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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too many white experts

“Surely the time has arrived and we have matured sufficiently to have
an Indigenous  voice present a history of Indigenous art in this country.
Hetti  Perkins’s Art + Soul was a wonderful and popular introduction to the
topic, but the time is ripe for Indigenous people to take control of their own
discourse on their own cultural traditions.” – (Sasha Grishin, 2016, 343)

The above quote encapsulates a frustration I have with cultural institutions and academia, where the discourse around First Nations culture, history and people is led by non-Indigenous people.  This was exemplified recently when I saw discussion at a symposium about decolonising cultural institutions where only one of the four speakers on the topic  was First Nations. Meaning, three quarters of the discussion around decolonising was filled with the thoughts and opinions of colonisers, essentially colonising the space about decolonising

Yet, a major aspect of decolonisation is strengthening the concept that First Nations people and ideas should be represented by First Nations people themselves (Smith, 1999, 151).  In addition to this, decolonisation is also about dismantling the idea of white as the default (Moreton-Robinson, 2004, 75). Something that is hard to do when non-White or First Nations is the token.
Don’t get me wrong, I want non-Indigenous people to be part of the discussion. I want them to invested to help make systematic change on all levels. But the key word is “part”

If the decolonising discourses are led by non-Indigenous people, this could only continue the academic thinking that frames white scholars as knowers of First Nations people and culture and frames First Nations people themselves and their culture as the known (Watson, 2002, 13). This type of thinking does not recognise First Nations agency and self determination.

As consequence, white led policies and outreach to address First Nations issues are developed and white saviour-hood and paternalistic thinking are permitted. All of which are done not recognising that First Nations people have our own solutions (Pearson, 2017, tweet) However, they can’t be heard because settler colonial voices drown them out.

This is the same type of thinking that allows a non-Indigenous researcher to go to Arnhem Land, interview knowledge holders about the watercrafts , check some documents for verification and context, write a PHD and become an “expert” on Arnhem Land watercrafts. But how does the community benefit?   The researcher gets a doctorate, but the knowledge holders don’t even get considered experts.

This is the same type of thinking that supports an archaeologist to get an 125k grant to verify what we, First Nations people already knew. This is the same type of thinking that allows non-Indigenous anthropologists to be the faculty head of  an Indigenous studies department at a university.

This is the same type of thinking that permits a non-Indigenous curator confidently deciding what First Nations material goes in an exhibition. Essentially choosing how to represent  us and our culture.

This is the same thinking that is epitomised when Keith Windshuttle writes about who the first people on this land were without any evidence (Westaway, 2016), when John Stone (2017) writes about how the break down in Indigenous and non-Indigenous  relations is all because of  how flawed First Nations people are or when  Caleb Bond (2017) can decide what is important for rural First Nations communities.

While this thinking is prevalent, work needs to be done to ensure that First Nations voices are not just part of the conversation around our culture, our history or our people, but are leading it.

By Nathan Sentance.

Bond, Caleb. “Caleb Bond: Moving Triple J Hottest 100 from ‘Invasion Day’ won’t make an iota of difference to the plight of Aboriginal people” The Advertiser , 16 Sep 2017.

Grishin, Sasha. “Rattling Spears: A History of Indigenous Australian Art” Aboriginal History Journal 40 , 2016 341-343.

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

Pearson, Caden (CadenPearson). “Seems a foreign notion to many that Indigenous people have our own solutions #QandA”. 07 Aug 2017, 12:19 UTC. Tweet

Stone, John. “Aboriginal Policy: 50 Years of Failure” The Quadrant, 11 Nov 2017, https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2017/11/fifty-years-unremitting-failure-aboriginal-policy-since-1967-referendum/

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

Westaway, Michael and Joe Dortch. “Who we should recognise as First Australians in the constitution” The Conversation, 13 Mar 2015, http://theconversation.com/who-we-should-recognise-as-first-australians-in-the-constitution-38714

 

 

 

Can the digital provide balance?

My blog post regarding the need for libraries, archives and museums to collect First Nations social media output to add a balance of perspectives to their collections. Written for the GLAM Blog Club theme of Balance

While social media is criticised for a myriad of valid reasons, one aspect of social media that can be praised, is its ability to democratise discourse and amplify First Nations voices so that we can take part in and be heard in national conversations (Pearson, 2017). This is important because many discussions on Indigenous affairs in the mainstream media are oversaturated with colonial-settler opinions, leaving very little space for First Nations perspectives (Welcome to Country, 2017). Of course this exclusion is not a new phenomenon. For example, the preponderance of material relating to First Nations people, culture and history in library and archive collections were recorded by colonial-settlers from a Eurocentric viewpoint (Thorpe and Byrne, 2014). Consequently, this has not only led to a lack of First Nations perspectives in collections and history, it has also led to misinterpretations and distortions of  First Nations culture and history which have informed stereotypes and disinformation regarding First Nations people (Sentance, 2017).

In addition to presenting a settler-colonial distortion of First Nations history, in many cases mainstream media has failed to report it. For instance, if were to rely on the major media outlets for information, you would probably not be aware of the amazing achievement of  Clinton Pryor or be aware  of the recent tragedy of Tane Chatfield.

Because of this, I think it is essential for libraries, archives and museums to collect First Nations social media. Doing so will assist them in balancing out the Eurocentric bias in their collections.

Additionally, it will help them collect contemporary First Nations history as it is happening. Thus, preserving these stories for future generations to access.

Particularly in relation to social and political movements as a lot of people use social media to disseminate information on political activities like protests or gatherings (Duarte, 2017). For example, the picture below was shared extensively on social media for a national First Nations gathering. Although, pamphlets and flyers still exist, progressively they will  only exist in digital form.

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Furthermore, Pearson (2017) notes that not only do public discussions lack First Nation opinions, they severely lack diversity of First Nations opinions creating a monolithic perception of First Nations people which is an issue that is being rectified through social media. For instance, constitutional recognition is framed by many mainstream media outlets as what First Nations communities want and only the government was in the way, however it is more complex than that with many First Nations people having differing opinions on the matter. This asks the question, if only a small number of First Nations voices are being collected, would those in the future researching the Indigenous affairs in 2010s find that complexity in library and archive collections (Sentancea, 2017)?

All that being said, there are a number of challenges that libraries, archives and museums would need to consider to achieve this?

  • Is it ethnical? 

While libraries, archives and museums could easily create partnerships with Facebook, Youtube, etc to make it legal to collect social media, but legal does not mean ethnical. For example,  the current legal systems fail to fully recognise and apply Indigenous cultural and intellectual property rights and as result there has been numerous cases of cultural theft and cultural appropriation. In regards to libraries and archives, because of copyright laws, there have been stories of documentation of sacred ceremonies  becoming public domain, thus becoming openly available or of First Nations communities not being able to access cultural heritage material in collections relating to them and their families because they do not own copyright (Christen, 2015).

This is because much of the First Nations cultural heritage in library, archive and museum collections was recorded or collected without First Nations consent (Christen, 2015). Therefore, this type of collecting needs to stop. But, if a museum was to collect a tweet without the consent of the First Nations author of the tweet, would that mean they are just continuing colonial collecting practices?

  • Who decides what gets collected?

Of course, you can not collect all of social media, there is too much as Library of Congress has found out (McGill, 2016). That means someone needs to decide what social media gets collected based on what they think will be of value to people in the future. However, if this decision making is done by a non-Indigenous person then what they consider valuable will be influenced by their settler-colonial mindset potentially leading to important material being devalued (White, 2017) This would also continue library, archive and museum collections being filled only with what colonisers deems important and interesting.

  • The digital divide 

The digital divide does disproportionately affect remote and rural First Nations communities (Barr, 2014).  With access to the internet being hampered by infrastructural issues (Barr, 2014).

At the same time, the divide is narrowing with help of increased infrastructure as well as ease of access to mobile phones. Additionally, First Nations people are, demographically, one of the highest users of Facebook (Callinan, 2014)

  • The technical aspect

This is where I shrug my shoulders. I do not understand the complexity of capturing and collecting social media. Especially now, that social media is not just text based, but has images and videos (McGill, 2016). And after it is captured, how is it preserved when technology is changing so fast? These is a discussion for another time with different people, though I would love to take part, but I would not be able to contribute much.

In conclusion, the paradigm is shifting and national media, arts and academia is including more First Nations people in the discourse around Indigenous affairs, not just as subjects but as experts.  That being said, to get a more complete picture of contemporary First Nations life for future generations, libraries and archives and museums must collect First Nations voices on social media, but like all initiatives working with First Nations people and culture, libraries, archives and museums need to collaborate First Nations people in the process. Remember, nothing about us, without us.

 

By Nathan Sentance.

Barr, Philippa Nicole “The digital divide is narrowing but more needs to be done” The Conversation. 6 October 2014. Web

Callinan, Tara “Remote Indigenous Australians rely on Facebook to stay in touch” NITV News 26 August 2014. Web

Christen, Kimberly  “Tribal Archives, Traditional Knowledge, and Local Contexts: Why the “s” Matters,” Journal of Western Archives 6. 1(2015). Web

Duarte, Marisa. “Connected Activism: Indigenous Uses of Social Media for Shaping Political Change.” Australasian Journal of Information Systems [Online], 21 (2017): n. pag. Web.

McGill, Andrew “Can Twitter Fit Inside the Library of Congress?” The Atlantic 6 August 2016. Web

Pearson, Luke “Social media amplifies Indigenous voices, even if they don’t always agree” ABC News 26 May 2017. Web

Sentance, Nathan. The Paternalistic Nature of Collecting. Archival Decolonist, 12 June 2017. Web

Sentance, Nathan. Diverse voices in diversity. Archival Decolonist, 14 June 2017. Web

Thorpe, Kirsten and Alex Byrne. Indigenous voices in the State Library of NSW. State Library of NSW, 18-19 November 2014. Web

Welcome to Country. Sunrise and Today stage Aboriginal debates without any Aboriginals. Welcome to Country, 27 August 2017. Web

White, Kelvin L. “Race and culture”. Research in the Archival Multiverse. Ed. Anne J Gilliland, Sue McKemmish and Andrew J Lau. Clayton, Victoria: Monash University Publishing, 2017. 352-281. Print.

 

 

 

What Guides Me

My blog post about the cultural protocols that guide what projects and programs I work on in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector.

I decided a few months ago to create a cultural selection criteria to assist me in ensuring that the projects or programs I work on match my cultural values. The idea being if a potential project or program I am meant to work on doesn’t meet most of the criteria below, I either would not do it or I would modify it so it does.

Even though I am sharing this criteria, it is mainly for me and is not intended to guide or instruct anyone else on how to do what they do.  The criteria below is heavily based on the 25 Projects chapter of Decolonizing Methodologies

My protocols for any project or program:

  • That the projects I work on privilege and centre First Nations voices and allow First Nations people to represent themselves and control how they and their manifestations of culture are represented.
  • That the projects I work on are initiated by First Nations communities expressing a need or desire.
  • That the projects I work on facilitate First Nations people to have greater control over the ways in which First Nations culture, history and people are discussed and handled.
  • That the projects I work on respect First Nations people’s ownership of their culture, stories, science, and art and ensures that First Nations people can protect their cultural and intellectual property from misuse and exploitation.
  • That the projects I work on strengthen or revitalise First Nations cultural practices and frameworks.
  • That the projects I work on support the expressions of First Nations sovereignty.
  • That the projects I work on centre appropriate First Nations languages when possible.
  • That the projects I work on are collaborative and supportive in nature.

As can seen, the list is not extensive. I plan for this criteria to be fluid and I plan to add, delete and modify criteria as I more acquire more knowledge and change as a person. Nevertheless, I think this criteria will guide me and help me assert my cultural values.

By Nathan Sentance