Ruth B. Phillips
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Swings and roundabouts
Pluralism and the politics of change in Canada’s national museums
in Curatopia
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If you are standing on the shores of the Ottawa River looking at the Canadian Museum of History, the national library and archives and other national repositories of Aboriginal heritage, you might well despair at the comprehensive losses of curatorial expertise, programmes of research and will to work collaboratively with Aboriginal people which befell these institutions under the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Looking harder, however, neither the shifting political ideologies nor the era of financial constraint that began with the global financial crisis of 2008 seems to have thrown processes of decolonisation and pluralist representation that began to take root in Canada during the 1990s into reverse. Two exhibition projects that unfolded during that same period provide evidence that the changes in historical consciousness of settler–Indigenous relationships and the acceptance of cultural pluralism have provided a counterweight to the intentions of a right-wing government to restore old historical narratives. This chapter discusses them as evidence of this deep and, seemingly, irreversible shift in Canadian public’s expectations of museum representation. The first involved plans for the new exhibition of Canadian history being developed for the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation in 2017, specifically a fishing boat named the Nishga Girl which was presented by a West-Coast First Nation to mark the successful resolution of its land claim. The second is the Sakahàn exhibition of global indigenous art shown in 2013 at the National Gallery of Canada and which marked a notable departure from its past scope. While utopia has by no means been achieved, neither, surprisingly, was dystopia realised during the years of conservative reaction.

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Museums and the future of curatorship


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