You can't buy influence.
That's the policy at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in the wake of reports some Manitoba First Nations chiefs believe a $1-million donation gives them a say over the use of the word "genocide" in the museum's aboriginal content.
The donation was made in 2009 from South Beach Casino through the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs during a determined fundraising effort to collect private donations. About half has been handed out in annual $100,000 instalments.
The issue over influence and money has divided Manitoba First Nation chiefs.
While some believe they should have a say, others including the current AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, believe the donation should never have been made in the first place.
The issue of the AMC's donation became public, thanks largely to a blog that posted a letter late last week from Southern Chief Organization leader Murray Clearsky to museum CEO Stuart Murray. In it, Clearsky referred to the need to use the term "genocide" to describe Canada's deplorable history with aboriginal peoples. He then referred to the $1 million as a donation given "with the understanding the true history of the treatment of First Nations would be on exhibit."
The letter went on to make a case for using the term "genocide," based on the definition of genocide adopted by the United Nations.
On Tuesday, museum staff fired back a categorical answer: There is no donation big enough to give donors a say in content at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
"Donations are not one of the criteria the museum uses to select and develop its content," museum spokeswoman Maureen Fitzhenry said Tuesday.
Nor should donors have a say over history, a sensitive issue best left to careful research and extensive consultation, Fitzhenry said.
Not even the museum's board, appointed by the federal heritage minister under the Museum Act, gets a veto over the experts' choice of exhibits or the terms used to describe them when trustees exercise their oversight role on museum business. She said the museum, like other museums in Canada and worldwide, have established channels of communication and research avenues that set the agenda for content and keep the portrayals free of the taint of political interference.
"Museum content decisions are made according to criteria based on rigorous research, advice of human rights experts, feedback from peer reviewers and broad consultation with the Canadian public -- including members of communities who are the subject of our human rights stories," Fitzhenry said.
That said, Fitzhenry added no museum in Canada would offer aboriginal content without consulting key aboriginal experts, including academic scholars, community activists and elders.
"Human rights stories of Canada's aboriginal people are an extremely important part of this museum and would be a major focus under any circumstances. The gross and systemic human rights violations perpetrated against indigenous people in Canada will be highlighted in powerful ways. Indigenous stories will be told in every single one of our galleries -- not only stories of violation, but also of aboriginal people's efforts to resist and the contributions they have made to promote human rights for all," Fitzhenry said.
In a statement last month, Murray said although "genocide" would not be in the title of an CMHR aboriginal exhibit, the museum "will be using the term in the exhibit itself when describing community efforts for this recognition. Historical fact and emerging information will be presented to help visitors reach their own conclusions."
A plan for an aboriginal advisory council has been in the works for some time and predates the current controversy. It will be a permanent body but Fitzhenry said she had no details immediately available about it.