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 colonist 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.