Museums Are ‘Colonial’ and Need Re-Focus on ‘Diversity and Inclusion’: Federal Guide


The Heritage Department says that museums are “colonial institutions” that need to re-focus on issues such as climate change and “diversity and inclusion” to address withering interest.

The department released a paper on March 14 to guide public consultations on the renewal of the Canadian Museum Policy that was last updated in 1990, as flagged by Blacklock’s Reporter.

It says Canadian society has changed since that time, with the current policy not taking into consideration “important societal shifts such as reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, addressing issues of equity, diversity and inclusion, or the ongoing digital transformation.”

Under the theme “the role of museums in society,” the guide says that collecting and displaying objects collected from around the world is a form of colonialism.

“While this approach has educated and opened new horizons, it has also impoverished and separated people from their heritage.”

The paper offers discussion questions such as “What are the key challenges museums will need to overcome if they are to play a meaningful role in society?”

The guide also says that expectations towards museums are changing given audiences are increasingly diverse, with a growing number of visitors wanting the institutions to “help them understand today’s world and to be more inclusive and accessible.”

The Heritage document also mentions that museums have been hit hard by COVID-19 lockdowns, with concerns that visitors and staff will not return to pre-pandemic levels.

The rewriting of the policy comes after a 2021 audit found that museums are dealing with a significant drop in visitors and revenue.

The guide says that money is an issue to keep museums open, with 54 percent of heritage institutions not charging a fee and many of them not able to afford full-time staff or competitive wages.

But Heritage says this problem is secondary to ensuring long-term sustainability, which “may be more about what museums offer rather than what they have in their collections.”

The department argues that museums are well-placed to educate the public on “climate change, equity, diversity and inclusion.”

“How can heritage institutions better support sustainable development and address climate change?” it asks as a discussion question.

The guide also decries that people who are not White, able, or straight have also often been marginalized or excluded from museum collections and exhibits.

“Through these actions, museums contributed to the exclusion of voices that the mainstream society of the day did not wish to acknowledge,” the guide says.

“Embracing equity, diversity and inclusion starts by understanding that museums are part of Canada’s colonial legacy.”

The guide also notes museum staff need to be more diverse, with females currently constituting two-thirds of the workforce. Also a third is older than 45 years-old and 4 percent are “racialized.”

“What are the barriers to hiring equity-deserving individuals or involving them as volunteers?” asks the guide.

The path followed by Heritage Canada is part of a societal trend to remove historical representations that do not conform to the current views or tastes of some tranche of the population.

The Royal BC Museum had embarked on a push to “decolonize” in 2021 but paused its effort after public backlash. Like Heritage it is holding public consultations on the museum’s future.

Canada’s chief archivist also launched a purge of its online historical content in 2021 given that it could be “offensive to many.”

Activists following the ideology have also toppled or defaced statues in recent years, such as that of Canada’s first prime minister John A. MacDonald who is blamed, in part, for the residential schools.


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