SPEAKER 1: I'd like to call a graduate student here at Cornell, Bradley Pecore, up to introduce our next speaker.
BRADLEY PECORE: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]
I am [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. My English name is Bradley Pecore. I'm Menominee, Stockbridge-Munsee, Mohican, and Anishinaabe from Northeastern Wisconsin. It is with humble respect and honor that I'm able to introduce our next speaker.
David Garneau is an associate professor of visual arts at the University of Regina Saskatchewan, Canada. He's an artist, curator, and scholar with a special interest in concepts of nature, history, masculinity, and contemporary aboriginal identity. His artistic work is represented by numerous public and private collections, including the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Canadian Parliament, Indian and Inuit Art Centre, the Glenbow Museum, the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatchewan Arts Board, Alberta Foundation of the Arts, and North America Native Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.
His curatorial projects include but are not limited to End of the World as We Know It, Pictured Windows, New Abstraction, Transcendent Squares, Sophisticated Folk, Contested Histories, Making it Like a Man!, Graphic Visions and TEXTiles, Looking Forward, Never Forgetting. Garneau has written numerous catalog essays and reviews and was a co-founder and co-editor of Artichoke and Cameo magazines. He has lectured internationally. Currently he's working on a project featuring indigenous art exchanges between Canada and Australia and a five-year SSHRC-funded curatorial research project titled Creative Consolation that tackles art after the apology and report on Indian residential schools in Canada.
Following his lecture, Professor Iftikhar Dadi will provide comments. He is an associate professor in the Department of History of Art at Cornell University. His research interests include modern South Asian and Islamic art and visual cultures and critical and post-colonial theory. Please welcome our featured speaker, David Garneau.
DAVID GARNEAU: So I acknowledge the ancestral homelands of the Cayuga people. I'm a grateful guest. I bring greetings and offer respect from the Treaty 4 territory, home of the Nehiyawak-- that's the Cree-- the [INAUDIBLE], the Saulteaux, Dakota, Lakota, Nakota, and also the Metis, my nation. My name is David Garneau. My [INAUDIBLE] name is Dave.
And thank you, Jolene and Polly and the other organizers, funders, and my fellow speakers. I'm humbled by the invitation and by your company. Replying to a colleague who was defending a friend, Winston Churchill famously quipped, "He is a humble man. But then he has much to be humble about." I resemble that remark.
I am neither a museum curator nor anthropologist, not a PhD of any strain, not an academic really. I don't teach Indigenous Studies. And I've never taken a course on that subject. I'm a non-disciplinary scholar.
I'm an artist. I also curate art, mostly indigenous in Treaty 4 and 6 territories. I teach painting and drawing at a regional university in Canada, Saskatchewan, Regina, the very trifecta of modesty. We do have summer. Ironically, in the inverted worlds of Contemporary Museum and Academy where the margins often center, having much to be humble about can be a quality.
Actually, I gave this paper six weeks ago in Canberra. And so I want you to imagine that you are either an indigenous or non-indigenous museum person-- this will make a lot more sense-- and you've seen the Encounters exhibition, which I'm not going to describe too much in detail. I assume you've seen it and were very impressed, but somehow perturbed and want to know why.
Legal scholar and Blackfoot philosopher Leroy Little Bear explains that indigenous people prefer to be generalists, knowing a good deal about many things, but not too much about too little. Being a specialist is a Western preference, he says. It serves capital better than it does people and planets. It reduces independence and the ability to be agile in a world in flux. Amongst this illustrious company, it is this philosophy alone that gives me hope that my multiple deficits might add up to an asset.
Little Bear describes the Blackfoot worldview in pedagogy as circular, centered on stories told, retold, and understood differently, more deeply with iteration. In that spirit, this paper is a spiral of self-reflective thoughts and narratives, a basket of a talk that circles around our shared struggle towards non-colonial institutions, places where First people will feel both at home and challenged. The first section coils around the Colonial Heritage Museum and its potential for indigenization.
Next, I will weave in some lines about the return of the native conference-- well, I'm just going to talk about the title really-- pick out a loose thread in the Encounters exhibition, and twine in a premise for an indigenized heritage museum, how we can shift from artifact necropolis to living rooms. The talk concludes with a knot about the difference between humility and humiliation. The basket may not look pretty, but it should hold together.
This time last year, my colleague Michelle LaVallee and I curated Moving Forward, Never Forgetting, a large contemporary art exhibition, performance art series, and community projects about Indian residential schools and other forms of aggressive assimilation, intergenerational reconciliation among aboriginal families, and conciliation with settler neighbors. At the opening, Tahltan performance artist-- also from the West coast, but interior a little bit-- Tahltan performance artist Peter Morin brought to the gallery a large collection of books whose contents have caused harm due to their erroneous depictions of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people, none of which were authored by anybody in this room. Over five hours, he and community members drummed and sang over the children's stories, novels, and history, art, and anthropology texts. And they washed each page with a medicinal tea.
Morin wished to honor these once-were trees, but also the authors' labor. He wanted people to know about the caustic nature of these volumes, but did not want to make a spectacle of indigenous suffering. He declined to write an essay or give a speech, because such actions engage the texts according to their terms rather than his. He wanted to show, not argue.
The group cleansed the books and tried to lay their bitter content to rest. Later, Morin planted the volumes across Turtle Island. It was a moving gesture by a humble man, a moment of grace, an instance of indigenous critical care.
Since their invention, Indians have been the subject of scholarship, museum displays, and academic conferences. The history of aboriginals as speaking subjects in these places is recent, fugitive, and fraught, but improving. In a short time, we've gone from native informants to consultants and now struggle towards something resembling colleagues. The next step is the non-colonial museum, to be at home in a shared keeping house rather than a guest among our objects in the house of another.
To indigenize rather than merely accommodate individual indigenous persons requires change, anxiety, and critical excitement for us all. The coming generation of indigenous scholars, curators, and artists is more interested in sharing than being accommodated. They are reluctant to replicate settler mentors and methods when they conflict with aboriginal ways of knowing and being with territorial and creative sovereignty. They are more excited about learning, embodying, performing, producing, and presenting aboriginal ways than they are about deconstructing dominant cultures' false, inadequate, and humiliating representations.
Wow, let's not be hasty. That sort of work is endless, necessary, and can be a lot of fun when not a heartbreaking grind in the irony mine. But rather than center our lives on anti-racist and anti-colonial work, expend our creative energy reacting to dominant others, First peoples are turning to positive production, to non-colonial activities, to reviving aboriginal epistemologies, ontologies, metaphysical and material practices and adapting them to contemporary lived realities. If this work is not to be a separatist project alone but also to entangle and untangle colonial institutions for our mutual benefit, we need to map the moment and to develop terms of engagement that produce the indigenous without losing our aboriginal selves.
I feel the weight of your invitation. How to present an indigenous perspective in this company without relapsing into the native informant, to be heard without being fully apprehended, to participate without becoming an Indian agent, complicit in assimilation. Another Moving Forward and Never Forgetting performance, clothed in his recently deceased father's regalia, Siksika artist Adrian Stimson sits in a University of Regina hallway for five hours each day for three days. Art world types recognized the reference to Marina Abramovic's performance at the Guggenheim. Uncomfortable civilians see a play on the stoic or wooden Indian. Is he being ironic?
Next to Stimson is a table with photos of his dad as a child. Behind is a large image of the Old Sun Indian Residential School that father and son both attended. Across from him is an empty chair. Signs and an attendant let passers by know that they can sit with the artist, but that he will not speak.
Responses ranged from international students eager to take selfies with a real live Indian, to others who sit in contemplative companionship. Some are annoyed that the artist will not explain himself. The academic branch of the colonial enterprise assumes that everything in person should be accessible to those with the means and will to access them. Stimson offers a dramatic indigenous presence, but refuses the sort of discursive engagement preferred by Euro-Westerns. Frustrated would-be interlocutors given no access to the authority, the author, are left to their own projections.
Others, especially natives, feel the moment. They sit in co-relational silence, cry, share comprehending and consoling gazes, nods, and shoulder pads. Some sing, drum, or play the flute for him, for the children, for all our lost innocence. Stimson's intervention is a gentle disruption of the academic flow, an indigenous presence without apology, translation, or giving anything away but grace.
I have a bad taste in my mouth for leading with a Winston Churchill quote. He also said this. "While horrifying, it's refreshing to have the foundational sentiments of colonial thinking so plainly stated by one of its leaders. Most Canadians believe they live in a post-colonial country, more or less free from British rule since 1867."
But First Nations Metis and Inuit remain in a colonial state. Most of our lands are occupied and our lives governed not by Britain, but by Canada. I use the word non-colonial in this talk to indicate that because we do not live in a classically post-colonial country, post-colonial theory arising from those states must be employed here with great caution. There, this decolonisation includes the actual exit of colonial power. Here, decolonization is the imagined transformation of minds, imaginations, maybe institutions, but on still occupied territories. We need new terms and tools to figure this dramatic difference.
Museums were never public institutions in the sense of, quote, "standing outside of the state and functioning as a means of criticizing it," close quote, explains Tony Bennett. They are designed to produce meanings that serve the needs of the nation and those citizens who most benefit from it. They perpetuate dominant ideology, especially in the middle and professional classes, who engage cultural institutions to learn what is expected of them. These [? publists ?] go to museums to absorb the cultural competencies necessary to secure and reinforce their social status and distinguish themselves from the working classes.
If we consider Bennett's critique in terms of colonization and transpose working class with aboriginal people, we get some insight as to why while these store houses hold tons of aboriginal objects, they notoriously attract few native guests. Simply put, they're not for us. To paraphrase and repurpose Bennett, heritage museums in still colonial countries are designed for settler audiences to absorb the cultural competencies necessary to distinguish them from aboriginal peoples and, therefore, reinforce and perpetuate their colonial status.
Contemporary heritage museums formed within colonial capitalist and entertainment paradigms require novelty. The Aboriginal and other forms of embodied dissent are tolerated as long as they surprise with consumable difference, but do not threaten to inspire beyond the aesthetic and affective. Worse still, if assimilation remains the unstated desire of settler Canada and Australia, then the vogue for so-called de-colonial adjustments to exhibitions and the addition of community consultations, indigenous curatoria but not quite curation may simply be the machinery of assimilation in slowed motion and with a new name. If so, then it is understandable if conscientious aboriginal curators and audiences decline or limit their participation.
Any native cooperation with colonial institutions, argue First Nations political thinkers Glen Coulthard and Taiaiake Alfred, is a compromise of sovereignty on the way to cultural and physical annihilation. The advocate for aboriginal-only keeping houses, what I described elsewhere as irreconcilable spaces of aboriginality and sovereign aboriginal display territories. These places exist. They're growing and are central to separatist futures.
However, I'm interested here in the possibility of collaborative futures, ones in which colonization is transformed by indigenization rather than vanquished by imaginary violent revolution. My view is that heritage museums and universities are not necessarily always and only propaganda machines. We are, of course, compromised in that whether we promote, resist, or simply benefit from colonization, we are infused by the system.
However, not all such engagements are equal or total. And not all compromises are pernicious. Contemporary museums and universities do not simply reflect state ideology, but produce it. They also articulate the state's discontents and figure its remedies, one of which is indigenous.
The taste for imperialism has soured. And colonization in countries now known as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia and somewhat in the United States has shifted from the brutish invasion, Broken Treaty, and forced assimilation stage to the dominant culture's present wish to entreat survivors with what they call reconciliation. This activity is played out most poignantly in museums and other sites where history, nation and identity struggle information. With respect to Bennett, whatever their origin, contemporary heritage museums and universities are now places where citizens not only learn who they are and are not, but these are places they go to change their minds. And if there is collective and explicit will to transform these institutions from sites of colonial reproduction to spaces of non-colonial conciliation, then indigenous curators and audiences should co-author that future.
The evolution from genocidal dispossession to conciliation is part of an international social justice movement codified in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, not to you, which recognizes and attempts to ameliorate past and current injustices. But scholars and environmental and other activists go much further. Canadian scientists like David Suzuki, philosophers like John Ralston Saul, and innumerable native authors, educators, and leaders find in traditional indigenous ways of knowing and being an antidote to the colonial, capitalist, patriarchal, and racist traditions that have engendered intolerable social justice and environmental calamity.
So last year I was invited to speak at Canberra at the Return of the Native Conference. I was drawn by the provocative title. I sensed in the phrase Return of the Native an unconscious wish. We live in a moment of cultural dissonance. Colonial institutions and persons comprehend their complicity in injustice. But few can quite picture non-coloniality, a state that includes morally just, tolerably privileged, and recognizable versions of themselves, let alone imagine possible futures that do not include their replication in white skins or not.
Indigenous and non-indigenous intellectuals and cultural workers alike can barely articulate what we intuitively know. But by ambiguous actions, strange invitation, slips of tongue and paper, we give ourselves away. These [INAUDIBLE] in the colonial narratives are spaces in which artists and curators slip versions of difference and vision into our ideal relations. Oh, should be back there. Sorry.
Surely, I figured, Return of the Native was a play on Freud's return of the repressed, the repressed here being the presence of living aboriginal bodies in the museum. Radical repatriation is not simply the returning over of native bones and belonging to aboriginal care, but the communion of living aboriginal people with their ancestral and contemporary belongings in sites that should include the museum. The non-colonial museum is a site of struggle and negotiation where international meanings are produced and contested. Radical repatriation includes the unification of native objects and subjects and includes the native curatorial turn.
Where aboriginal things are at the center of national museums, aboriginal curatorial presence is a recent phenomena. And the fit is uncomfortable. To be an indigenous curator rather than a curator who is indigenous or merely a curator is to be in constant negotiation with the demands of the colonial institution and the complexity of aboriginal worldviews, political, tribal, and familial obligations. It is an unsustainable position as long as a museum is the dominion of the colonial unconscious.
Unfortunately, Return of the Native did not refer to people coming home, but to expropriated aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders' belongings returning for a visit before being returned to the other motherland. From a distance, Encounter sounded like a cruel twist, a re-turning of the screw. Yo-yoed from Britain, this exhibition of ancestral belongings would drop in, pause, reverse turn, and return. Behold your wonderful things. Enjoy them quick before we take them back.
Axiomatic of colonialism is the elimination, removal, containment, and/or assimilation of First peoples so that their territories can be occupied and resources exploited by and for the benefit of the colonizer. Axiomatic of the Colonial Heritage Museum, then, is that living aboriginal peoples be separated from their better belongings and that these items be displayed as trophies of conquest, proof of possession. In this paradigm, aboriginal artifacts are thought to be owned by their possessors. And preservation of artifacts has priority over the needs of living native peoples in relation to them.
Non-colonial museums take as axiomatic that these territories by right of prior occupation belong to its first peoples whose relationship to country is not translatable as property and, therefore, not extinguishable by exchange, purchase, or occupation. Similarly, while some of their objects are produced for trade, others were not, were plundered and not to be returned. The non-colonial museum centers living aboriginal people. It recognizes that non-trade, once were artifacts, now belongings, now beings belong in the care of aboriginal people.
Western-style museums with their emphasis on object preservation favor the sterilized thing [INAUDIBLE] environment over the messy body. Children are told that their hands emit oils that can destroy the past and future. This has led to the development of the museum as necropolis, a city of the dead ruled by a cryogenic attitude, one that places its faith in possible futures rather than the living present. Its residences are frozen in time and addressed to a better tomorrow. In an indigenized heritage museum, preservation is second to use through touch, story, and replication. The necropolitic attitude is more comfortable with the dead than living, the contained and sterile rather than the physically engaged and organic, the image over the real, and the protected possession over the animated tool.
This is Maria Hupfield at McCord Museum to show you her wonderful performance-- and the audience is members of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective, about a hundred of us I bet-- where she takes objects that she has put into the cases. The cases are removed. And she actually plays, uses them.
For aboriginal people, objects are always in relation to bodies and stories. Severing this circuit of meaning is violence. Objects only house part of the story. Their makers and keepers hold the other parts. Curation in this paradigm is a curation of people rather than things.
The word comes from Latin where curator is linked not just to object care, but to healing, curing. Rather than cure objects in the sense of preserving, indigenized curators heal the estrangement between people and their belongings. They restore and re-story.
The Encounters exhibition is an extraordinary achievement. Particularly poignant are the pairings of old things with new, for example, harpoons and contemporary fishing rods and the stories that link them twined with the pride in the text, panels, and video as melancholy, the tantalizing presence yet enduring loss of these belongings. You can feel the curatorial tension.
On one side are the aboriginal people whose ancestors made these things. On the other is the former empire that maintains possession. Between are the Australian curators. They are agents of the state, the former colonizer or aboriginal communities-- I'm sorry-- are the agents of the state, the former colonizer or aboriginal communities or some sort of actor. Grief and gentle protest echo throughout the exhibition.
In a text panel, Gary Murray, Yung Balung clan elder of the Dja Dja Wurrung, says, "We are trying to do the right thing by our ancestors and the descendants of those ancestors today. It's the responsible thing to do. And we have the cultural duty to do it. So we basically begged the British Museum to return our cultural materials."
The curators are clearly empathetic. But as agents of the Australian state and in order to temporarily secure the objects from Britain, they had to appease their former colonizers in ways that must have been uncomfortable and felt compromising. Many indigenous observers are likely to recognize anything short of repatriation as unacceptable and see this exhibition as an obvious display of power. But the curatorial inclusion of dissent does disrupt the seamless imperial display and ought to be acknowledged. There's all kinds of video and text by indigenous people.
But there is a subtler disturbance in the gallery. I felt a sense of sensual disconnection. Greg Lehman explains, "We don't want certain objects back simply because they're old, because they're worth a lot of money at auction. It's because they are objects that are important to cultural practitioners today, to be able to reference their own practices, to be able to build and continue those conversations about the continuity of a necklace making, of basket making, of men's object making."
Only a few recorded people show a deep and informed attachment with particular items. Most speak generally about the need for these objects to inform contemporary culture. Missing, I felt, was a corporial engagement with specific aboriginal bodies and their actual ancestral belongings, performative moments that Lehman alludes to where haptic knowledge is released through touch and talk. There's a great deal of aboutness, but few instances of belonging [INAUDIBLE].
Last December, I was invited to see Encounters and join my new colleagues to workshop [INAUDIBLE] towards the symposium there, in a publication. And then I promptly took one of my colleague's draft papers and made it public, which was kind of embarrassing. But I warned him four times in advance.
So John Carty's essay-- Curating the Curators, Some Reflections on the Politics and Poetics of Consultation-- begins with his visit to-- I'm going to say it wrong-- Gunditjmara community in southwestern Victoria. I read a long quote so you can get the tenor of the thing.
"He went there ostensibly to"-- this is his quote-- "ostensibly to discuss the objects from that country that were in the British Museum that were potentially going to come on tour to Australia as part of the encounter's exhibition. And what was so interesting about that day was how uninteresting the objects themselves turned out to be to the people. Folks leafed through the booklets with polite attention, commenting here and there on a specific object. But the vast majority of our visit involved no engagement with the objects at all.
The people arranged to take the curators out to their country on boats and by foot to see evidence of housing and aquaculture, fish traps, eel traps that were etched into the landscape. This was the focus of their attention, the repository of their values. And they invested significant amounts of time and energy that day to directing the gaze of the curators away from the booklets and outward to other texts, other objects and subjects."
So the lesson he derives from the experience is the feeling expressed by his colleague, Jay Arthur. Jay said to me, I feel like I've just been curated. We were all fundamentally moved by the way in which our Gunditjmara colleagues had re-framed the whole endeavor and indeed brought into question the primacy of the objects that the curators were there to discuss. It was a beautiful moment, also a familiar one from anthropological narratology where the white agents' concepts are overturned by the clever native. The humbled colonial agent trope is also expressed in the title of Ian McLean's collection, How Aborigines Invented the Idea of Contemporary Art, which turns out to be more about Australian white fellows' cleverness with aboriginal art rather than aboriginal knowing authorship.
I'm concerned by any narrative that concludes with non-indigenous curators believing that they have a free hand to use aboriginal belongings as they like, because the descendants of the original makers appear less interested in the things than they are. Conciliatory creation is a material dialogue among equals. It requires both parties to have a full and equal access to the facts in dispute. It seems from the account that the consultation did not consist of giving indigenous people their objects to hold and consider, but passing around images in a brochure. That people might be indifferent to pictures is not the same thing as saying they're indifferent to the things those pictures represent. While the images might have sufficed as things to curators who had seen and touched the objects pictured, the consulted aboriginal people seem not to have had the same relation, preferring to concentrate on the things at hand, things that were definite rather than indefinitely theirs, rather than pictured distance immaterial to their present.
"You can't really connect with them"-- this is a quote from Adrian Brown. I'm sorry, I think it was back there. "You can't really connect with them without having the bare skin on them."
[? Harley ?] [INAUDIBLE] told journalist Quentin Sprague, "I go across to Canberra to see it all in the glass case over there. That's fine. But we'd prefer to see things back here in our country. Obviously that's the dialogue we need to have."
A dark side of Encounters is the display is traded, gifted, or stolen aboriginal objects before the eyes of the vanquished. And then taking them back has the effect of increasing their value. It should come as no surprise then that those consulted would either display coolness towards these images or speak hotly but generally about their return. Why give the colonizer the satisfaction of engagement when it will look to them like agreement?
As Carty beautifully explains, the sight of Aboriginal culture is never going to be the museum. It is always in country, in the relationship of bodies and the tangible land, story, and song. The non-colonial and indigenized museum endeavors to bring as aboriginal bodies and moments of haptic and oral communion together. At the same time, it recognizes that these are sites also for others, places to display indigenous power to neighbors, not of signs and images alone, but as performances, as touch, as living rooms, as deeper engagements with territory and world views than have emerged from these places.
Last page. Leave it down there. When it is a virtue, humility is a sense of inferiority based on sober evaluation. Through self-effacing judgment, you determine your place in a specific context. You know who you are and what you are capable of given your skills, resources, and the situation. Where prevents the ego from collapsing from humility to humiliation is this self-awareness and the knowledge that in another context, you are not so entirely small.
Well, this notion works pretty well if you have sufficient privilege. That is, relative immunity from the daily grind of systematic shaming that is the experience of the poor, most children, women, LGBTQ persons, the disabled, migrant, racialized, and aboriginal people. A consideration of the tense passage between humility and humiliation may help illuminate a paradox that ought to be central to this gathering and that I began this talk with.
Why, when there are so many aboriginal objects in our museums, so few aboriginal people feel right here the right to be here? When your ancestral belongings now belong to another, being invited to visit them in their new owner's beautiful house can be humiliating. A further loss of dignity comes when you are expected to be publicly grateful for these embroidered exhibitions of power.
Museums are sites of colonization when they engender in aboriginal subjects a sense of submission and cultural humiliation rather than agency. On the other hand, to be able to contemplate and celebrate your cultural legacy in a home you truly share with others is humbling. Being overwhelmed by your people's achievements, seeing yourself in relation to and as an extension of that material and conceptual excellence, even succumbing to the pleasures of intelligent and affective display design are among the sublime joys of humility. Such environments create real relations between persons and pasts and peoples and each other. They engender righteous pride, dignity, and a sense of community and continuity, but also inspire desire to exceed strategies of mere survival and defensiveness and strictly tribal aspects of identity.
Humility is awe followed by a rational assessment, a grounding that allows us to leap forward. We must collaborate to design museums as site of humility rather than humiliation. Thank you.
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE], David. I'd like to call Professor Iftikhar Dadi to respond.
IFTIKHAR DADI: So thank you so much, David, for the very insightful and thoughtful presentation. And I may also, if I may be permitted to start from a lot of humility and just to say that on the one hand, the picture of Regina you showed us certainly looks bigger than Ithaca, OK? So I think those of us who live in Ithaca should-- we understand our place.
The second issue that, I think in the spirit of your paper, is the dialectic between, in a sense, a need for a sense of independence and a sense of autonomy among First Nation communities and also the need for collaboration with dominant hegemonic powers and larger structures. And what I would say is being myself a migrant to the US-- so I grew up in South Asia and now I live in the US.
And so in the sense, when we think about the enduring legacies of colonialism, where do people like me fit in, in the sense that are we also agents of that continued colonization or are we also-- what is our place in the context of sharing in power, but also sharing perhaps paradoxically in de-colonial or post-colonial ways of thinking? So in the sense that there's complicity in various ways, by various people. And I think the whole notion of thinking about colonialism today is-- we also need to think about it in a globalizing context.
Now so I didn't have the paper beforehand. So my remarks will be a little bit scattered. But I hope we can pick up more in the discussion.
So David, you started by a very nice quote by Little Bear-- Leroy Little Bear, who talks about the fact that specialization is tied to capital and reduces independence and agility. But in a sense, that's absolutely the case. But in a sense, if you think about [INAUDIBLE] social theory, I suppose. Then we think about the growth of the modern world and the growth of complex institutions that require specialization in the world today.
And I may say that the photographs, the very inspiring photographs you showed us of this aboriginal curatorial collective, I suppose, is another kind of specialization. So specialization can also have positive outcomes. It doesn't necessarily need to be an enemy. And in this day and age, in the kind of complex in a sense societies that we are all somehow or the other invested in, there is also a need for specialization, whether it is the need for art historians or the need for curators or artists who are in a sense very, very familiar with contemporary protocols of various disciplines, are able to intervene productively and in a progressive way to transform these.
And David, I was also very struck by your description of projects that don't make a spectacle of indigenous suffering, but also in a sense that there is a need for kind of in a sense the notion of critical care or even your idea of curation as a kind of healing or a kind of taking care of, because I think in some ways institutional critique and a critique of colonialism is absolutely central and important. And one can't really move forward without doing that. But one can't just be stuck at that level, because then it becomes-- the danger is the danger of [INAUDIBLE], of being in a sense always being reminded of wounds and not being able to move forward.
So the question-- and among the many projects I think you showed, this comes across very well, which is to say that there is, on the one hand, the importance of connecting with tradition, the importance of artifacts that First Nations and members of various communities need to find a way to think about practices and the relation of continuity of practices. But also it's also very absolutely central to produce new culture in a sense based upon these. So artists who are creative, who are productive, who are creating new kinds of relations, new kinds of artifacts, which may have complicated and various linkages to traditional practices, but may also move forward to address the kinds of societies that are changing and transforming. So that's absolutely, I think, very, very important to think about.
And the notion of the museum-- so I think it's-- and I think aspects of your paper are already, I think, very nicely reminding us of this, is that the museum-- all of us-- in other words, the museums today are not-- or we should not start from an assumption that the museums are colonial institutions. They may have a very sordid history of being colonial institutions. But today the claim should be that the museums belong to all of us.
If you don't start from a claim, then you always have a relationship of [INAUDIBLE]. But the relation should be, we are all members of the community of Toronto or Canada or Vancouver or various nations or communities. And the museums belong to all of us. And all of us have a say in what the museum does or ought to be doing.
And that does not, of course-- this is not a call to also deny notion of specialized community centers, museums, collections that may serve various purposes for various communities. But certainly museums that claim themselves to be national museums or regional museums or museums that have claims that are not closed, then I think all of us should start with the assumption and put pressure on these museums to open themselves up to new forms of relationships, of relationships of coexistence, of healing, of community building in various ways in which in a sense the specific cultures and practices of specific nations and peoples are respected. But also they can be seen in relation to other kinds of peoples and, as I said, the kind of complex, globalized society that we live in today. So let me end here, because I think we can perhaps have a chance for question and answer.
DAVID GARNEAU: Anybody have any questions? That was very well summarized. I feel a little contained. I need a question to open it up. Yeah.
DAVID GARNEAU: We're doing it right now. I was so impressed by this morning. I'm astonished. I have to rewrite. I was astonished.
Yeah, I thought there were so many wonderful examples of how the museum through digital means can be opened up with representations that include the voice and the visual presence in the video, which was entirely convincing for me, but still requiring the necessary involvement of indigenous bodies. I'm very concerned that representations of indigenous are used to replace the indigenous. And so always having foremost the idea that indigenous bodies and voices and physical presence have to be involved with the objects.
I don't believe that any indigenous objects in museums and including contemporary art gallery should be-- well no, not in contemporary-contemporary art. But indigenous objects that are community belongings should be handled without the consultation or care of indigenous people and particularly a class of curators that I classify as the indigenous rather than aboriginal.
Actually, I want to extend on that. I'm going to ask myself [INAUDIBLE] question. So I separate the aboriginal from the indigenous in this way. I see three categories of being native.
First years are tribal affiliation. I'm Metis. And there's [INAUDIBLE] person or a Mohawk or a Tahltan or Siksika person. And those people got together to become a confederacy, say when you have introduction of European people. So they recognized that they had more in common with each other despite language than they did in relation to the Europeans.
And then in the 20th century, you have people recognize themselves in Canada as First Nations people say or as aboriginal. And that's a different category. That's a political category. It's a way of being that is quite different, in fact separate from your community. But if you're disengaged from your community, then you have a problem.
But in the last 30, 40 years, we have a new category of nativeness called the indigenous, which is not synonymous with aboriginal. It refers to a class of international people, people who dialogue with aboriginal people from other nations. I went to Australia for the first time in 2008. And at that moment, I encountered aboriginal people there, I became indigenous. And my world view changed. And the way I operate is different.
I hadn't left Turtle Island and certainly my area of Turtle Island before that moment. And I realized that I was becoming indigenous person. And the problem with that is that the indigenous person, like the contemporary indigenous artist, can fall into the colonial enterprise much more easily. And [INAUDIBLE] without resistance, there is no progress. If you weren't being bucked up against, you would simply be assimilated. That's my concern.
So an indigenous person is able to be a colleague. But is it at the expense of the aboriginal or the community, is a great concern. The only other Metis in the room has a question.
AUDIENCE: I have a question. Thank you very much, David, for that incredible, hugely lush talk. My question is probably deceptively simple. In the context of non-coloniality and what you know about current colonial activities within major institutions, what is the future of these major institutions then in your opinion?
DAVID GARNEAU: My desire or--
DAVID GARNEAU: --what's going to actually happen?
AUDIENCE: Well both, because I know they might not be the same.
DAVID GARNEAU: Well, I mean, I think there's a split. I think there is more of these places that are sovereign display territories, these local museums where people are taking the things back and developing their own methodologies. Most of them begin by replicating the dominant, but slowly changing. There's a lot of that going on.
But I do believe that-- I think of the example of Gerald Conaty at the Glenbow Museum where I'm writing about this is Manitou Stone that's in the Royal Alberta Museum collection that was in the geology department. And then it was in the First Nations area. And then maybe it's going to go home. But a lot of nations want that to stay in the museum as a keeping house, right?
There's some trust built up in these places. And that's important, not just as a neutral ground, but a site of international dialogue or international keeping. So to me, that's one of many possible futures.
But central is indigenous curators, indigenous critics, indigenous bodies as publics in those spaces. That's the only way things will change. Otherwise, it's an imaginary change. There's nothing wrong with changing the imaginaries. But that's academic.
IFTIKHAR DADI: So I just wanted to add that absolutely that the need for indigenous specialization is absolutely essential. There's no way to move forward without that, I think, right? The second point I'd like to make about the museum is that if we think about-- I mean, there's new scholarship on the museum that--
There are places that have the label museum. And there are places that do not necessarily have the label of museum, but they might function in ways that are repositories for memories, objects, practices in various kinds of ways. And I think recognizing some of those, seeing how they function, what they do may actually open up all sorts of ways, creative ways of thinking about even what dominant or mainstream museums might be able to accomplish.
SPEAKER 1: I see the hand in the back before Pete. There's someone behind you. But I have one question first.
OK, so mine's more simple, hopefully. But so I wrote down, you had the term indigenous curatoria? And then you said not quite curation. And so you might have answered it, but my mind was immediately like, is that not quite right, like the not quite white?
I don't-- not quite sure what you meant by curatoria. Is that that we can't be the curator in terms of power? That's the way I feel, as the museum curator, or--
DAVID GARNEAU: So I just curated a project last month with Tess Allas, an indigenous curator in Australia in Sydney. It was around the Appin Massacre and brought four indigenous artists from here, including Adrian Stimson, to Australia to do a comparison of massacres and similar events in Canada with Australia. And we had a curatorium. We had lots of local people, indigenous people of different classes and academic affiliation or community involvement with us. And they helped a lot.
But the curatorial project, though it was indigenous led, wasn't changed much. It was nuanced. Often non-indigenous people will work with communities to reinforce their position. It won't alter it necessarily. My measure of collaboration is that both parties and their methodologies must be disturbed by the encounter or it's not a collaboration. Somebody is using somebody else.
So if you look at art-science collaborations, science is almost never disturbed by it. It's unperturbed whatsoever. It's merely entertained or illustrated.
And art doesn't know what it is. So it's always disturbed, right? So I haven't seen any art-science collaborations that are collaborations at all. And so that's my measure in looking at indigenous collaborations.
I'm working with another group around the senses. And there was indigenous people on one side of the table and non-indigenous on the other. And we all presented ourselves by talking about our families, where we're from and all that kind of thing. And the non-indigenous scholars didn't and then some even refused to do so because they would become a certain kind of subject in relation to us. Certainly it's the case that their methodologies have to be perturbed if I'm going to work with them. And until indigenous scholars and whatevers resist the way things must be done, it won't change.
AUDIENCE: So you mentioned that there is a compromise in between the First Nations community and the museum when it comes about getting those cultural items back. I was just wondering if you can speak more about what that compromise is and kind of what that relationship is all about or what's the political or I guess business-- I think there might be a business sense behind that too or anything like that. I don't know.
DAVID GARNEAU: In this room, I am unqualified to answer that question. I'm humble enough to know. There are many more people here who could answer that better than me. I have no idea. Sorry.
AUDIENCE: I actually just gave a keynote on this at the University of Delaware last week. I can give you just a really quick snapshot. So in 1999 [INAUDIBLE] was passed in the US, the Native American Graves Protection Repatriation Act. And it is specific to three types. And I don't want to use their terminology, but here it goes-- human remains, funerary objects, so things that are buried with people, objects of cultural patrimony, and I think there might be one more that I'm missing.
AUDIENCE: Sacred objects.
AUDIENCE: Sacred objects. The objects of cultural patrimony are ones that are needed to be repatriated-- thank you so much for your help-- need to be repatriated for cultural perpetuation. And then in Canada, which was more the focus of my paper, the keynote that I gave, I looked at the repatriation or recent repatriation amongst the Nisga'a Nation in northern British Columbia, so far up north. It's very close to Alaska.
And for them to repatriate their cultural belongings and ceremonial beings from the Museum of Canadian History and the World British Columbia Museum, it had to go through treaty. There's no repatriation process-- no repatriation policies in Canada. So with nations in British Columbia, First Nations in British Columbia undergoing the treaty process, essentially it's the disposition of land for the repossession of their cultural beings and ceremonial belongings. The Nisga'a lost 90% of their [INAUDIBLE], their traditional territory, and their treaty process. And they got back less than, I think it was 25% of the collection that the Canadian-- of their entire Nisga'a collection at the Museum of Canadian History and 40% of what was at the Royal British Columbia Museum.
DAVID GARNEAU: I'll answer that question in kind of a future way to link it to an earlier question. So those objects were initially collected under certain kinds of narratives and anthropological narratives and humanist narratives, science narratives. And it's interesting to me to trace-- when did it start? The 1970s, I guess. You all would know better than me.
When people started losing faith in those narratives and suddenly another narrative, indigenous narratives became more valuable. And so certain objects had to be transferred into that other narrative and then eventually those other places. So if we imagine sovereign futures, think of the narratives that allow people to collect contemporary aboriginal art and what's going to happen when sovereign nations, sovereign territories are going to want those objects for the collection, because they're collected-- they will have a stronger sovereign narrative where those objects will be more meaningful to their culture, their people and talk about in the future than will be true of the colonial strategy of the moment. It's very interesting to think how these narratives decay over time and how the narratives we hold dear now are going to decay in 20 years. How can we-- our job is to project into the future as artists, as thinkers.
AUDIENCE: This is more of a comment than a question, I guess. But I just wonder about your reaction. The Metropolitan Museum of Art did an exhibit on the plains, right? But the contemporary portion was in the last two rooms of this exhibit, separated from the historical objects, which I really thought kind of missed the point.
I mean, it was an amazing exhibit in some ways. It had such a broad definition of the plains. That was a little peculiar. But it also kind of isolated the contemporary art.
DAVID GARNEAU: Yeah, I think it's important to think of the necroptic desire, the desire for spaces for the dead, separated from the living and how much anxiety we feel when we walk in the spaces of the dead, because those objects are not mere things, as we've been saying. They're belongings that have spirit. And so to bring them together is to activate the living with the past. And that's something that creates anxiety in the non-indigenous person.
AUDIENCE: I'd really like to thank you for an extraordinary talk. I'm just sitting here sort of-- it's all reverberating in my head and creating many different responses. But the one I'd like to pick up on now is this issue of bodily connection that you came back to several times, which I couldn't agree with more. So there are a few things I'd like to say about it and a question.
One of the striking things that we found-- I think Jolene and I both experienced this when we worked on an exhibition called Across Borders, Beadwork in Iroquois Life some years ago, was that although museums have all these protocols in the back room about not touching and wearing white gloves, when it came down to it, at least in those museums we went to, beadworkers came in and started trying things on and taking off the white gloves and looking at them, tracing them so they could take the patterns out to make new. And the curators in those cases didn't do-- they were perfectly OK with it. The conservators weren't there. But the curators--
The curators didn't say anything. So there are these very strange things that go on in museums, as I now know from having worked in one for a while, that you have all these different specializations with very different professional formations. So just to add a little bit to what you say, I think that these discomforts that go on in museums are actually very complex. And somehow they need to be worked on. And even some conservators-- and Miriam Clavir's work here is perhaps worth citing-- have tried to figure out how to get beyond this don't touch--
DAVID GARNEAU: The prophylactic encounter of the blue gloves or white gloves.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, the blue gloves. And the dead, the necropolis idea that these things have to be left for dead. So question, I think you used the word-- but anyway, it's one that I like a lot-- is I think one of the problems museums have is their extreme aversion to messiness of any kind, that they don't like messy exhibitions.
They don't like to invite public to respond on the spot and in a topical way, in the moment. Everything has to be programmed and planned out ahead. And the bigger and more national and famous the museum is, the worse it is. The university museums are often the ones that are prepared for a bit of that or certainly indigenous tribal museums and such.
I think that I'd like to come back to the conversation we had at lunchtime about time. This is the question, really. We were working-- I thought it was a very interesting discussion about the difference between linear Western time and other models of time that seem to be part of various indigenous traditions, which could be conceived of as a circle or a spiral as you put it or some other model in which, it seems to me, the idea that the object, the belonging, the being can return in a new form and still be the same thing is a part of the universe in that belief system, whereas in the Western system you have this linear trajectory where the past is deep in the past. And the only way we have any access or possibility of recovering it is if we preserve the things of the past intact.
So if you kill them by putting them in the museum and they are left for dead, but they're also preserved as mummies. And so it seems to me and the question, is indigenization in the museum, if it's something or the non-colonial museum, a museum in which the very sense of time on which the Western museum is based must change? And how do we do that?
DAVID GARNEAU: I tell a story that some people have heard already. So Tibetan monks came to Regina a while back and did their sand mandala. And they went to meet with elders. I think it was at Piapot First Nations. And I was curious about that.
I said, why are you talking to the old people at Piapot? And they said, well it's like this. We go from place to place. And we talk to them about the world, reality. And if we agree on something, it's true. If we disagree, it's cultural.
And thinking of Leroy Little Bear's thought, I think it's very profound in the sense-- well, going back a little bit further, there's many wests. So the enlightenment, when they tried to get rid of metaphysics, then they have the necropolis is necessary. But if you go to Plato, it's the same thing as indigenous thought. So the notion that if the drum is the drum is the drum and you're participating in [INAUDIBLE] a particular time, so that object of the drum has got so much power not only because it's based on all these other drums that preceded it and so it doesn't need the authorship of the individual, but also goes on into the future or that spiral.
Similarly, the agent that creates the drum isn't the author of the drum, because they were authored by their previous authors. And that will go on into the future. So some drums are dead. And they need to be buried. And some drums are living. And they need to be recreated to live or to be spoken or to be sung, put on the wall if it's a different thing.
That might be a Western way. The object is defined by its use. It's alive by its use. So I'm not answering your question very well.
But I think that so-called Western people who are awake to their many other types of being Western-- their irrational or what I like to think of as extra-rational understanding of the West-- will find equivalents that will be symmetrical with indigenous thinking. And so the kinds of thinking people like to align with capitalism or enlightenment that cause danger to bodies and lakes and so on, well we have to go past that. But that's not owned by indigenous people.
It's just that when we get together with indigenous people or Tibetans, we realize that we're right, that's better. So we have to get past the postmodern moment that doesn't suffer ontologies, some things being better than something else. Some things are better than something else this time. Maybe not the next time. But I think those enduring essentials that are linked to land, body, and object and spirit are essential in that platonic sense as well.
AUDIENCE: On that question of how we open up the museum collections, I'd like to just share something that is very relevant. As some of you may have seen on my Wampum Trail Facebook page, I've been taking students into the collections at the Penn Museum. And part of the surreptitious nature of that is that we are studying objects, but I'm also looking for objects that native communities may not know is there, because in many cases even museums that claim to be open don't put photos of everything up on the web. So you have to literally go through the drawers.
So in doing a study of finger-woven belts, I wanted the students to understand how they're woven. So I offered to bring some of my own belts in. But I was informed that my belts were contaminated because they had not been in the museum. Therefore, they would have to be accessioned for two weeks in advance so they could be frozen. And then they could be stored in the study lab. And then they could be brought out and looked at alongside the objects.
And I had to really think about which belts I was willing to have frozen, because many of these have danced with me and lived with me for a long time. So I finally decided I could do that with one belt, only one. And I did. And so we had our study of the objects. And the curator was so astonished that she came up with this brilliant idea and showed up the next week with skeins of wool, none of which had been frozen in advance, brought them into the study room alongside my belt and these belts from the collections. And we all spent the entire four-hour session finger weaving.
So I think what comes for me out of that anecdote is that a lot of what happens in the museum is about relationships as much as it's about objects. And you're right. There's this love of the dead and this fear of the living. And these things are difficult to reconcile in the way that curators have traditionally handled them. So the minute you bring someone in who wants to do a living thing, it is somehow a danger. So--
DAVID GARNEAU: In this exhibition--
DAVID GARNEAU: I'm showing this slide, because this is the gallery space. We turned over one of the gallery spaces. And we served tea. And community members did beading circles. And this is a quilt project that was done.
So many objects were in the exhibition then taken down. And this went to other reserves and First Nations University to be activated. Other pieces were made and then shown only weeks afterwards. I wanted to show the permeability of that space. Not only bodies, but objects can move in and out, too.
AUDIENCE: So this has been a great series of conversations we're having and carrying over from lunch and from [INAUDIBLE] and to yours. And just as a comment on some of these issues that have come up, I similarly had a same response to the plains exhibit and just distancing of the living art from the earlier art. And again, it goes back to that linearity that the museum must prove it's bona fide, is within a certain system by saying we're going to keep to chronology. And it's linear. And the past is the past. And it has nothing really to do with a direct relationship to the present.
The other thing I wanted to mention, and Polly was there for this event when we were at the Harvard Peabody Museum for Material Culture workshop-- talk about a necropolis if you've ever been there. It is that.
But one of the most uncanny and creepy parts of the gloved hand that we had was we were told, and I believe it was honest. It was to protect us, because all of the 19th century objects have been preserved in arsenic and that we could only handle a lot of these objects for a very short time for our own safety. So they were not only dead, but poisonous in a way. And you could see why communities who that had been explained to-- we can't take those objects back. We don't want them back.
But that sense of the old words with we murder to dissect. And so there's that sense of not only acquisitiveness-- I want to take all this material-- but for what when you can't see it, when it's hidden away, as Marge was saying? It's like hoarding.
But it's a kind of grotesque cultural hoarding. And to what end? Hoarding is a pathology.
And these are the type things-- I loved when [INAUDIBLE] said that these objects aren't meant to last forever, which I could see a lot of conservationists fainting dead to hear those words from someone who studies this material. But they are not meant to. And so anyway, thank you all. This has just been such an incredible conversation to me.
SPEAKER 1: First I'm going to check the time, because I might have one more thing to say before you're done. I've got one minute. OK, so I just want to add to this conversation of handling things.
So I began my career in the museum field like 20 years ago. And I was one of the lucky bizarrely assigned interns to the NMAI in the Bronx before it was really re-housed. And one day I was told to go look for some particular bundle. I don't remember if it was [INAUDIBLE] or what. It was something like this.
And you climbed up this ladder. And you were 12 feet high looking into this wooden kind of crate drawer. And I didn't really even have a strong background in understanding the complex part of what I was doing.
And I just remember opening the drawer. And I was not going to dig to the bottom of that drawer. And I was just like, I don't know who you are. But I'm not here to hurt you.
And that's the thing that we haven't really talked about is when we are present, going into places and having that experience of the trapped-ness that we have to deal with and how we-- I mean, I think some museums like NMAI and I know Denver Art Museum-- we talk to the things. You know we're there. We know they're there. And we say, you're here and I'm here, too. So I think that's part of this indigenizing and having that safety in a museum to just go ahead and talk to the things and know that they're there.
AUDIENCE: Thanks, David, for a really amazing talk. You brought up some amazing or really interesting terms, the non-colonial museum. And you also talked about decolonization in really provocative ways.
And I'm wondering-- I thought your discussion about the situatedness of coloniality here in the Americas is different than perhaps in other parts of the world. And I'm just wondering if you could expand upon this, because you used the term an imagined decolonization. And I'm wondering if you could just take that up for a moment and maybe that be our final comment.
DAVID GARNEAU: It's difficult. I didn't know it was a problem. I'm not really a scholar in these areas.
And [INAUDIBLE] is that his name? We had a conversation about this guy, [INAUDIBLE]. And he took me to task. And he wanted to-- he wanted the indigenous people at this meeting in Toronto about three years ago to all accept post-colonial decolonization, all that.
And it just didn't ring true. And I go with my gut. It doesn't ring true.
If you're coming from a country where the British or the French or whomever, the Dutch have taken their bodies and left and left their legacy behind and you're trying to piece it all together and cobble something together that is hopefully somewhat indigenous but also recognizing the gifts of colonization and conquest, that's one thing. But trying to do that under a state of colonization, what is that? How can that ever be anything but imaginary? How can it be anything but compromise?
And what is the test of that compromise being suitable or not, especially in relation to Taiaiake Alfred or [INAUDIBLE] or other masculinist warriors who have a separatist agenda? I'm sorry, I'm not in that field. I'm an artist.
But I just read their books. And I thought, holy shit!
It doesn't suit-- doesn't suit too many people. But it seems to me that it's a separatist vision that it's important to think, OK, well there's the alternative. And if everything is a compromise, what is the protocols for compromise, or as I like to think of it as collaboration?
We have to have tests so that we can go into a situation and know if we're being compromised, if we're being humiliated, if it's just gut feeling or is it about a certain kind of relations, we can test. And [INAUDIBLE] had it exactly right. You can't do that without a senior agent there to help you. You need a guide. You can't do it without it.
And if those guides are non-indigenous because those are the front runners, that's fine. But later on, they will be replaced by indigenous guides. I'm always suspicious of universities who have elders from the community that they do not consider colleagues. They don't really treat them as colleagues.
And if they did, they would pay them accordingly. They would pay them as badly as an adjunct or a sessional. They'd recognize their place.
But no, until those are our measures, then we'll know for sure. But in the meantime, decolonization, post-colonial doesn't make any sense to me. I take strength from the notion of non-colonial because it refers to practices that pre-exist colonization. And some of those recreations are imaginary, too. But it's a delightful creative imaginary. And it's indigenous people doing it, so it's fine.
But also the notion that was mentioned is that it is an adaptive form. It's not a revival. It's an adaptive. When you're looking back to those things and understanding them within a world view, you're trying to make sense with the present.
And when it collides with the present, with certain forms of environmental degradation and capitalism, you have to say that that's just wrong. So we have to go backwards to go forward. And that's kind of [INAUDIBLE]. I haven't really thought it through well enough. Thank you.
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Talk by David Garneau (Métis), Associate Professor of Visual Arts, University of Regina, Saskatchewan. Respondent: Iftikhar Dadi, Associate Professor, History of Art and Visual Studies Department, Cornell University. Part of the Indigenous Methodologies and Art History conference held at Cornell on April 29, 2016, hosted by the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program (AIISP) and the Department of the History of Art and Visual Studies.