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CMHR 'model of complacency'

Ex-employee blasts limits on indigenous exhibits

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/5/2015 (693 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A former curator at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights says she was ordered to limit negative stories about missing and murdered women and the state of aboriginal child welfare.

She says she was also told to remove the term "genocide" from any indigenous exhibits.

A former curator at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights says she was ordered to limit negative stories about missing and murdered indigenous women and the state of aboriginal child welfare and remove the term 'genocide' from any indigenous exhibits.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A former curator at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights says she was ordered to limit negative stories about missing and murdered indigenous women and the state of aboriginal child welfare and remove the term 'genocide' from any indigenous exhibits.

In a sharply worded chapter in a new academic book on genocide, Tricia Logan, who served as the CMHR’s curator of indigenous content for three years, says the museum is "a model of complacency and promotion of the status quo."

She says stories of the wrongs done to indigenous people were watered down in an effort to promote positive Canadian content.

"As curator, I have been ordered to limit coverage of stories of aboriginal children in the child-welfare system, missing and murdered women in Canada and climate change," she wrote. "I was also instructed to remove the terms ‘genocide’ and ‘settler colonial genocide’ from all indigenous exhibits."

Specifically, Logan says in July 2013, she was asked to remove the term "genocide" from the small exhibit on Canada’s colonial history and its treatment of indigenous peoples.

"As a curator at the CMHR, I was consistently reminded that every mention of state-perpetrated atrocity against indigenous peoples in Canada must be matched with a ‘balanced’ statement that indicates reconciliation, apology or compensation provided by the government," she wrote. "In cases where those issues are not reconciled or where accusations of abuse against the government continue to this day, the stories are reduced in scope or are removed from the museum."

Logan’s article was published last summer in a volume edited by genocide experts from the University of Sussex in England and Deakin University in Australia.

But the Canadian Museum for Human Rights says it has worked hard to build trust and relationships with indigenous groups, who helped guide content. Staff said it’s not correct to suggest topics such as missing and murdered women or child welfare got short shrift.

Aboriginal child welfare is mentioned in an exhibit about the legacy of residential schools, including a video featuring a young woman who ended up in a loving foster home but whose mother jumped through hoops to regain custody. And there are several exhibits featuring the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women, including a mention of repeated calls for a national inquiry.

The issue of genocide is discussed in the museum’s Breaking the Silence gallery, which features exhibits on the five genocides recognized by the Canadian government and also features a "Mission Impossible" interactive table where patrons can read about other atrocities, including residential schools. There, a text panel reads: "Many Canadians, both indigenous and non-indigenous, share the view that Canada’s historic treatment of indigenous peoples was genocide."

Because the museum is federally mandated, it cannot declare what happened to indigenous people a genocide without running afoul of Ottawa.

"We’re allowing people to draw their own conclusions, to have their own informed discussions," said spokeswoman Louise Waldman.

Even before it opened last fall, the museum was frequently accused of caving to pressure from its Conservative-appointed board and of glossing over some of Canada’s troubling human rights record in order to present more positive stories.

In July 2013, the museum’s decision to avoid using the word "genocide" to describe Canada’s aboriginal policies during the last century made headlines, and sparked criticism from indigenous leaders and academics.

Few staff members have been willing to speak on the record about the museum’s internal content-creation process.

In her article, Logan noted lobbying from Ukrainian and Jewish groups kept the museum’s treatment of the Holocaust and the Holodomor top-of-mind in the battle for floor space. That "undoubtedly impacted museum design and development," she said.

But First Nations, Métis and Inuit groups never launched the same kind of lobbying effort, in part because they were busy with more pressing, real-life emergencies, Logan said. That dynamic "relegated and already-marginalized aboriginal history to a critically under-representative segment of the museum."

Logan, who has been working on a PhD at the University of London, was unwilling to speak further about her article. But she said in a brief email the article was based on information from 2011 and 2012.

"Obviously, the information is out of date and clearly the museum and museum mandate have changed a great deal from that time," she said without elaboration.

Logan left the museum shortly after the genocide controversy in July and August 2013.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Wednesday, May 6, 2015 at 7:38 PM CDT: Adds PDF.

10:48 PM: Writethru with print version of story/adds print headline.

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