UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

A Partnership of Peoples Vice President Research and International, Office of the 2009-11-30

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Preserving Indigenous Identity  A Partnership of Peoples The Museum of Anthropology at UBC has built successful relationships with Indigenous communities around the world. Its soon-to-be completed renewal project exemplifies this collaborative spirit.  “The Partnership brings together, strengthens Forget what you may have heard about and consolidates some of the research that anthropology: it is not solely a science of we’ve been doing for a very long time.” lost cultures, dusty relics and ancient peoples. This widely misunderstood discipline provides a critical link to Reciprocal Research contemporary history, and its contributions The Renewal Project focuses on four areas of to preserving and advancing culture cannot research including visual culture, museum be understated – especially in nations as studies, language and new technology. diverse as Canada. That’s why, for the past Showcasing the best of new technology, 60 years, the Museum of Anthropology MOA has partnered with three First (MOA) at UBC has been building Nations groups – Stó:lō Nation, U’Mista relationships with Indigenous communities Cultural Society in Alert Bay, and and working closely with them on cultural Musqueam Indian Band – to co-develop the renewal projects. Reciprocal Research Network (RRN), a “Unlike other museums, we have always revolutionary Web-based network tried to democratize our practice, and work connecting the northwest collections of 12 directly with communities to represent partner organizations, including the communities and let communities represent Smithsonian Institution in the U.S., and themselves,” says Anthony Shelton, Director Oxford and Cambridge in England. of MOA, who for more than five years has Providing online access to the overseen a $55.5-million renewal of the collections enables Indigenous communities Museum entitled A Partnership of Peoples. to both restore and strengthen their cultural  5  FEATURE STORY  Fall/Winter 2009  Preserving Indigenous Identity  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA • OFFICE OF THE VICE PRESIDENT RESEARCH & INTERNATIONAL  FEATURE STORY  6  Preserving Indigenous Identity  identity. For many Aboriginal communities, this is the first time they will see materials and objects that were previously scattered in museums across Canada and the world, rendering them unknown and inaccessible to the communities that created them. “The RRN provides a mechanism to digitally repatriate Indigenous collections and archives,” says Shelton, who notes that instead of physically removing material from the place, electronic versions can be created that provide an active resource in the Network’s database. “This will create, over time, a different arena in which researchers and people in the originating communities interact.” Preserving Language  Even before the development of the RRN database, Shelton believes that MOA has been a pioneer in transforming research patterns, forging new relationships between researchers and universities, and between museums and the originating communities. For example, the disappearance of Indigenous languages up and down the B.C. coast has long been a concern to communities and researchers at UBC and elsewhere. The fragility of language challenges the very notion of conserving oral history, but UBC and MOA are doing their part in keeping Indigenous language alive. The renewal project houses new recording studios and sound booths that will be a  7  FEATURE STORY  useful resource for both Indigenous communities and researchers. “UBC has a number of projects, a number of different courses on different Aboriginal languages,” says Shelton. “Consequently, UBC course leaders would be able to use MOA facilities to teach and do research on these languages.” A number of Indigenous communities have used the sound booths to discuss their thoughts on MOA’s collections. With permission, MOA has recorded these conversations as a way to aid communities to re-encounter parts of their own culture and also as an archive for future generations. “In terms of the Museum itself, we can start recording Indigenous language terms for our collections,” Shelton says. “We can look at the ethno-linguistic classification of objects, which can open whole semantic universes of which they are a part. We haven’t been able to do this before.” Repatriating Knowledge  The decolonization of knowledge is something Shelton hopes the museum will start to achieve as it becomes a resource for Indigenous communities. To this end, a new hybrid space within the Museum houses the multiversity galleries. Some 16,000 objects in the collection that were previously difficult to view, along with their interpretations, will now be optimally presented for the public. The interpretations are a product of the Museum’s collaboration  between curators and communities, which Shelton says has generated a new thesaurus of criteria based on community preference rather than museological dictates. Ultimately, the Museum’s relationship to Indigenous cultures has three dimensions: an academic dimension based on research and teaching; a community dimension structured around social and communitybased issues and research projects; and a public dimension as Western Canada’s premier museum of global arts and cultures. Museum exhibitions serve to engage the public, provide a platform for teaching, and inspire new research questions. Shelton is confident the Partnership of Peoples project will enable MOA to continue its important work as a leader in anthropological research and a showcase for living history and contemporary culture. The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC is Canada’s largest teaching museum. It is renowned for its extensive Northwest Coast collection and its commitment to providing collaborative insight into Indigenous cultures around the globe. 	 A Partnership of Peoples has received funding from the Canada Foundation of Innovation, the Government of British Columbia, Koerner Foundation and additional support from UBC.  Fall/Winter 2009  Preserving Indigenous Identity  1  2  3  4 Photos >: 1 and 2. John Corbett, 3. Kaldor, 4. Royal British Columbia Museum  1. 	A view of Turnour Island, ancestral home of the Tlowitsis Nation 2. 	Elder from Tlowitsis community demonstrates the traditional way to cut fish 3.	Artifacts on display at the Museum of Anthropology 4.	Stó:lo woman with a cedar basket  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA • OFFICE OF THE VICE PRESIDENT RESEARCH & INTERNATIONAL  FEATURE STORY  8  


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