraser River is inherently tied to Musqueam’s identity, culture and history, and that the Musqueam have historically been and continue to be stewards of the river. “It’s modern scholarship meets traditional learning,” Charles says. “When we developed the declaration, Stephen put pen to paper and put it in what I guess you could call the scholarship context. We then in turn took that, sent it to Musqueam. Musqueam then put it in a traditional context. Boom. We’ve got Tatellem, the Place of Learning.”

“The Musqueam will determine what this looks like, what the stories are, how they will be presented,” Bruyneel says. The outcome is uncertain, as is the timeline. What is certain is it will be Musqueam-led and diverse.