The Department of Canadian Heritage under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently released its discussion guide on the renewal of the 1990 Museum Policy, in which it labeled Canada's museums "colonial institutions."
The department suggested museums "must understand decolonization and embrace technology to grow and maintain digital collections, while mitigating the threats of climate-change and natural disasters."
"Museums are colonial institutions," the department wrote in its guide, accusing them of having "collected and preserved Indigenous belongings and ancestral remains and perpetuated narratives that excluded the voices and contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples."
One way it suggested this could be remedied is via "repatriation of belongings," moving objects out of "colonial" museums and into spaces operated by those to whom the artifacts originally belonged.
The department went on to suggest that Canadian musuems were not "embracing equity, diversity and inclusion," and urged them to highlight all members of society.
"For many years museums have decided what to acquire, what to exhibit and whose stories to tell," it stated. "Through these actions, museums contributed to the exclusion of voices that the mainstream society of the day did not wish to acknowledge. People of colour, people with disabilities, immigrants, 2SLBGTQI+ communities, religious minorities, official language minority communities, and even people of different economic status were often marginalized or excluded from museum collections and exhibits."
The guide then shifted focus to the operation of museums, first arguing that the workforce was not "diverse" enough. It went on to state that, "As a trusted source of information, museums can help educate the public and encourage debate on issues such as climate change, equity, diversity and inclusion," suggesting these values should be part of "behind-the-scenes operations."
As the recommended update to the 1990 Museum Policy continues to go through the consultation process, members of the public, Indigenous partners, advocacy groups, and others will have the opportunity to voice their opinions.
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