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Examination of the systems of authority of three Canadian museums and the challenges of aboriginal peoples Mattson, Linda Karen


In order to illustrate why museums are frequently sites of conflict and mediation, this dissertation examines the complex conditions under which knowledge is produced and disseminated at three Canadian museums. Approaching museums as social arenas or contact zones, the dissertation exposes power struggles in museums and dislodges a whole set of assumptions about what museums are and how they function. For the study I selected the following museums with anthropological mandates: MacBride Museum (Whitehorse), Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (Yellowknife), and Vancouver Museum (Vancouver). The three museums were chosen because their geographical proximity to large communities of Aboriginal Peoples enabled an exploration of the changing relationships between them. Historically, museums have held the power to classify and define Aboriginal Peoples. Relatively recently, however Aboriginal Peoples have in various ways (by imposing constraints on how they and their cultures are exhibited, and through land claims and repatriation requests) been challenging their historic relationships with museums. In chapter one I discuss my objectives, methodology, and the work of those scholars who shaped this dissertation. Chapter two explores the invention of museums in the western world and begins linking the three Canadian museums with knowledge and power. In chapters three, four, and five I portray the mobility and productivity of three museums (MacBride Museum, PWNHC, and Vancouver Museum) in three distinct regions of Canada. I illustrate their ability to articulate identity, power, and tradition as well as the role they perform in the social organization of power relations. Each chapter begins with a description of the historical roots of power relations at each institution. This leads into a discussion of each museum's present system of authority: the state, governing bodies, professional staff and, increasingly, Aboriginal representatives. In the process I reveal some of the political pressures, institutional hierarchies, and personal conflicts that shape knowledge within these institutions. Chapter six is a review and critical analysis of systems of authority of the three museums and the challenges presented by Aboriginal Peoples. I conclude with the issues raised at the outset, which continue to confront the Canadian museum community, issues of inclusion and the limitations of cross-cultural translation, repatriation, and representation.

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