Engaging with the Uncomfortable

My blog post about First Nations programs, events and exhibitions in libraries, archives and museums that discuss subject matter that White settlers may find “confronting” or “difficult”

“I can’t own your uncomfortability” – Aunty Charmaine Papertalk Green

Several months ago I asked fellow museum, library and archives folks on Twitter, how do we engage audiences to enter uncomfortable spaces? Especially, relating to First Nations people and the impact of ongoing invasion.

I asked this because I was recently involved in a museum program for university students where we discussed the Stolen Generations and intergenerational trauma and after the program, one of the students anonymously commented on a feedback form that they felt like they were being reprimanded and made to feel bad for being White. I found this to be an odd response as we were just discussing a reality and an issue that affects many, many First Nations people, but they chose to disengage because it made them uncomfortable. This made me worried that White fragility will always get in the way of settlers engaging with programs that challenge the colonial structures that benefit them. This made me worried that White fragility is more of concern to some people than the truth.

I previously experienced this when I was ask to write something about James Cook and I wrote that he represents the start of invasion to many First Nations people and this was changed to he represents that start of the colonial encounter to many First Nations people. I felt that this language was soft and dishonest, but I can understand why it was chosen and that was out of fear of any potential backlash caused by White fragility. Nevertheless, it is concerning that White feelings are privileged over First Nations oppression. Furthermore, what are the implications for us working in libraries, archives and museums trying to ensure that historically suppressed and marginalised voices are prominent part of the history constructed and conveyed by the collections held in theses institutions?

In regards to First Nations people, how our history, culture and communities has been represented in libraries, archives and museums has been historically governed by settlers, particularly settler men and because of this we have been represented through a colonisers lens which reflects the values and beliefs of mainstream settler society. But thanks to the tireless work of First Nations people in these spaces before me and many allies this has changed and continues to change, however if the First Nations output from libraries, archives and museums is scared of settler feelings then our representations are still in a way governed by settlers.

Screenshot (37).png

Be more positive

Of course, tone policing is not new. I have heard people say many times if First Nations people were more inviting and less “confronting” with their stories, then people (settlers) would engage with them more. Although, this is flawed, because it puts the responsibility on us, First Nations people. Instead of asking ” why are you making me uncomfortable”, settlers should ask “why do I feel uncomfortable” when engaging with First Nations stories and histories.

Additionally, even when manifestations of our cultures and our histories focus on the positive, it can still threaten White fragility. For instance, the opening ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games included culture and performances by several different First Nations cultural practitioners and communities, which even though it was celebratory and by no means critical of colonisation, it still caused a negative reaction among settlers. Social commentators were offended by the mere inclusion of First Nations culture and the disruption of our invisibility.

Who’s discomfort?

All of this can imply that settlers are the intended audience for First Nations output from libraries, archives and museums. For instance, I was recently talking with a settler curator about how it is becoming more common for exhibitions to include relevant First Nations languages and she said she was worried that it can be confusing for the exhibition visitors. Undoubtedly, she was talking about White settlers when she was saying visitors and my initial reaction to this was “not everything is about you”. But exhibitions have been, in many cases, about her as her epistemology, her experiences and her language are considered the default in mainstream settler society and therefore have been reflected in a majority of exhibitions. And because of this, she is more concerned with potential settler discomfort caused by confusion than suppression of First Nations languages.

In addition to this, discussions about discomfort in libraries, archives and museums rarely touch on First Nations peoples’ discomfort that could stem from keeping our cultural heritage in very colonial buildings, describing or classifying our cultural heritage in ways that are alien to our world-views, the implementation of confusing access guidelines and the celebration in libraries, archives and museums of people many of us deem to be violent, oppressive colonisers.

How do we engage audiences to enter uncomfortable spaces?

I genuinely asked that question several months ago because I know many people have done great work in regards to this and want to hear their thoughts because we need many colonial structures to change and change comes from being uncomfortable which will never happen if White fragility gets in the way and is prioritised. How do we get audiences, especially White settler audiences to understand discomfort is temporary, oppression is not?

Further reading

‘Difficult’ exhibitions and intimate encounters

By Nathan Sentance

Your neutral is not our neutral

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – Desmond Tutu

My blog post about the myth of neutrality in libraries, archives and museums. This post is from a First Nations perspective

I had a discussion with someone once about if memory institutions, like museums, libraries and archives, should modify past classification and description of First Nations material that use antiquated and potentially offensive terminology, they said we could not because that would be whitewashing history and we need to remain objective and just present the facts. While part of me partially agrees, my retort was memory institutions have predominantly presented a colonial history as fact and have excluded the voices of marginalised people and by doing so have demonstrated an ingrained bias (Jimerson, 2009, 216). This bias manifests itself in how material is collected, described, preserved, and exhibited (Jenson, 2008, 93). I argue that museums, libraries and archives cannot not remain objective or neutral because they never were.

Many have contested the objectivity of memory institutions, noting that their collections are governed by people, people who have their own perspectives and intentions and as such are not impartial agents (Jimerson, 2009, 215; Durrani & Smallwood, 2008, 123). Their perspectives are influenced by their epistemology (Kwaymullina, 2016, 439). This affects their decisions such as what information should be preserved for future generations and these decisions shapes the public’s memory, thus making these political decisions (Jimerson, 2009, 215).

Admittedly, there are systems created to reduce individual choices in regards to memory institution’s collections to uphold objectivity, such as government policies and professional criteria, guidelines and standards. However, these systems are influenced by the dominant culture, which in colonised countries is a Western Eurocentric culture (White, 2017, 369; Jimerson, 2009, 215). There is a reason why the predominant cataloguing code libraries used until just recently was titled the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR2).

Furthermore, because many memory institutions are part of the government and/or are funded by the local, state or federal government, they are not just influenced by the dominant culture, they are also influenced by the government (Luker, 2017, 112); Jimerson, 2009, 216). Different governments have different political positions, which may change the objectivity of the memory institutions.

In regards to First Nations cultural heritage, it has been argued that memory institutions are tools of colonisation in which colonial powers used to proliferate narratives for their own means (Luker, 2017, 112; Sentance, 2017). For example, exhibitions in natural history museums portrayed First Nations people as primitive savages. This helped justify land dispossession, because it framed us as inferior and in need of Western civilisation (Genovese, 2016, 34; Smith, 2012, 39).

In addition to this, Western institutions, including memory institutions, have a long tradition of centring Anglo non-Indigenous people in the telling of First Nations history and culture (Sentance, 2017a; Moreton-Robinson, 2004, 87). Kwaymullina suggests that this reinforces Anglo non-Indigenous people as the default which places First Nations people as the “other” (440). As a result, First Nations people are perceived as objects of history or of anthropology, rather than fellow humans (Kwaymullina, 2016, 43; Smith, 2012, 39).

Consequently, some perceive memory institutions not as neutral sources of information, but as political tools. To accept them as neutral means to accept the existing distribution of power they enforce and contribute to (Jenson, 2008, 94).

This idea of neutrality in institutions is very much informed by the Enlightenment and the concept that Eurocentric Western scholarship produces a universal knowledge that is universally relevant (Kwaymullina, 2016, 439). This notion portrays Western scholars as speaking from a neutral position which means those outside of the Western scholarship are biased. As a result, this notion has delegitimised First Nations knowledge production and denied historical and cultural pluralism (Kwaymullina, 2016, 441).

Why this is a problem

There are issues that can occur if the notion of neutrality in memory institutions does not continually get challenged. For instance, if a memory institution is perceived as being neutral, then actions like adding First Nations stories of oppression to the collection to rectify past imbalances of perspectives can be framed as not an action of balance, but rather a political act This could lead memory institutions to avoid necessary actions because they are “risky” and they do not want to be political (Jenson, 2008, 94).

Similarly, if memory institutions are neutral, then their inherent Eurocentrism is neutral which continues First Nations people being framed as the “other”. This makes it harder to challenge and change white privilege and institutional racism within memory institutions and society more broadly.

Additionally, if being neutral means shunning involvement in movements that challenge oppressive structures, then some would argue that memory institutions in attempting to be neutral, even though they are not actively oppressing people, have assisted the oppressor (Jenson, 2008, 94). Furthermore, it makes memory institutions less effective in creating social change which therefore makes them less socially relevant (Good, 2008, 145).

In conclusion, memory institutions need to challenge internal and external perceptions that they are neutral and we need to come to terms with what that means.

To be continued….

By Nathan Sentance

Durrani , Shiraz and Elizabeth Smallwood “The Professional is Political : Redefining the Social Role of Public Libraries” Questioning Library Neutrality Essays from Progressive Librarian. Edited by Alison Lewis. Library Juice Press, 2008, 119-140

Good, Joesph. “The Hottest Place in Hell: The Crisis of Neutrality in Contemporary Librarianship” Questioning Library Neutrality Essays from Progressive Librarian. Edited by Alison Lewis. Library Juice Press, 2008, 141-147

Jensen, Robert. “The myth of the neutral professional” Questioning Library Neutrality Essays from Progressive Librarian. Edited by Alison Lewis. Library Juice Press, 2008, 89-96.

Jimerson, Randall, C. Archives power : memory, accountability, and social justice‎. Society of American Archivists‎, 2009

Kwaymullina, Ambelin. “Research, ethics and Indigenous peoples: an Australian Indigenous perspective on three threshold considerations for respectful engagement” AlterNative, vol 12, no. 4, 2016 437-449.

Luker, Trish. “Decolonising Archives: Indigenous Challenges to Record Keeping in ‘Reconciling’ Settler Colonial States” Australian Feminist Studies, vol, 32, no. 91-92, 2017, 108-125

Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. “whiteness epistemology and Indigenous representation” Whitening Race: Essays in social and cultural criticism. Edited by Aileen Moreton-Robinson. Aboriginal Studies Press, 2004.

Sentance, Nathan. “The Paternalistic Nature of Collecting” Archival Decolonist. 12 Jun. 2017 https://archivaldecolonist.com/2017/06/12/the-paternalistic-nature-of-collecting/

Sentance, Nathan. “Maker unknown and the decentring First Nations People” Archival Decolonist. 21 Jul. 2017 https://archivaldecolonist.com/2017/07/21/maker-unknown-and-the-decentring-first-nations-people/

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 2nd ed., Zed Books, 2012.

Passion guides me

This is short blog post is for the AusGLAMBlog theme of passion. This is part of my upcoming talk at Future GLAM: Convergence & collaboration in the cultural heritage sector

GLAM

I am a librarian and archivist but that is not my current role and before I get into the main part of my discussion, I want to talk quickly about the blurring lines of GLAM because I think it’s interesting to hear about as emerging professionals. When I tell people who know me as a librarian that I now work at the Australian Museum they often assume I work in the Museum’s library or archive. This assumption is usually based very strict ideas what a librarian is and rigid ideas that differentiate galleries from museums from archives from libraries. And there are of course differences, but they are more similarities between these memory and cultural institutions. During my time working at the State Library and my time completing my library studies undergrad, I gained experience in organising information, predominantly First Nations knowledges and histories, project management and providing access and interpretation to information. While I now work with object based cultural heritage rather than paper based cultural heritage such as books or records, my experience and skills aren’t tied to mediums of stories and knowledge. They are transferable. At the museum, I still organise and preserve information it is just in different mediums than at the library and I still provide access to information whether it be through access for First Nations community members to cultural heritage objects or getting the public to engage with First Nations histories or knowledges with events or programs. In other words, many of the skills I have obtained work across the GLAM sector, not just for silos within it.

 

But, the main reason I believe I can work across GLAM is because of my passion and goals. Here is a vision statement I wrote for myself three years ago when I still work as a Librarian

 

vision pic

 

I have never had a plan of what role I will have in or what institution I will work in to guide me or anything similar, I have been guided by these ambitions in this vision statement and this has directed me to what I do, which has made alternating between galleries, libraries, archives and museums easier because where I work was not the point, the point for me is to ensure First Nations agency over the history and culture collected, conveyed and preserved in memory institutions and not to ensure First Nations people control the narrative that surrounds them.

Engaging with the Uncomfortable

My blog post about First Nations programs, events and exhibitions in libraries, archives and museums that discuss subject matter that White settlers may find “confronting” or “difficult”

“I can’t own your uncomfortability” – Aunty Charmaine Papertalk Green

Several months ago I asked fellow museum, library and archives folks on Twitter, how do we engage audiences to enter uncomfortable spaces? Especially, relating to First Nations people and the impact of ongoing invasion.

I asked this because I was recently involved in a museum program for university students where we discussed the Stolen Generations and intergenerational trauma and after the program, one of the students anonymously commented on a feedback form that they felt like they were being reprimanded and made to feel bad for being White. I found this to be an odd response as we were just discussing a reality and an issue that affects many, many First Nations people, but they chose to disengage because it made them uncomfortable. This made me worried that White fragility will always get in the way of settlers engaging with programs that challenge the colonial structures that benefit them. This made me worried that White fragility is more of concern to some people than the truth.

I previously experienced this when I was ask to write something about James Cook and I wrote that he represents the start of invasion to many First Nations people and this was changed to he represents that start of the colonial encounter to many First Nations people. I felt that this language was soft and dishonest, but I can understand why it was chosen and that was out of fear of any potential backlash caused by White fragility. Nevertheless, it is concerning that White feelings are privileged over First Nations oppression. Furthermore, what are the implications for us working in libraries, archives and museums trying to ensure that historically suppressed and marginalised voices are prominent part of the history constructed and conveyed by the collections held in theses institutions?

In regards to First Nations people, how our history, culture and communities has been represented in libraries, archives and museums has been historically governed by settlers, particularly settler men and because of this we have been represented through a colonisers lens which reflects the values and beliefs of mainstream settler society. But thanks to the tireless work of First Nations people in these spaces before me and many allies this has changed and continues to change, however if the First Nations output from libraries, archives and museums is scared of settler feelings then our representations are still in a way governed by settlers.

Screenshot (37).png

Be more positive

Of course, tone policing is not new. I have heard people say many times if First Nations people were more inviting and less “confronting” with their stories, then people (settlers) would engage with them more. Although, this is flawed, because it puts the responsibility on us, First Nations people. Instead of asking ” why are you making me uncomfortable”, settlers should ask “why do I feel uncomfortable” when engaging with First Nations stories and histories.

Additionally, even when manifestations of our cultures and our histories focus on the positive, it can still threaten White fragility. For instance, the opening ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games included culture and performances by several different First Nations cultural practitioners and communities, which even though it was celebratory and by no means critical of colonisation, it still caused a negative reaction among settlers. Social commentators were offended by the mere inclusion of First Nations culture and the disruption of our invisibility.

Who’s discomfort?

All of this can imply that settlers are the intended audience for First Nations output from libraries, archives and museums. For instance, I was recently talking with a settler curator about how it is becoming more common for exhibitions to include relevant First Nations languages and she said she was worried that it can be confusing for the exhibition visitors. Undoubtedly, she was talking about White settlers when she was saying visitors and my initial reaction to this was “not everything is about you”. But exhibitions have been, in many cases, about her as her epistemology, her experiences and her language are considered the default in mainstream settler society and therefore have been reflected in a majority of exhibitions. And because of this, she is more concerned with potential settler discomfort caused by confusion than suppression of First Nations languages.

In addition to this, discussions about discomfort in libraries, archives and museums rarely touch on First Nations peoples’ discomfort that could stem from keeping our cultural heritage in very colonial buildings, describing or classifying our cultural heritage in ways that are alien to our world-views, the implementation of confusing access guidelines and the celebration in libraries, archives and museums of people many of us deem to be violent, oppressive colonisers.

How do we engage audiences to enter uncomfortable spaces?

I genuinely asked that question several months ago because I know many people have done great work in regards to this and want to hear their thoughts because we need many colonial structures to change and change comes from being uncomfortable which will never happen if White fragility gets in the way and is prioritised. How do we get audiences, especially White settler audiences to understand discomfort is temporary, oppression is not?

Further reading

‘Difficult’ exhibitions and intimate encounters

By Nathan Sentance

Right of Reply: an introduction

The right of reply commonly refers to the right to defend oneself against public criticism in the same site where it was published. This term is usually used in the context of journalism and reporting, however for at least the last decade the term has also been applied to the practice of providing marginalised voices a platform to respond to the archives and records created about them (McKemmish et al. 231). Especially, First Nations voices responding to the archives and records created relating to their history, culture and people (Luker 112).

This is to help increase First Nations peoples’ agency and self determination in the construction of memory because historically the First Nations information within museums, archives and libraries has been recorded, collected and interpreted by colonisers and this has led to proliferation of false and distorted information about First Nations history, culture and people as well as created and sustained the dehumanisation of First Nations people and sustained their “otherness” from the dominant culture in settler states (Genovese 34; Smith 39). As result of this, memory institutions such as libraries, archives and museums have helped the colonial agenda and settler state justify their land dispossession and assimilation policies severely affecting First Nations people (Genovese 34; Nakata 182).

Because of this, I have experienced people read records about their family members that they know are not true and have had cultural practitioners tell me that cultural objects in museum collections have been misclassified and their cultural purpose has been incorrectly described and have had community members tell me that the First Nations language written in colonisers diaries are mistranslated. However, these collections are where people look to learn history and the information within these institutions collections are considered the most legitimate (Luker 112). Therefore, this mistranslated language text is what people will use to understand a certain First Nations language or this inaccurate record of a particular First Nations family could be the basis of history book.

As consequence of this, many people have contested the colonial history and the privileging of voices, particularly rich white men’s voices, in memory institutions’ collections (Sentance).  In addition to this, many have argued for First Nations people to have more control over their intangible heritage and what is written about us. Unfortunately, there has not been historically a mechanism, particularly for oppressed people to respond or “set the record straight” to the information created about them (Thorpe 911).

This is why the practice of right of reply deserves discussion. Although, I have been introduced to the right of reply in archival contexts, I believe it is also applicable to collections in museums and libraries.

What a right of reply could look like

1_Create_Digital_Heritage___Mukurtu_Demo_copy

I have seen the right of reply in action with the CMS system Mukurtu, which was created for First Nations communities. With its metadata field for cultural heritage, cultural narrative (featured above), Mukurtu allows a First Nations community member to respond to a cultural heritage item relevant to their family, culture, history or language. Furthermore, it allows community members to decide if a cultural narrative is open to the public or private.

Additionally, and what I consider very important, Mukurtu, allows community members to respond in different mediums in the cultural narrative metadata field. For example, if free text is what they prefer, that is how a First Nations community member can respond, however they can also respond through audio or video or through picture. This is integral because memory institutions have historically the written word which has excluded many voices. This also allows a First Nations community member to respond on their terms rather than the colonisers. Mukurtu is not just only the only CMS that facilitates pluralism in the creation of metadata, there are systems, like Ara Irititja. Regardless, the right of reply does not need to depend on a system, can just be a principle to adopt.

In conclusion, libraries, archives and museums need to have conversations around the concept of the right of reply in regards to First Nations cultural heritage. The results of these conversations is hopefully an official space within database metadata for a First Nations community member to respond to a cultural heritage item relevant to their family, culture, history or language, which in turn can rectify the distortions of history and lack of First Nations voices.

Luker, Trish. “Decolonising Archives: Indigenous Challenges to Record Keeping in ‘Reconciling’ Settler Colonial States” Australian Feminist Studies, vol, 32, no. 91-92, 2017, 108-125

McKemmish, Sue, et al. “Distrust in the archive: reconciling records” Archival Science, vol 11, 2011,211–239

Nakata, Martin. Disciplining the Savages: Savaging the disciplines. Aboriginal Studies Press, 2007

Sentance, Nathan. “The Paternalistic Nature of Collecting” Archival Decolonist. 12 Jun. 2017 https://archivaldecolonist.com/2017/06/12/the-paternalistic-nature-of-collecting

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 2nd ed., Zed Books, 2012.

Thorpe, Kirsten. “Aboriginal Community Archives” Research in the Archival Multiverse, Edited by Anne J Gilliland, Sue McKemmish and Andrew J Lau,Monash University Publishing, 2017.

 

 

 

 

You should be grateful!

An argument I see online often in response to First Nations people discussing the historical and ongoing oppression that stems from colonisation and invasion, is that we, First Nations people, should be grateful that we were invaded by the British because the French, Spanish, Chinese, etc would have wiped us out. I thought I would write a microblog in response to that argument so I don’t have to respond it ever again.

I have two main points regarding this idea.

Aussie brahs do you think Aboriginal people are lucky that the British came first Bodybuilding com Forums

Firstly, it is unseemly to speak about a hypothetical when we are speaking about REAL land dispossession, real removal of children, real high suicide rates, real massacres, real disenfranchisement and real cultural genocide. What we are discussing is real and opresses us and causes us trauma, what you are speaking about is a maybe. Saying we are lucky the British invaded instead the French is similar to saying we are lucky the British invaded and oppressed us rather than a meteoroid hitting our land and destroying all of us.

Secondly, I will use an analogy to make my point (I know that an analogy is not adequate in describing the brutality of colonisation). If I was to burn down your house, but not your shed and I said you are lucky Todd did not burn down your house because he would of burnt your shed as well, would you feel grateful towards me? Is your anger in regards to your lost house misplaced because I’m hypothetically better than Todd? Am I not responsible for my consequences because I did not destroy your shed even though you are without house? As you can see, just because I’m hypothetically better than Todd, does make my actions good.

In conclusion, I know you do not want to feel guilt or discomfort, but we need to engage in these discussions around ongoing invasion to disrupt and change structures that oppress. I know you want to feel pride in Australian history, but you should attempt to feel pride in your actions instead.

Lastly, please retire this lazy and offensive argument.

Your neutral is not our neutral

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – Desmond Tutu

My blog post about the myth of neutrality in libraries, archives and museums. This post is from a First Nations perspective

I had a discussion with someone once about if memory institutions, like museums, libraries and archives, should modify past classification and description of First Nations material that use antiquated and potentially offensive terminology, they said we could not because that would be whitewashing history and we need to remain objective and just present the facts. While part of me partially agrees, my retort was memory institutions have predominantly presented a colonial history as fact and have excluded the voices of marginalised people and by doing so have demonstrated an ingrained bias (Jimerson, 2009, 216). This bias manifests itself in how material is collected, described, preserved, and exhibited (Jenson, 2008, 93). I argue that museums, libraries and archives cannot not remain objective or neutral because they never were.

Many have contested the objectivity of memory institutions, noting that their collections are governed by people, people who have their own perspectives and intentions and as such are not impartial agents (Jimerson, 2009, 215; Durrani & Smallwood, 2008, 123). Their perspectives are influenced by their epistemology (Kwaymullina, 2016, 439). This affects their decisions such as what information should be preserved for future generations and these decisions shapes the public’s memory, thus making these political decisions (Jimerson, 2009, 215).

Admittedly, there are systems created to reduce individual choices in regards to memory institution’s collections to uphold objectivity, such as government policies and professional criteria, guidelines and standards. However, these systems are influenced by the dominant culture, which in colonised countries is a Western Eurocentric culture (White, 2017, 369; Jimerson, 2009, 215). There is a reason why the predominant cataloguing code libraries used until just recently was titled the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR2).

Furthermore, because many memory institutions are part of the government and/or are funded by the local, state or federal government, they are not just influenced by the dominant culture, they are also influenced by the government (Luker, 2017, 112); Jimerson, 2009, 216). Different governments have different political positions, which may change the objectivity of the memory institutions.

In regards to First Nations cultural heritage, it has been argued that memory institutions are tools of colonisation in which colonial powers used to proliferate narratives for their own means (Luker, 2017, 112; Sentance, 2017). For example, exhibitions in natural history museums portrayed First Nations people as primitive savages. This helped justify land dispossession, because it framed us as inferior and in need of Western civilisation (Genovese, 2016, 34; Smith, 2012, 39).

In addition to this, Western institutions, including memory institutions, have a long tradition of centring Anglo non-Indigenous people in the telling of First Nations history and culture (Sentance, 2017a; Moreton-Robinson, 2004, 87). Kwaymullina suggests that this reinforces Anglo non-Indigenous people as the default which places First Nations people as the “other” (440). As a result, First Nations people are perceived as objects of history or of anthropology, rather than fellow humans (Kwaymullina, 2016, 43; Smith, 2012, 39).

Consequently, some perceive memory institutions not as neutral sources of information, but as political tools. To accept them as neutral means to accept the existing distribution of power they enforce and contribute to (Jenson, 2008, 94).

This idea of neutrality in institutions is very much informed by the Enlightenment and the concept that Eurocentric Western scholarship produces a universal knowledge that is universally relevant (Kwaymullina, 2016, 439). This notion portrays Western scholars as speaking from a neutral position which means those outside of the Western scholarship are biased. As a result, this notion has delegitimised First Nations knowledge production and denied historical and cultural pluralism (Kwaymullina, 2016, 441).

Why this is a problem

There are issues that can occur if the notion of neutrality in memory institutions does not continually get challenged. For instance, if a memory institution is perceived as being neutral, then actions like adding First Nations stories of oppression to the collection to rectify past imbalances of perspectives can be framed as not an action of balance, but rather a political act This could lead memory institutions to avoid necessary actions because they are “risky” and they do not want to be political (Jenson, 2008, 94).

Similarly, if memory institutions are neutral, then their inherent Eurocentrism is neutral which continues First Nations people being framed as the “other”. This makes it harder to challenge and change white privilege and institutional racism within memory institutions and society more broadly.

Additionally, if being neutral means shunning involvement in movements that challenge oppressive structures, then some would argue that memory institutions in attempting to be neutral, even though they are not actively oppressing people, have assisted the oppressor (Jenson, 2008, 94). Furthermore, it makes memory institutions less effective in creating social change which therefore makes them less socially relevant (Good, 2008, 145).

In conclusion, memory institutions need to challenge internal and external perceptions that they are neutral and we need to come to terms with what that means.

To be continued….

By Nathan Sentance

Durrani , Shiraz and Elizabeth Smallwood “The Professional is Political : Redefining the Social Role of Public Libraries” Questioning Library Neutrality Essays from Progressive Librarian. Edited by Alison Lewis. Library Juice Press, 2008, 119-140

Good, Joesph. “The Hottest Place in Hell: The Crisis of Neutrality in Contemporary Librarianship” Questioning Library Neutrality Essays from Progressive Librarian. Edited by Alison Lewis. Library Juice Press, 2008, 141-147

Jensen, Robert. “The myth of the neutral professional” Questioning Library Neutrality Essays from Progressive Librarian. Edited by Alison Lewis. Library Juice Press, 2008, 89-96.

Jimerson, Randall, C. Archives power : memory, accountability, and social justice‎. Society of American Archivists‎, 2009

Kwaymullina, Ambelin. “Research, ethics and Indigenous peoples: an Australian Indigenous perspective on three threshold considerations for respectful engagement” AlterNative, vol 12, no. 4, 2016 437-449.

Luker, Trish. “Decolonising Archives: Indigenous Challenges to Record Keeping in ‘Reconciling’ Settler Colonial States” Australian Feminist Studies, vol, 32, no. 91-92, 2017, 108-125

Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. “whiteness epistemology and Indigenous representation” Whitening Race: Essays in social and cultural criticism. Edited by Aileen Moreton-Robinson. Aboriginal Studies Press, 2004.

Sentance, Nathan. “The Paternalistic Nature of Collecting” Archival Decolonist. 12 Jun. 2017 https://archivaldecolonist.com/2017/06/12/the-paternalistic-nature-of-collecting/

Sentance, Nathan. “Maker unknown and the decentring First Nations People” Archival Decolonist. 21 Jul. 2017 https://archivaldecolonist.com/2017/07/21/maker-unknown-and-the-decentring-first-nations-people/

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 2nd ed., Zed Books, 2012.

Top 3 Favourite Blog Posts

The following are my top three blog posts that I’ve have written this year for the Archival Decolonist.

1) The Paternalistic Nature of Collecting 

My blog post about the misconception that galleries, libraries, archives and museums are preserving First Nation cultural heritage.

This was the post that started it all. I wrote it to articulate my frustration with white saviour-hood in Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) that would see itself as rescuing and saving First Nations culture, but would avoid discussions of their involvement in cultural destruction and denigration, colonisation and invasion.  This self perception now currently informs well intentioned, but paternalistic thinking and actions in GLAM institutions that can hinder, not recognise  and block First Nations agency in our maintaining, telling, and preserving our culture and history.

2) Maker unknown and the decentring First Nations People.

My blog post about the need to centre First Nations Voices in GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) collections.

This post was in response to a First Nations cultural heritage object I saw on display at a museum where the label did not mention anything about the community where the culture was from or knowledge attached to this cultural heritage object, only information about the Non-Indigenous man who collected it. It just seemed so sad to me that we are not the focus of our own culture or history and that we continue the romanticised idea of European adventurer or scientist “discovering” First Nations culture. This label was just a continuation of the renaming and retelling of our culture and history that has distorted information and has allowed non-Indigenous people to claim ownership of First Nations knowledge. It is also sad because while this man on the label may be remembered for centuries, the First Nations person who created this cultural heritage object based on their ancestral knowledge, will be nameless in our records.

3) Diverse Voices in Diversity

My blog post about the construction of memory and need for more in depth diversity in GLAM collections. 

I wrote this post to get people to consider the diversity within First Nations communities and that we not a monolithic entity and that GLAM collections, discourses and history should reflect that.

Note: I do not claim expertise, these posts are just my perspective as a Wiradjuri man working GLAM. I write them as method to start discussions.

 

Bonus Round: my top 3 favourite tweets

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This tweet was to challenge the idea of a non-Indigenous definition of what a real Aboriginal person is and to demonstrate the hypocrisy of centuries of forcing assimilation on us  and then saying because we don’t know our language we are not authentic.

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This was because I read about a First Nations community from North America where herding was part of their culture and the writer referred to them as nomadic and I thought no European culture is thought of as nomadic. Captain Cook’s travels didn’t mean he was nomadic and people who travel recreationally are not nomadic. This description of cultural practice of behaviour is part of the anthropological ideology that dehumanise us First Nations people.

 

24273718_10155693667210944_3199477474948658692_o.jpgThis tweet was in response to a curator telling me that use of terms like invasion or brutality made them feel uncomfortable and that the use of different First Nations language without English captions was confusing and it made me realise how many GLAM spaces (as well as many other spaces) have White European settlers as their default audience and are created to comfort them.

 

Mandaang guwu (thank you) to all the people who read my blog this year. Y’all are deadly

Collaboration or Exploitation

Written for the GLAM Blog Club theme of Collaboration

“Indigenous folks, be cautious of people who want to “pick your brain” over coffee and lunch. There are people out there stealing ideas and boosting their careers for the price of a double double.” (Monkman, 2017, tweet)

People often seek my feedback, ask me questions or want my opinion on projects they are working on that relate to First Nations culture, history and/or people and I am happy to help if I can, but only if I feel their requests or projects are not exploitative. Here are some of my personal suggestions on how to ensure your projects or requests for input are less exploitative and more collaborative. Note: this mostly directed toward research projects or projects in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector.

  • How does community benefit?

Projects that involve First Nations knowledge, history and/or people need to have processes and outcomes that benefit the relevant First Nations community. First Nations people have been the subjects of too much research that does not consider our priorities and has outcomes irrelevant to our needs (FNICG, 2016, 142). “Adding to the discourse” is a not a benefit, First Nations knowledge and people have written into Western discourse and academia for centuries with no benefit (Smith, 2012, 70). In fact, this discourse has only informed our dehumanisation and “othering”  (Smith, 2012, 70). Additionally, the benefit cannot be something you assume First Nations communities need, even if that assumption is based on data (FNICG, 2016, 143). Doing so only continues the paternalistic settler thinking of knowing what’s best for First Nations people (Sentance, 2017). If your project is not driven by a community requested desire, then it may be exploitative and only advancing your career.

  • Who is being centred

Visual art, fiction, academia and collections at Museums have a long tradition of centring non-Indigenous people in the telling of First Nations history and culture (Sentance, 2017a; Moreton-Robinson, 2004, 87). Because of this, First Nations people have been exiled to the shadows (Smith, 2012, 85). Consequently, this frames different non-Indigenous people as knowers of First Nations people and culture and frames First Nations people themselves and their culture as the known (Watson, 2002, 13).  To rectify this imbalance, your projects need have First Nations people and communities as colleagues and collaborators rather than informants or consultants (FNICG, 2016, 143). This may mean giving some of your grant money to the community or hiring a First Nations community as a curator or as an editor or paying them as a contributing artist, etc.

  • Don’t seek tick a box approval

This one is aimed more at requests I receive. I am Wiradjuri man and can give my perspective, but I am one man. I cannot represent the entirely of First Nations people on this land mass, I would not even speak on behalf of Wiradjuri mob, knowing how large and diverse our community is.  I cannot be the person who gives you the okay to proceed with project. I cannot be the person who you can use later to reinforce your speaking rights on a certain topic, which is analogous to saying “it’s okay I have black friend”.

  • Include us in the planning

To ensure First Nations ideas are incorporated into your project and that your project meets First Nation communities’ needs and wants, include the relevant First Nations people/community in the planning and and forming of your idea. If you consult community after your project idea is fully formed, then it is harder for it to be changed and you are just seeking approval from the community rather than input (Sentance, 2017). That being said, any input from First Nations community during planning is their intellectual property and should only be used with approval, financial compensation and correct attribution. Furthermore, any time resources of First Nation community members need to be considered and also financially compensated for, unless agreed otherwise.

  • Remember this is our life

Remember that, even though you are passionate about First Nations people, history and/or culture, that your project could affect our loved ones’ lives. Remember that you might find our culture or knowledge interesting, but it is our ancestral legacy. You must remember and acknowledge this detachment.

  • Don’t get defensive with feedback

Again, this one is aimed more at requests I receive. If you are seeking a First Nations perspective, expect it. If you only want a First Nations perspective to agree with you, that’s exploitative. First Nations people are not here to reinforce your world-views and nurse your white fragility (Justice, 2017; DiAngelo, 2011, 57). Do not get aggressive or defensive and remember our opinions are based on lived experiences (Finch, 2017).

These are just a small number of suggestions I have to ensure your projects or requests for input are less exploitative and more collaborative.

By Nathan Sentance

DiAngelo, Robin. “White Fragility” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol 3, no.3, 2011, pp 54-70

Finch, Sam Dylan. “9 Phrases Allies Can Say When Called Out Instead of Getting Defensive” Everyday Feminism. 29 May. 2017, https://everydayfeminism.com/2017/05/allies-say-this-instead-defensive/

First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNICG). “Pathways to First Nations’ data and information sovereignty” Indigenous Data Sovereignty,  Edited by Tahu Kukutai and John Taylor, ANU publishing, 2016, pp. 137-156.

Justice, Daniel Heath. “All mouth and no ears: Settlers with Opinions” The Conversation, 20 Sep. 2017.

Monkman, Lenard (lenardmonkman1). “Indigenous folks,
Be cautious of people who want to “pick your brain” over coffee and lunch. There are people out there stealing ideas and boosting their careers for the price of a double double.” 4 Dec. 2017, 7:53 AM. Tweet.

Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. “whiteness epistemology and Indigenous representation” Whitening Race: Essays in social and cultural criticism. Edited by Aileen Moreton-Robinson. Aboriginal Studies Press, 2004.

Sentance, Nathan. “Reframing community consultation” Archival Decolonist. 8 Sep. 2017 https://archivaldecolonist.com/2017/09/08/reframing-community-consultation/

Sentance, Nathan. “Maker unknown and the decentring First Nations People” Archival Decolonist. 21 Jul. 2017 https://archivaldecolonist.com/2017/07/21/maker-unknown-and-the-decentring-first-nations-people/

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies : Research and Indigenous Peoples. 2nd ed., Zed Books, 2012.

Watson, Irene. Looking at you looking at me — : an aboriginal history of the south-east. Volume 1. I. Watson Nairne, 2002

Windradyne and problem with reconciliation

“We live off the crumbs that fall off the White Australian tables and are told to be grateful” – Charles Perkins AO

Windradyne, who was called Saturday, by colonisers, was a fierce Wiradjuri warrior, the nation I descend from, who is known for his involvement in the resistance and frontier wars on Wiradjuri country. These wars started with the expansion of European invasion into Wiradjuri country. After altercations between Wiradjuri people and the European invaders became frequent and violent, the Governor at the time, Governor Brisbane, declared martial law in Bathurst and sent 75 soldiers to the area. As result, the Sydney Gazette described Bathurst as being “engaged in an exterminating war”. This led to an ambush by the invaders now called the battle of Bathurst, a battle that took many Wiradjuri community members’ lives, most of which were children and women, not warriors.

To stop the bloodshed, Windradyne walked to Parramatta to meet with Governor Brisbane with the word peace written on a piece of paper in his hat.

I bring up this piece of history up as it exemplifies the issues I have with the predominant concepts around reconciliation. In most cases, it is led by First Nations people and involves us compromising a significant amount more than colonisers. And even when we compromise, we are asked to compromise more.

For instance, the recent Uluru Statement, which was the culmination of the work of the Referendum Council, who in consultation with many, many different mob, wrote the statement working within colonial frameworks and suggestions proposed by the Statement were designed to fit in existing colonial structures. And while many First Nations people criticised the Statement for being toothless, and for comprising too much, the Statement got rejected by the government for not comprising enough, for being too radical.

Even the use of the term reconciliation can be considered misguided as the common definition of reconciliation is a restoration of a friendly relationship. This implies a relationship between First Nations people and colonisers started friendly, however the relationship we have today started with colonisers intending to invade and steal this land.

Reconciliation also implies forgiveness, but how are we meant to forgive past atrocities when current atrocities continue like deaths is custody, high youth suicide rates, disproportionate incarceration rates and the NT intervention continue? All of which are directly linked to colonisation.

How are we meant to forgive when so many who benefit greatly from land theft, massacres, and cultural genocide do not believe they have done anything wrong? How are we meant to forgive when many are not sorry?

Furthermore, reconciliation rarely means to change the colonial structures, but just continue the status quo and reconcile First Nations people and knowledge to that status quo. In this sense reconciliation is not a coming together, but more of a falling in line.

As mentioned earlier, it suggests compromise on both sides, which I understand, but both sides compromises are treated as equal. This flawed thinking was exemplified in a history book I was recently reading that described frontier wars as “equal aggression on both sides”.  There was definitely aggression on both sides, but it was not equal. We were defending our land, colonisers were aggressive because we fought back. However, this author read about violence coming from two sides thus equally violent.

To summarise, I think power dynamics between us and colonisers need to be addressed and what is considered “reasonable” needs to shift before anything that could be considered reconciliation takes place.