Decolonising Collections Information – Disrupting Settler Colonial Power In Information Management in response to Canada’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Laura Phillips (, Queens University, Canada

Standard collections information management principles in use by settler colonial cultural institutions derive from the foundation of museums as repositories to showcase the extent of empire and, as with all ‘Euro-Western’ disciplines, are not capable of objectivity in approach or in reflecting the multiplicity of identities in non-Western world views (Garneau, 2016). As a reflection of contemporary society, cultural institutions must be at the forefront of the decolonisation movement, and not simply initiate projects that perpetuate the museum as the authority to further (consciously or unconsciously) settler colonialist aspirations as one of the “…lasting effects of European colonialism on the multiple stagings and worldings of nations and societies across the globe” (Byrd, 2017: 176). Decolonisation in Canada means critically reflecting on the colonial bias for accepted ‘truths’ projected by the actions and ethos of cultural institutions, especially museums, to analysis bias in information management from the point of ingestion to management and re-presentation.

Having participated in efforts to build museums based on non-Western world views in both Qatar (Taylor, 2014) and the Cree Nation in Eeyou Istchee (Pashagumskum, 2016), my research continues my progression in deconstructing professional museum practice by exploring these questions:

How can contemporary museology incorporate Indigenous perspectives to address the power imbalance that perpetuates colonial mythology and the related presumption of ownership rights?

What practical methods can reframe methods of engagement between Indigenous communities and museums?

How can critiques of museum practice by Indigenous knowledge keepers be presented to museums to change established procedures?

How can Indigenous values and traditional knowledge be shared with museums to centre the Indigenous perspective, while respecting unique traditions for each community and safeguarding their intellectual property rights?

How can museums and curators identify the settler colonial bias in their work?

Is any of this even possible given that museums are founded on ‘scopophilia’ (Garneau, 2016)?

My innovative, community-centric research approach will improve the efficacy demonstrated in existing case studies of community based research (Smith, 1999; Tuck, 2009; Tuck and Wang, 2012; Tuck and Wang, 2014). The focused application of Indigenous knowledge to museology, including collections information management, will generate guidance required for imperative revisions in museum policies and procedures to become consistent with Canada’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2015) and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (United Nations, 2008).

My poster will present ideas for shifts in information management as perceived during my Ph.D. research in Cultural Studies, including case studies from Indigenous institutions in Canada to demonstrate ways to disrupt the current colonial power structures. The ideas presented will provoke discussion that will ultimately help to create self-empowering principles to engage international, national and provincial cultural institutions to form the basis of new standards of decolonised cultural information management. My poster will include examples of decolonisation efforts taking place in Canada to de-centre the settler colonial hegemony, an overview of theoretical approaches used as the foundation for this shift, and explain how militant research principles (Colectivo Situaciones, 2003; Brown, 2013) can be applied to day to day cultural information management on an individual level to disrupt the current paradigm.

Appendix A

  1. Brown, N. (2013).
    Militant Research Handbook. New York: New York University.
  2. Byrd, J. (2017). American Indian Transnationalisms. In Goyal, Y. (ed),
    The Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 174–89.
  3. Colectivo Situaciones (2003). On the Researcher-Militant
    European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies
  4. Garneau, D. (2016). Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation: Art, Curation, and Healing. In Robinson, D. and Martin, K. (eds),
    Arts of Engagement: Taking Aesthetic Action In and Beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, pp. 21–41.
  5. Pashagumskum, S., Menarick, P., Phillips, L., Laurendeau, G. and Scott, K. (2016). Seeing Ourselves: The Path to Self-curation, Cultural Sovereignty and Self-Representation in Eeyou Istchee. In Hele, K. (ed),
    Survivance and Reconciliation: 7 Forward / 7 Back: 2015 Canadian Indigenous Native Studies Association Conference Proceedings. Manitoba: Aboriginal Issues Press, pp. 60–87.
  6. Smith, L. (1999).
    Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 2nd ed. London: Zed Books Ltd.
  7. Taylor, D., Phillips, L., Al Malek, N. and Alathbah, N. (2014). Collective Opportunities: Collections Management in Qatar. In Erskine-Loftus, P. (ed),
    Museums and the Material World: Collecting the Arabian Peninsula. Edinburgh: Museums Etc, pp. 412–52.
  8. Truth and Reconciliation Commision of Canada (2015). Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada /Exec_Summary_2015_05_31_web_o.pdf (accessed 1 June 2017).
  9. Tuck, E. (2009). Re-visioning Action: Participatory Action Research and Indigenous Theories of Change.
    Urban Review,
    40(11): 47–65.
  10. Tuck, E. and Ree, C. (2013). A Glossary of Haunting. In Jones, S., Adams, T. and Ellis, C. (eds),
    Handbook of Autoethnography. London: Routledge, pp. 639–58.
  11. Tuck, E. and Wang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor.
    Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society,
    1(2): 1–40.
  12. Tuck, E. and Wang, K. W. (2014). R-Words: Refusing Research. In Paris, D. and Winn, M. (eds),
    Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities. Thousand Oakes: Sage Publications, pp. 223–47.
  13. United Nations (2008). United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  14. Wilson, J. (2016). Gathered Together: Listening to Musqueam Lived Experiences.
    39(3): 469–94.

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