The Canadian Association for the Conservation of Cultural Property’s (CAC-ACCR) ad hoc Advocacy Committee is developing a new initiative to address the way in which conservators care for Indigenous belongings held in public and private collections in Canada. This will involve addressing the role conservators can play in facilitating and advocating for community access, including repatriation. The committee has recommended the formation of a Reconciliation Working Group (RWG) in response to the Calls to Action brought forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015, which outlines tangible steps to redress the damaging legacy of colonialism and the residential school system in Canada.
At present, other heritage associations in Canada, including Indigenous-led organizations, are working to review and adapt museum policies and practices in order to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples to maintain; protect; and develop the past, present, and future manifestations of their cultures (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Article 11). With an estimated 6,728,883 Indigenous objects residing in public collections across Canada alone (CAC-CAPC Collections Care Survey Report, 2019), conservators in Canada regularly handle cultural material created by Inuit, Métis, and First Nations Peoples.
Consistent with UNDRIP and TRC principles, as the rightful caretakers of Indigenous heritage, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples should have autonomy within museums, archives, and collections towards the preservation of their own cultural materiality. An intended outcome of the RWG is to equip conservators working in Canada with tools and knowledge that will help guide them in their work preserving and caring for a diverse cultural heritage, underlining the importance of cultural context, consultation, and collaboration when handling a living culture.
The overarching objectives of the RWG are to expand conservation professional standards to respect Indigenous perspectives in cultural preservation and to establish a framework for a collaborative practice towards the care and preservation of Indigenous materials. The RWG will be made up of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous members who will represent conservators and stewards of cultural heritage as well as community and cultural leaders, artists, curators, and academics. Over a period of two years, the RWG will consult broadly with communities, institutions, and individuals across Canada. The outcomes of this work will guide the CAC-ACCR in adopting a formal position on reconciliation as well as guidelines and standards of best practices for the care, community access, and repatriation of Indigenous cultural heritage. It is anticipated that the working group may grow into other forms of collaboration extending beyond the two-year mark.
The project is currently in the development stage, with plans to implement the RWG in May 2020. An inaugural RWG meeting, as well as a workshop open to CAC-ACCR membership, will coincide with the 2020 CAC-ACCR Annual Conference in Hamilton, Ontario. In the interim, CAC-ACCR is inviting project consultation and feedback, looking for volunteers interested in participating in the RWG, and securing funding through grant applications as well as a crowdfunding campaign. Further information, including links to the detailed project proposal in French and in English, and a link to the project’s GoFundMe page, can be found listed under “Advocacy Initiatives” on the CAC-ACCR website: https://www.cac-accr.ca/about-us/.