Sunday, 15 April 2018

Manifesto for UK museum ethnography?

In my presentation at the Museum Ethnographers' Group conference last week, I included what one colleague has referred to as a manifesto. I don't know about others, but I am frustrated by both the structural limitations and the failure to consider seriously the rights and needs of Indigenous peoples by UK museums. I say that after two decades of trying to find ways to overcome the structural limitations.

Here are the specific calls to action I made in that presentation:

Maybe we could consider the following, within our own practice and within our own museums and professional bodies in the UK:
*formally acknowledge, in the MEG constitution, and in our respective institutional strategic plans, that museums have responsibilities to communities of origin as well as to objects
And maybe we could:
      Get grants to fund Indigenous teams to work with UK museums
      Use technology to increase Indigenous presence in museum governance and curation
      Do electronic fieldtrips for communities of origin 
      Have free MEG conference places for speakers from communities of origin
      Create more partnerships between UK museums and Indigenous communities
      Pay overseas Indigenous partners to write labels, select objects for display
      Work with the Haida Gwaii Museum to create an exhibition about repatriation and new relationships with museums internationally
      Discuss the difficult histories of objects on display
      Fund Indigenous scholars + interns to visit UK collections
      Reinvent loans as community research opportunities: maybe we could treat loans as always having community research components, and train couriers to facilitate those sessions, and work with overseas borrowing institutions to invite community members to learn from visiting collections

Beyond those immediate things, we need collectively to consider the really key questions and issues:
      How do we increase the presence, voice and authority of Indigenous peoples in UK museums?

      As museum professionals and representatives, how do we create more ‘active relations of reciprocity and dialogue’ [Clifford 2018] with communities of origin than we have now?

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