First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 91

COLLECTIONS highlight Indigenous cultures of Canada to international audiences. Royal Dutch Shell’s sponsorship of the exhibition triggered protests because the company had been extracting oil in the territory of the Lubicon Lake Cree—a nation that has yet to be recognized by Canada with a treaty and land rights. 3 Though no single issue in the complex situation was fully resolved, the debacle eventually resulted in significant, positive changes in museum policies and approaches involving various Indigenous communi- ties. One of these was the creation of a Task Force on Museums and First Peoples by the Canadian Museums Association and the Assembly of First Nations, which produced a report in 1992 laying out specific steps on how museums could move forward inclusively and mindfully. Gerald Conaty was hired as curator of ethnology in 1990 to improve Glenbow’s relationship with Indigenous nations. He summarized his significant contributions in the introduction to We Are Coming Home: Repatriation and Restoration of Blackfoot Cultural Confidence (2015), published two years after his passing. Explaining his approach, Conaty wrote, “Postcolonial theory recog- nizes the biases inherent in the accounts provided in many written records and leads us toward a history in which the disenfranchised and the illiterate are recognized as important components of society.” 4 (One could easily replace “post- colonial theory” with “reconciliation” for a slightly more jargon-free summation). Joanne Schmidt trained with Conaty as a volunteer in 2006 and became a collections technician in 2010. In her role today, she estimates half of her time is spent with local (primarily Niitsitapiisini) communities—she collects oral histories, assists individuals and groups viewing collections, accommodates and partici- pates in ceremonies, does research in the Glenbow archives, and attends funerals for elders. “I work for the museum, but my loyalty is with the people,” Schmidt explains. 5 Glenbow’s relationship with its local Indigenous community has become a model for all museums. It requires daily, often difficult work for which there is sometimes no precedent. All requests for loans (usually for ceremonial purposes) 3. Julia D. Harrison, “ ‘The Spirit Sings’ and the Future of Anthropology,” Anthropology Today 4, no. 6 (December 1988): 6. Julia D. Harrison, former Glenbow curator of ethnology and curator of The Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada’s First Peoples, reported that the museum was never contacted directly “to verify statements made by the Lubicon concerning the nature and purpose of the exhibition. Nor did the museum ever receive any written communication from the Lubicon. … The entire campaign was conducted through the media.” 4. Conaty, “The Development of Museums and Their Effects on First Nations,” 33. 5. Joanne Schmidt in discussion with the author, August 1, 2018. above Sky Stories exhibit with a tipi based on an historic Siksika design, part of Niitsitapiisini: Our Way of Life, Glenbow Museum. Photo: John Elk III, Alamy. opposite Installation view of Niitsitapiisini: Our Way of Life, in the Blackfoot Gallery, Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta. Photo: Daderot (CC0 1.0). WINTER 2018/19 | 89