Why is BC NDP investing $800 million on a new museum and only $500,000 in repatriation?

May 18, 2022 | 42-3, Blog, Governance, Indigenous, Legislature, Question Period, Video | 0 comments

The BC NDP need to get their priorities straight.

They announced an $800 million new Royal BC Museum, when millions of British Columbians are struggling to keep up with the increasing costs of basic needs like food, transportation and housing. And, for months British Columbians have been demanding the BC NDP address the collapsing healthcare system.

Initially, the museum project was framed as an effort to decolonize the institution. Then it was about an old building that is seismically unsafe. Then when the announcement came on Friday May 13th it was an act of reconciliation.

Building a new museum is not an act of reconciliation. In my opinion, it is a power play. The RBCM has had no issues with their natural history or settler-colonial exhibits, their problem is how they relate to Indigenous People.

A new building will not solve this institutional rot and the BC NDP approach has been a disaster!

[Transcript]

A. Olsen:

On Friday our Premier stood and announced an $800 million monument to colonial storytelling, the rebuilding of the B.C. museum. In the presser, the Premier said: “The stories told here have failed to accurately reflect our colonial history or include everyone.” Yesterday in question period, the Premier and then, today, the minister said that they’re surprised that we don’t support “investing in our collective history.”

Well, this is the challenge that we face. It depends on where you sit, because as uncomfortable as the truth is, the history the surprised Premier and minister today are celebrating is the grave-robbing of my ancestors.

The museum has had no problems telling the story of natural history. It’s the woolly mammoth, a well-loved feature. Everybody can agree. Old Town breathes life into the adventurous spirit of explorers and settlers. The museum’s problem is how they relate to Indigenous people. It has been identified as a terrible place for Indigenous people to work. It cannot be fixed by a bigger, brighter, shinier museum built with mass timber and wrapped in a Lekwungen-inspired veneer. A new shrine to house the systemic rot is not the solution.

To the Premier, does he not understand that this announcement is actually a powerful act of aggression, a power play wrapped in the rhetoric of reconciliation?

Hon. M. Mark:

I have the deepest respect for the member opposite, as a fellow Indigenous person who stands in these chambers, representing not only your constituents but also your heritage. I appreciate the words that the member is sharing. There’s a lot of work going on at the Royal B.C. Museum. There have been complaints about the workforce, and we’re trying to fix it. We have a new CEO. We have been committed from day one that we were going to modernize the museum. That includes the way people work there, the way the exhibits are shared, working with the First Nations whose territory it’s on. It is on the Lekwungen territory. We are working hand in hand — I say paddle together — with the Songhees, with the Esquimalt, to have their validation and to follow protocol in a good way about the work that is going to carry on, moving forward.

With respect, my village, Laxgalts’ap, is very far from here. Kids in schools in the Nass Valley can’t come down here and access this museum.

The Royal B.C. Museum is the people’s museum. It needs to be brought into the 21st century, which means….

Interjections.

Hon. M. Mark:

I don’t know how the members opposite can’t resist heckling. I’m talking about our important history. I’m talking about sharing our important history beyond Victoria, with the rest of the province. It’s the people’s museum.

Through technology, through virtual tours, by digitizing our shared history…. To the member opposite, when we learned, which we’re working on…. We’re coming towards the one-year anniversary of the 215…. The archives building plays an important role in reconciliation and repatriation. When I saw images of the children at Tk’emlúps….

Interjection.

Hon. M. Mark:

You’re going to keep mocking? I wish I had pictures of my grandparents and I understood what they went through. That institution is an important vessel for education, and we are going to do things better. I want to commit to the member opposite and to all members of these chambers that we must do things better. We must bring it into the 21st century. We must work with Indigenous communities. We are going to reset the relationship with the RBCM. That is precisely what was called for in the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act action plan.

[10:50 a.m.]

Mr. Speaker:

Member for Saanich North and the Islands, supplemental.

A. Olsen:

The minister is lucky. She’s lucky because her items are back in her community, many of them. That repatriation, many of the repatriations up there have already happen, as part of treaty, which Indigenous nations around this province are waiting for in order to be able to have our items come back home. Most Indigenous people I speak to have no desire to visit their culture in a museum.

This announcement brought me to tears multiple times this weekend, right here. The cultural significance that museums and the Premier call “artifacts” are not oddities from another century. They are meaningful to our living and breathing cultures — contemporary items. In fact, some of the items in the museum’s collection are the missing puzzle pieces to the broken parts of our culture, the parts that we haven’t had the benefit to access because they’ve been locked away in cabinets in the basement.

Growing up in the Western culture, we’ve learned to celebrate museums and the strictly curated narratives that they tell about our history. But we want our sacred items home. We want our technologies. We want our innovations. We want our designs. We want them in the hands of our teachers and our children so that they can be inspired by their ancestors at home. We don’t want to visit our culture locked behind glass. We want it on the land and on the water, where our culture lives and breathes.

Mariah Charleson, the vice-president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, tweeted: “I wonder how many stolen items could be repatriated to the appropriate owners with that amount of money.” Why is this B.C. NDP government spending $800 million to warehouse Indigenous culture and in 2020 only invested $500,000, in $30,000 increments, for Indigenous nations to repatriate their ancestors and items of cultural significance?

Hon. M. Mark:

There are many things that I agree with the member opposite on. This is why we have to do this important work. This is why we need to bring it into the 21st century.

The member opposite can shake his head. I am being sincere in telling you. I have told my staff. Who stole and raided my cupboards in our kitchens, as Nisga’a people, as Gitxsan people? Our bowls, our tools are over behind glass cupboards. I have said that. I’m not trying to be provocative or politically incorrect.

These institutions were created at a moment in time. Times have changed. All members in these chambers voted for the declaration on the rights of Indigenous people. We are going to do things differently. That includes repatriation. That is a part of our action plan.

I want to say in these chambers, for the record, with all due respect, I’m Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Cree and Ojibway. My daughter is Haida. We don’t all agree. We don’t all think the same. That is the importance of self-determination. There are some nations that want their archives to be in these institutions as opportunities for learning, to understand how things were created, to teach. That is what institutions like the Royal B.C. Museum are intended to do. We are going to fix things.

The members opposite who kind of mock and make jokes, like cancel culture. Now more than ever we need to use institutions like the museum to bring us along, to bring up our awareness, to have understanding, especially here in B.C., where so many Indigenous people have not had the best experience with the Crown.

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