Museums and Indigenous Communities: Resources for Museum Professionals
This is an education hub for Ottawa Museum Network members and others in the cultural heritage field looking for resources on museums and Indigenous cultural heritage. All information is sourced to its original author.
The Ottawa Museum Network is grateful to operate on the unceded traditional territories of the Algonquin Anishnaabe people.
This resource hub was developed thanks to funding received from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
These documents serve as a foundation to museum practice and working with Indigenous source communities in Canada.
- The Canadian Museums Association-Assembly of First Nations Task Force Report on Museums and First Peoples
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
- The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
- Historica Canada: Indigenous Perspectives Education Guide
- Parks Canada: Report on Gatherings on Indigenous Cultural Heritage
- Royal British Columbia Museum: Indigenous Repatriation Handbook
Important Terms and Concepts (Sourced)
This is a list of important terms and concepts that you should know when you are undertaking any initiatives involving Indigenous communities, with a focus on Ottawa (unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory). Before making contact with a community, understand the difference between Inuit, Métis and First Nations groups, and try to identify the particular nation that the community belongs to. Understand the historical and legal context surrounding terms such as “Indian” and “treaty,” and be aware of important documents and calls to action such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action.
For a more comprehensive list of terms, download this free eBook from Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., an Indigenous-owned consulting company.
Aboriginal title is an inherent right, recognized in common law, that originates in Indigenous peoples’ occupation, use and control of ancestral lands prior to colonization. Aboriginal title is not a right granted by the government; rather, it is a property right that the Crown first recognized in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. It has been subsequently recognized and defined by several Supreme Court of Canada decisions. Furthermore, subsection 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms “existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.” However, Canadian sovereignty over lands is not dependent upon an agreement with First Nations with regard to Aboriginal title, and reconciling the Canadian legal understanding of Aboriginal title with Indigenous understanding remains a great challenge (Historica Canada, 2018).
The Algonquin are Indigenous peoples that have traditionally occupied parts of western Quebec and Ontario, centring on the Ottawa River and its tributaries. Algonquin should not be confused with Algonquian, which refers to a larger linguistic and cultural group, including First Nations such as Innu and Cree. Algonquin people are closely related to Ojibwe and Odawa, with whom they form the larger cultural group known as the Anishinaabeg or Anishinaabe in the singular. (Historica Canada, 2018)
The source of the word Algonquin is unclear. Some say Algonquin is a name given to us by the French settlers from the Maliseet word, elakómkwik, which means, “they are our relatives/allies.” Others say Algonquin means “at the place of spearing fishes and eels from the bow of a canoe.” (Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, 2018)
For more on the origin of the name Algonquin, visit the Anishinabe Nation.
The only federally registered Algonquin community in Ontario. In Quebec, there are nine Algonquin communities: Abit ibiwinni, Timiskaming, Eagle Village (Kebaouek), Wolf Lake, Long Point (Winneway), Kitcisakik (Grand Lac), Lac Simon, Mitcikinabik Inik (Algonquins of Barriere Lake) and Kitigan Zibi (River Desert) First Nations. (Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, 2018)
The Anishinaabemowin term for Algonquin-Anishinaabeg people. It carries both the general meaning of “human being” and the specific meaning of “real (i.e. Indigenous) people.” (Morrison, 2005)
Anishinaabe people are comprised of several Algonquian tribes including Potawatomi, Algonquin, Ojibway, Mississauga, Nipissing, Saulteaux, Ottawa, and Oji-Cree communities. These communities have a common origin and they share cultural values and traditions. (World Atlas, 2019)
On National Indigenous Peoples Day [June 21, 2018], Mayor Jim Watson requested to have the flags of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation and the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council permanently raised at Ottawa City Hall. As of today, the flags will fly at Marion Dewar Plaza and will be permanently displayed in Council Chambers and in the Mayor’s boardroom. (City of Ottawa, 2018)
The process by which a person or persons acquire the social and psychological characteristics of another group; to cause a person or group to become a part of a different society, country, etc. (Historica Canada, 2018)
Lands granted to a party in a treaty. Lands were often ceded as a result of military or political pressure; lands ceded in treaties were the principal means that Europeans used to acquire control over territory. In Canada, Indigenous peoples and Europeans often had a different understanding of land ownership included in treaties. (Historica Canada, 2018)
A system or policy of dominance and control by one power over an area or people that often includes the exploitation of resources or the explicit purpose of benefitting the colonizing country. (Historica Canada, 2018)
The process of settling or appropriating a place and establishing a central system of power over the land and the original inhabitants of the area. (Historica Canada, 2018)
The first time an Indigenous group makes a connection with Europeans. Can refer to face-to-face interaction, or to “contact” made through objects, ideas or disease. (Historica Canada, 2018)
A term used to describe Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are not Métis or Inuit. There are 634 First Nations in Canada, speaking more than 50 distinct languages. First Nations people are original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada, and were the first to encounter sustained European contact, settlement and trade. (Historica Canada, 2018)
For more information visit the Assembly of First Nations.
The principal statute through which the federal government administers Indian Status, local First Nations governments and the management of reserve land and communal monies. The Indian Act pertains only to First Nations Peoples, not to the Métis or Inuit. (Historica Canada, 2018)
The Indian Act is a Canadian federal law that governs in matters pertaining to Indian status, bands, and Indian reserves. Throughout history it has been highly invasive and paternalistic, as it authorizes the Canadian federal government to regulate and administer in the affairs and day-to-day lives of registered Indians and reserve communities. (Indigenous Foundations UBC, 2009)
For more information:
Read the Indian Act in full here.
In Canada, the term Indigenous peoples (or Aboriginal peoples) refers to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. These are the original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada. (Historica Canada, 2018)
The term Indigenous has international recognition within the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but is only an umbrella term when referring to an Indigenous person is Canada. When referring to a specific individual or community, referring to their specific nation, Métis or Inuit identity should be prefered.
The aboriginal inhabitants of the North American Arctic, from Bering Strait to East Greenland, a distance of over 6000 kilometres. As well as Arctic Canada, Inuit also live in northern Alaska and Greenland, and have close relatives in Russia. They are united by a common cultural heritage and a common language. Until recently, outsiders called the Inuit “Eskimo.” Now they prefer their own term, “Inuit,” meaning simply “people.” There are about 40,000 Inuit in Canada. (Inuulitsivik, 2018)
To learn more about Inuit and Inuit services in Ottawa:
Are people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry, and one of the three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada. The term is used to describe communities of mixed European and Indigenous descent across Canada, and a specific community of people — defined as the Métis Nation — which originated largely in Western Canada and emerged as a political force in the 19th century, radiating outwards from the Red River Settlement. (Historica Canada, 2018)
Distinct Métis communities developed along the routes of the fur trade and across the Northwest within the Métis Nation Homeland. This Homeland includes the three Prairie provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta), as well as, parts of Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the Northern United States.
Today, many of these historic Métis communities continue to exist along rivers and lakes where forts and posts were hubs of fur trade activity from Ontario westward. As well, large numbers of Métis citizens now live in urban centres within the Métis Nation Homeland; however, even within these larger populations, well-defined Métis communities exist. (Métis National Council, 2019)
The term used by the Algonquin community at large to refer to themselves in their own language (Omàmiwininìmowin) (Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, 2018)
An ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships. A critical part of this process involves repairing damaged trust by making apologies, providing individual and collective reparations, and following through with concrete actions that demonstrate real societal change. Establishing respectful relationships also requires the revitalization of Indigenous law and legal traditions. It is important that all Canadians understand how traditional First Nations, Inuit, and Métis approaches to resolving conflict, repairing harm, and restoring relationships can inform the reconciliation process. (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015)
A period in the distant past that is not defined by historical dates. (Historica Canada, 2018)
A constitutionally recognized agreement between the Crown and Indigenous people(s). They form the constitutional and moral basis of alliances between Indigenous people(s) and settler governments, both British and Canadian. (Historica Canada, 2018)
Lands originally belonging to First People(s) that have not been surrendered or acquired by the Crown. Often refers to lands that are not formally under a treaty; however, there are regions under treaty in Atlantic Canada that encompass lands that have not been surrendered. (Historica Canada, 2018)
It is important for all museum professionals to understand the differences between how Western cultures and Indigenous cultures define cultural heritage. Check out this short but informative video on Indigenous cultural heritage (below), written in an Australian context. Try comparing the video to Historica Canada’s Indigenous Perspectives Education Guide, written in a Canadian context.
Remember that cultural heritage is a concept that has nationally and internationally recognized meaning(s) and has certain protections in Canadian policy and legislation. Be familiar with your province’s laws, such as the Ontario Heritage Act and the policies of government agencies that safeguard cultural heritage, such as Parks Canada’s Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.
Quick Guides for Museum Professionals
Unsure about how to read certain documents or how to apply them to your museum? Check out these “quick guide” summaries. The summaries indicate the importance of the document and point out significant parts of the document that are the most relevant to museums.
The Task Force on Museums and First Peoples in Canada was formed in response to heavy criticism and the unease of the museum community in Canada following the 1988 exhibition, The Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada’s First Peoples. The exhibition opened at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta, as part of the Arts Festival accompanying the 1988 Winter Olympics. While the exhibition was designed to educate and celebrate Indigenous cultural traditions in Canada, it received widespread criticism and boycotts from Indigenous organizations and national and international institutions due to its failure to involve Indigenous communities in appropriate consultation and collaboration.
Following a conference held in Ottawa in November 1988, a Task Force was assembled to conduct research with First Peoples and cultural agencies across Canada, co-sponsored by the Canadian Museums Association and the Assembly of First Nations to develop ethical frameworks for respectful collaboration between Canadian Museums and Indigenous communities.
This document, although aged, should serve as a foundational document for Canadian Museums in their approach to Indigenous cultural material and building respectful partnerships with Indigenous communities.
- To develop an ethical framework and strategies for Aboriginal Nations to represent their history and culture in concert with cultural institutions.
- The importance of cultural objects in museum collections
- The primary concern of Indigenous cultural objects within museums is to their own source communities.
- Museums should recognize the opportunity to engage with living cultures, not just objects.
- Increased involvement of First Peoples in interpretation
- Increased involvement of First Peoples in museum work is essential in order to improve the representation and interpretation of First Peoples’ histories and cultures in museums.
- The role of Indigenous peoples in Canadian history and contemporary Canada should be stressed (not delegated to prehistory).
- Improved access to museum collections
- Inclusive of artefacts and human remains, and all aspects of information related to them.
- Access is inclusive of physical access as well as access to information, conducting research and funding.
- Human remains, illegally-obtained material cultures and certain sacred or culturally significant artefacts should be repatriated to appropriate communities.
- Case-by-case partnerships with proper consultation is preferable to legal action.
- Training for Indigenous peoples and access to positions within museums is essential.
- Training for non-Indigenous staff to understand, interpret and care for Indigenous cultural material is equally essential.
- Support for cultural institutions
- Indigenous communities should be supported in endeavours to manage and conserve their own cultural facilities.
- To support projects involving Indigenous cultural materials in existing cultural facilities and to support new facilities.
- International collections
- First Peoples need governmental assistance in gaining access to and/or repatriating cultural objects held in collections outside of Canada.
- Principles to Establish Partnerships between First Peoples and Canadian Museums
- Museums and First Peoples should work together to correct inequities that have characterized their relationships in the past. First Peoples should be allowed to speak for themselves.
- Equal partnerships, mutual appreciation, and appropriate knowledge/considerations of (appropriate) Indigenous culture are essential.
- Establish a mutual appreciation for the knowledge of the past and a recognition of the contemporary existence of Indigenous peoples.
- Adopt a philosophy of co-management and co-responsibility.
- Appropriate representatives of relevant Indigenous parties should be equal partners in anything pertaining to Indigenous heritage.
- Recognize a commonality of interest in research, presentation, education, etc.
- First Peoples must be fully involved in the development of policies and funding programs related to Aboriginal heritage, history and culture.
- Specific Recommendations
- Involve appropriate Indigenous representatives in all aspects.
- Conform to an ethic of responsibility to the community represented.
- (In collaboration) refine the nature of existing exhibitions and collections and include Indigenous language where appropriate.
- Ensure appropriate access as defined above.
- Remains of identified Indigenous ancestors should be reported to the appropriate communities.
- Treatment use and disposition of culturally significant and/or sacred items should be determined in consultation with appropriate communities.
- As outlined above.
Following the 2007 Indian Residential School Settlement implemented by the Government of Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed to inform Canadian of what happened in residential schools, document the testimonies of survivors and offer recommendations towards reconciliation between Indigenous peoples within Canada, the Government of Canada and non-Indigenous Canadians.
Residential schools are part of a long and lasting legacy of the Government of Canada in eliminating Aboriginal governments, ignoring aboriginal rights, and disrupting and eliminating Aboriginal culture through processes of assimilation. The forced attendance of Indigenous children in residential schools and the separation of children from their families and communities have been described as acts of cultural genocide, which have deep and lasting impacts on Indigenous communities, and on survivors in particular, in Canada today. The TRC conducted research on the history of the residential school system, including conducting interviews with both survivors and administrators of former schools across Canada. In forming their final report, the TRC has defined reconciliation as:
an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships. A critical part of this process involves repairing damaged trust by making apologies, providing individual and collective reparations, and following through with concrete actions that demonstrate real societal change. Establishing respectful relationships also requires the revitalization of Indigenous law and legal traditions. It is important that all Canadians understand how traditional First Nations, Inuit, and Métis approaches to resolving conflict, repairing harm, and restoring relationships can inform the reconciliation process.
In order to make recommendations for all Canadians—Indigenous and non-Indigenous—on how to approach fostering new respectful relationships, the TRC listed 94 “Calls to Action.” While the Calls to Action are directed primarily at the federal government, there are specific Calls which are relevant to Canadian cultural institutions more broadly. Relevant excerpts are as follows:
- We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:
- Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.
- Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.
- Provide the necessary funding to Aboriginal schools to utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms.
- Establish senior-level positions in government at the assistant deputy minister level or higher dedicated to Aboriginal content in education.
- We call upon the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including:
- Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.
- Sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history.
- Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect. iv. Identifying teacher-training needs relating to the above.
- We call upon all levels of government that provide public funds to denominational schools to require such schools to provide an education on comparative religious studies, which must include a segment on Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and practices developed in collaboration with Aboriginal Elders.
- We call upon the federal government, through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, post-secondary institutions and educators, and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and its partner institutions, to establish a national research program with multi-year funding to advance understanding of reconciliation.
- We call upon the federal government to provide funding to the Canadian Museums Association to undertake, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, a national review of museum policies and best practices to determine the level of compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to make recommendations.
- We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, and the Canadian Museums Association to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017 by establishing a dedicated national funding program for commemoration projects on the theme of reconciliation.
- We call upon Library and Archives Canada to:
- Fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Joinet-Orentlicher Principles, as related to Aboriginal peoples’ inalienable right to know the truth about what happened and why, with regard to human rights violations committed against them in the residential schools.
- Ensure that its record holdings related to residential schools are accessible to the public.
- Commit more resources to its public education materials and programming on residential schools.
- We call upon the federal government to provide funding to the Canadian Association of Archivists to undertake, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, a national review of archival policies and best practices to:
- Determine the level of compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Joinet-Orentlicher Principles, as related to Aboriginal peoples’ inalienable right to know the truth about what happened and why, with regard to human rights violations committed against them in the residential schools.
- Produce a report with recommendations for full implementation of these international mechanisms as a reconciliation framework for Canadian archives.
- We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal organizations, and the arts community, to develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration. This would include, but not be limited to:
- Amending the Historic Sites and Monuments Act to include First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and its Secretariat.
- Revising the policies, criteria, and practices of the National Program of Historical Commemoration to integrate Indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices into Canada’s national heritage and history.
- Developing and implementing a national heritage plan and strategy for commemorating residential school sites, the history and legacy of residential schools, and the contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Canada’s history.
- We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.
- We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools National Monument in the city of Ottawa to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.
- We call upon provincial and territorial governments, in collaboration with Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools Monument in each capital city to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.
- We call upon the Canada Council for the Arts to establish, as a funding priority, a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process.
In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted, at the recommendation of the Human Rights Council, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This document, while written to pertain to Indigenous peoples in a global context, has become a foundational document for Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations in Canada and has been referenced directly by the TRC Calls to Action, among other initiatives.
Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rig
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.
- Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
- States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:
- Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
- Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
- Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
- Any form of forced assimilation or integration;
- Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.
- Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.
- States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.
- Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.
- States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned.
- Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
- States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.
- Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.
- States shall take effective measures, in consultation and cooperation with the indigenous peoples concerned, to combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among indigenous peoples and all other segments of society.
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.
- Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.
- In conjunction with indigenous peoples, States shall take effective measures to recognize and protect the exercise of these rights.
Over the past year and a half, the Community and Social Services department has been working together with the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition, community partners and staff from across the City of Ottawa to consider how we can work together on a reconciliation journey. We have listened to one another and reflected on actions that could form the City’s response to Truth and Reconciliation Commissions’ (TRC) Calls to Action.
With the support of the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition, we have met with urban First Nations, Métis and Inuit Elders and Traditional Teachers and with Algonquin Anishinabe representatives from both the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation. Their views and perspectives serve as key principles and values to guide us on this journey. They include:
- Leadership starts and stops with the ability to have a conversation
- Focus on relationships and create opportunities for people to share their stories
- Respect and trust are key
- Focus on youth, as they will bring back the Aboriginal cultures
- Involvement of the Elders makes a difference (to share history and culture).
- Action is important (the community needs to see tangible results), at the same time rethink the “big picture” (also work on structural changes)
- Reconciliation is not about “doing for” but “doing with” the Indigenous community (do not lecture or consult, but engage and involve the community)