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 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,

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,

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.


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 ethical? 

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 ethical. 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

Decolonising the agenda, one program at a time

My blog post about how public programs can disrupt colonial narratives in GLAM. Note: this is based on my short experience in programming which I am very new to.  

The Australian Museum (AM) has one of the largest and most significant collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural material in the world and as such is a powerful instrument for cultural engagement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Aboriginal people alike. Unfortunately, as is the case in many Galleries, Libraries , Archives and Museums (GLAM)  until now much of the pre-existing Aboriginal cultural and historic narrative was told by non-Aboriginal people with a Euro-centric bias.

As a result, this narrative contains information gaps, misconceptions and inaccuracies, which sometimes lead to a simplistic views of Aboriginal people and their culture, views which have created and continued stereotypes.

This dynamic has started to shift as the AM as well as many Galleries, Libraries , Archives and Museums (GLAM) begin to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to take control over their own narrative and culture, so the First Nations Staff in GLAM can present the cultural and historic narrative of First Nations people in the way that the community wants.

One effective method for the AM and GLAM more broadly to facilitate and amplify Aboriginal perspectives is through public programs, which can get visitors to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in nuanced ways that challenge stereotypes and misconceptions.  Programs can provide First Nations cultural practitioners a space to share culture and for visitors to interact with culture  that moves beyond the static which is not how most of culture is meant to be presented.

Through public programs participants can leave with a better understanding of Aboriginal knowledge, science and history. These programs also facilitate Aboriginal voices and can provide the catalyst for important discussions.

This is also important, because while there are more and more First Nations staff in more senior positions in GLAM, there are many ways GLAM institutions still reinforce colonisation and the oppression that comes with it, in ways First Nations staff have no control over.

For example, a GLAM institution could do an exhibition that portrays First Nations people poorly or an exhibition or display that celebrates a violent invader, maybe through programs First Nations voices can challenge these portrayals and the systems that allowed them to happen in ways that not only get visitors to critique GLAM but the all coloniser output broadly. Even something as simple as tours, digital and analogue, can be used to help dispute and question Museum and Galleries colonial agendas.

All that being said, there are issues that can arise when hosting programs, I’ll list some below:

  • Resources: First Nations cultural practitioners take years spending time with Elders to build up their cultural knowledge and as such should be paid accordingly for their expertise. No other experts in any other field are asked for their knowledge for free or for cheap besides First Nations cultural knowledge holders and practitioners. This needs to stop. First Nations cultural knowledge holders need to be paid justly as the knowledge and culture they share is a valuable resource. For this to happen however, GLAM institutions need to provide enough resources and proper funding
  • Diversity of audience: This is something I try and be careful of. It is important to have Non-Indigenous participants and attendees in First Nations programs as in many cases, there the people whose worldview needs to be challenged and confronted. Nevertheless, if we only host programs aimed at these audiences,  does the community benefit? Are your programs too assimilated or does aiming for a white audience compromise  the content in anyway?
  • Ensuring mutual benefits: First Nations GLAM staff and the First Nations voices they facilitate and host have cultural values and community they are accountable to and GLAM institutions have stakeholders they are accountable to and in best case scenarios, First Nations programs would meet both institutional and community needs and that is what they should aim to do. However, if that cannot be achieved, GLAM institutions need to afford First Nations people, internal and external, the cultural safety to ensure that they are not put in positions were they forced to undertake things that go against their cultural values.

In conclusion, today, the GLAM sector has more First Nations people working within it than ever before. With the right support, First Nations staff in GLAM can deliver public programs that demonstrate the complexity and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture. This can help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take control of the narrative that surrounds them.

By Nathan Sentance

How I ended here?: a tale of good luck and great mentors

My brief blog post for this months Aus GLAM Blog Club theme of how I ended up here

How did a high school dropout from public housing become the first member of his immediate family to get a Uni degree, get fully entrenched in GLAM, and get occasionally asked to speak at things? Lucky opportunities and great mentors and because of this, I’m going to write a thank you to the people and orgs that helped me get here.

Great mentors

  • Laura McBride: Laura is a proud Wailwan woman and one of the smartest people I know. Laura’s passion for Aboriginal agency in GLAM is an inspiration to me and every conversation I have with her, I leave smarter. She is a great supporter and advocate of me offering me great advice. She is also paving the way for the future generation of Aboriginal people in the museum space by battling the way she does. She might not admit it, but she’s changing the game. While many people have different agendas, Laura’s number one agenda is to do right by our community, the Aboriginal community. I’m lucky to work with her and call her my friend
  • Kirsten Thorpe: Kirsten is a proud Worimi woman. No one has guided me more than Kirsten. She has introduced me to archival concepts that now form the basis of my thinking. She pushed me to get my ideas out of my brain and transmit them to other people. She has motivated me to think outside the box. And like Laura, the battles Kirsten has fought, is fighting and will fight, make it easier for the next generation of Aboriginal librarians and archivists to do right by our communities, make it easier for Aboriginal people to access their cultural heritage and make it easier for Aboriginal people to control their own narrative 
  • My dad, Roger Sentance: like me, my dad is a proud Wiradjuri man who inspired my love of learning. Like me he is also a high school dropout, but it didn’t stop him from being a great thinker. My dad was the one who got involved in community (even though I didn’t want to, I’m super shy). He’s the one who taught me to read and he’s the one I turned to, to proof read my assignments. He’s loving, he’s caring and he’s the bomb

Great opportunities

  • Elsa Dixon cadetship: if it wasn’t for this cadetship, I may of never entered GLAM, it gave funding to the SLNSW so they could hire two Aboriginal cadets in entry level positions. Because of this opportunity, I got taste of libraries and loved it.
  • Australian Society of Archivists Loris Williams memorial scholarship: this scholarship helped my studies so much. It also gave me a boost in my confidence and made me feel like I was going in the right direction. Thanks ASA
  • The library technician course at Ultimo TAFE: this course was a great stepping stone to my uni degree. It eased my nerves about tertiary education. Whenever I hear about TAFE defunding I get sad because of it wasn’t for my TAFE course, I wouldn’t be doing any of the cool things I’m doing.
  • Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council & Suzanne Naden: by letting assist her with the Darkinjung records project, she and Darkinjung gave me the experience I needed to be a more appealing applicant to SLNSW and Darkinjung CEO at the time, Bob Morgan gave me a great recommendation that he really didn’t need to give. Thanks Susan, Bob and Darkinjung.

How to read Aboriginal archives

My blog post about including interpretation of original material and records relating to Aboriginal people, culture and history into information literacy education

Because accessing and utilising information is a necessity to personal empowerment and social inclusion and because of the current mass proliferation of information and the abundance of information available, there has been a drive from libraries, especially academic libraries and information services to assist their users become information literate to better find, evaluate and use information. This is usually done by information services hosting and providing training and workshops with the aim increasing participants’ information literacy skills.

In Australia, these types of programs are usually based on Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework which presents six standards which underpin information literacy acquisition, understanding and application by an individual. In the tertiary educational context, these programs are usually aimed at new students to show them how identify their information needs, for example what their assessment question is asking them, how to develop a search strategy for those needs, what resources they can use to search for the information they need, what resources are considered reputable, how to note take and cite these sources. Also, there are programs are aimed at students of a certain discipline to show them what databases and journals related to their discipline are available to them and how to fully utilise them for their studies.

I suggest that information literacy workshops aimed at history, Indigenous studies, and journalism students as well as many other students, incorporate a discussion on historical context around the original material and records in GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) institutions that relate to Aboriginal people, culture and history as part of their information literacy education as these sources are considered primary and reputable. This discussion will aim to help students critically engage with this material by assisting them understand that most of Indigenous material in GLAM collections was recorded by European colonisers and as such has a Eurocentric bias and lacks an Indigenous perspective which can mean these sources may intentionally or unintentionally misinterpret, omit and/or distort aspects of  Aboriginal people, culture or history. This discussion will also put material into its historical context, describing concepts like scientific racism, so students can for example, understand that material created right up to the 1970s were based in a time where major anthropological thought considered First Nations cultures and people as savage and primitive.

Additionally, this discussion will engage students to question the intention of the material. For example, government records are considered to be by many as objective, but they were created with intention. These intentions include justifying mass displacement and more governmental control over First Nations people. Furthermore, secondary sources also need to be questioned as most these interpretations have been done by non Indigenous people which has subsequently continued the lack of Indigenous perspectives and voices in history.

In addition to this, this discussion will ask students to critically examine GLAM institutions as many people, including students see GLAM institutions as sources of authority and places of neutral facts. However,  these institutions have historically privileged certain voices (chapter 11) and have been exclusionary of many other voices, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. This has proliferated and continued a one-sided history which has aided the colonial agenda and has contributed to a social hierarchy and the dehumanisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Because these institutions and people that work within them decide what to collect and preserve based what they believe would be valuable to future generations and  that their concept of value is heavily influenced by the dominant oppressive culture, then they cannot be places of complete neutrality. This is something that many students who would potentially use these institutions do not consider.

This is not to have students not use the original material and records in GLAM institutions that relates to Aboriginal people, culture and history, but to critically engage with this material, which includes questioning it. Like, who created it, why was it made, why was it collected and why was it preserved? And to examine any invisibilities or lack of voices in the dialogue, particularly first hand accounts from First Nations people.

I believe by doing this we are helping students become more information literate particularly in regards to standard 3 The information literate person critically evaluates information and standard 6 The information literate person uses information with understanding and acknowledges cultural, ethical, economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information of the Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework.

By Nathan Sentance

The need for reclassification of First Nations original material in memory institutions.

Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) organisations have in many ways failed to correctly classify First Nations material, particularly original material in their collections. This is the result of the classificatory structures being used, such as the Dewey Decimal System or subject thesauri, by GLAM organisations were developed based on the epistemology systems of the dominant culture, which in the case of most colonised countries, is one of white Judeo-Christian. As a consequence, there is a marginalisation and a failure to incorporate concepts and epistemology outside the dominant culture, including First Nations knowledge frameworks (Olson, 1998).

This is because most of First Nations cultural material in collections was either recorded or collected by Europeans (Thorpe & Byrne, 2014). And since entering GLAM collections, has only been intended to be accessed by non-Indigenous people to research First Nations culture (Koch, 2010).

However, now, more and more First Nations people want to access this material to reconnect or revitalise their culture and language, research their family history, or to know more about their communities (Thorpe & Galassi, 2014). However, the failure to only classify cultural materials through Western systems has affected the discoverability of cultural heritage for First Nations people (Russell, 2005)

Furthermore, because current classification practices do not incorporate First Nations epistemology, they may be less useful in terms of culture revitalisation. Additionally, First Nations cultural heritage may organised and arranged in a way that is culturally inappropriate (McKemmish et al, 2011).

Based on years of experience being First Nations people working in GLAM with a focus on facilitating access for First Nations communities to the cultural material in collections and years of experience cataloguing and classifying material, this post will discuss the how First Nations cultural heritage is currently classified and arranged and issues related to that. 

Classification by discipline

Most classification systems, such as Dewey Decimal, divides material by subject such as art, science, sport etc. (Satija, 2013). There are many reasons these classifications could be inadequate to First Nations material. Firstly, much of First Nations knowledge does not fit in traditional Western disciplines (Watson, 2014). As Watson (2014) notes, First Nations knowledges were very holistic and theology, environmental sustainability, art, science, philosophy, technology and ethics were all connected. As consequence, manifestations of First Nations knowledges can easily get mischaracterised. For instance, the shark masks from the Torres Strait are aesthetically pleasing and used for dance and therefore a book relating to them could easily be categorised as an art book or a dance book. However, this may not be the discipline First Nation people may search under to access the aforementioned book. Ceremony or philosophy may be the more likely categorisation used by First Nations people.

In some cases this mischaracterisation may be offensive. For example, occasionally in Dewey, Aboriginal creation stories come under 398.2049915 Aboriginal myths and legends. Conversely, Christian creation stories are not classified as Christian myths and legends. Aboriginal culture is a living culture and many Aboriginal people believe their creation story, just as Christians do, as fact.


Current classification systems centre colonial locations rather than Nation group

Provenance, either in terms of who collected the material or by material’s geographical location is occasionally how First Nations cultural heritage, particularly cultural objects, are arranged in collections (Bennett, et al, 2017). However, this heavily hinders discoverability for many First Nations people trying to access their own cultural heritage.

For example, if all First Nations material from Melbourne is classified together this presents a problem as Melbourne and surrounding areas are home to 5 different language groups of the Kulin nation (Victoria University, 2017). Therefore, if a member of the Wurundjeri community of the Kulin nation wanted to access their own cultural heritage they may have to go through a lot of unrelated Melbourne material to find material that relates to their culture. Thus, creating more work which could be a barrier to access.

Additionally, if physically searching through First Nations cultural material from Melbourne, a Wurundjeri community member may come across cultural material from a different language group or material that is considered men’s or women’s business, that because of cultural protocols, they are not meant to see. This could cause distress or vicarious trauma (Arnold-de Simine, 2013).  

Current classification misclassify and/or simplify First Nations cultural heritage

Another method to arrange and classify cultural material, particularly in museums, is by type. For example, tools together and weapons together (Johnson & Horgan, 1979). Within these categorisations is sub-categorisations. For instance, within the category weaponry there might a subcategory of boomerangs (Bennett, et al, 2017).

This has implications toward research and cultural revitalisation as well. For instance, many records of First Nations cultural objects have limited metadata and because of this, the classification and categorisation maybe some of the only contextual information available (Gilman, 2006). Thus, leading to people who access the collections accepting the misclassification as fact which can lead to a proliferation of misinformation.

A famous example of is the “Sydney boomerang”. According to Florek’s (2012) research, the Gadigal people of Coastal Sydney did not use boomerangs before invasion. They more likely used wooden swords and adopted the boomerang in the early 1900s. However, internationally there are collections that contain “Sydney boomerangs” (British Museum, 2017). This continuation of the “Sydney boomerang” emanates from its original classification by anthropologists and GLAM professionals.

As can be seen, current classification of First Nations material can and does have devastating effects and consequences. To diminish these effects and improve classification in the future, this post recommends that GLAM institutions implement the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library and Information Resource Network (ATSILIRN) protocols, particularly protocol 5.2 which recommends GLAM organisations “Promote appropriate changes to standard descriptive tools and metadata schemas with the aim of retrospectively re-cataloguing items recorded with unsuitable subject headings” and protocol 5.3 “Improve access by the introduction of classificatory systems which describe items by their geographic, language and cultural
Identifiers” (ATSILIRN, 2012). To implement fully, GLAM organisations need to work closely with First Nations people and communities to ensure that any new classification schemas and retroactive reclassification does not repeat the mistakes of the past and also ensures First Knowledge epistemology is incorporated.

Museums Galleries Australia Indigenous Roadmap Project

This post recommends GLAM institutions familiarise themselves with the issues outlined in the issues paper, particularly those addressing the right of self-determination of First Nations peoples around the globe. Both the resources recommended also reflect article 31 of the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.”

By Nathan Sentance


The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library, Information and Resource Network. (2012).
The protocols. Retrieved from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library, Information
and Resource Network:
Olson, H A. 1998. “Mapping Beyond Dewey’s Boundaries: Constructing
Classificatory Space for Marginalized Knowledge Domains.” Library Trends
47(2): 233-255.
Satija, M. P. (2013). The theory and practice of the dewey decimal classification system. Thorpe, K., & Byrne, A. (2014). Indigenous voices in the State Library of NSW. Library History Forum, SLNSW, 18-19 November 2014 75th Anniversary of the NSW Library Act 1939.
Sydney. Retrieved from
Thorpe, K., & Galassi, M. (2014). Rediscovering Indigenous Languages: The role and impact of libraries and archives in cultural revitalisation. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 45(2), 81-100
Webster, K. and Doyle, A. (2008) ‘Don’t class me in antiquities!: Giving voice to Native American materials’ in Roberto, K.R. (ed.) Radical Cataloging: Essays from the Front. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co, pp. 189-198.
Martin Nakata, Alex Byrne, Vicky Nakata & Gabrielle Gardiner (2005)
‘Libraries, Indigenous Australians and a Developing Protocols Strategy for the Library
and Information Sector’, Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 36:2, 185-199, DOI:
Martin, G. (1995) ‘Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’ First Roundtable on Library and Archives Collections and Services of Relevance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, 4 May 1995
Bibliotecas indígenas en Australia y Nueva Zelanda: Una revisión bibliográfica (I don’t speak Spanish but am hoping to glean a few good resources from this)

Barnhardt, R. and Kawagley, A. O. (2005) Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Alaska Native Ways of Knowing. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 36:1, pp. 8-23.

5 things more sacred than Cook Statues that are under threat

There has been a recent push during the debate of the merit of public monuments of colonisers and invaders  to place statues of Cook more than 100 years old on the National Heritage List which automatically means they will be guarded by strict laws which could see vandals caught attacking  statues of Captain James Cook facing hefty fines and up to seven years in jail 

In response I have written a list of things that relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture that currently under threat and are absolutely more sacred than a monument of James Cook.

  1. Awabakal Butterfly Cave

The cave has been said to have been meeting place for a Awabakal women for 4000-6000  years (way older than 100 years) and because of the caves’ meaning and its  importance for cultural knowledge transference and gatherings, it is considered very sacred. As such, it has been listed as Protected Aboriginal site by the NSW government in 2013.

However, the site is currently threat by a new housing development located 20 metres from a sacred cave. As well as endangering the structural integrity of the site, this development threatens the privacy Awabakal women need when visiting the site. This is already worsens a pre-existing issue as the site is on “private property” meaning the women have to ask permission to meet at the site.

Considering this, shouldn’t protecting the Awabakal cave from corporate interests be a higher priority than graffiti on an inaccurate statue?

2. takayna/Tarkine

Also, known as Arthur Pieman Conservation Area, this site is an area of great significance for Tasmania’s Aboriginal community and is also heritage listed. However, the current Tasmania state government wants to extend its recreational access to the site, which includes 4wd access.  This has concerned the local Aboriginal community members as such vehicles can vandalise the landscape.

When considering how much knowledge is embedded in the landscape, any destruction can cause insurmountable loss of culture and history. Why isn’t this vandalism as heavily discussed, especially when it involves the rewriting of thousands of years of history?

3. Piliga Forest – Biliga

Up to 850 coal seam gas wells are planned by Santos across the Pilliga – threatening to industrialise this habitat refuge. This has major effects to endangered wildlife of the area, including nationally-listed and critically endangered Bibil (Box-Gum Woodland) as well as local water, affecting its drink-ability. This also affects Local Aboriginal knowledge transference as much of Gomeroi/Gamilaraay culture relates to the rivers and the land.


Murujuga, also known as the Burrup Peninsula, on the mid-west coast of Western Australia is a not just a significant to Australian culture and history, it’s significant to world history as this site is home to over a million petroglyphs (rock art). Some of which, are among the oldest petroglyphs in the world (around 45,000 years old). Their depictions include animals that no longer exist and human faces (most likely one of the  earliest depictions of a human face in the world)

However, Murujuga is under threat from industrial expansion. This includes mining and a chemical plant. It’s feared that the pollution involved in this industrialization can negatively affect Murujuga.

If we are worried about the erasure of history that can be caused vandalising a statue , surely we need to worry about anything that could affect a site with 45,000 years history and heritage.

5. Our Children.

Our children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are our future, however a 14 year boy can get murdered and the perpetrator only gets three years in prison. This is in the same country where a vandal of a colonial statue can get seven years in jail.

In addition to this, Indigenous Australians account for less than 3 per cent of Australia’s national population, but they make up more than half of all children in juvenile detention. And as seen with what was reported in Don Dale, Indigenous children can be the subject of major human rights abuses once incarnated. Furthermore, Aboriginal deaths in custody is still a prevalent still an issue in this country, and the one the affects our younger generation.

Additionally, it’s been 25 years since the Bringing Them Report and 9 years since Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations, but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids are still being removed from their families at an alarming rate.  Nationally, Indigenous children are nine times more likely to be removed than non-Indigenous kids.

Lastly, this disenfranchising, dehumanising and disadvantaging of our children, has led to high rates of Indigenous youth suicide.

Considering all of the above, we need to reframe the reverence we give to colonial statues and colonial paper. They’re not the only sources of culture or history. In many cases, the Aboriginal sites I have mentioned (along with many I didn’t mention) have more cultural information embedded in them and tell us more about ourselves than a colonial statue ever could. Instead of celebrating these statues, we should be proud of the heritage that surrounds many of the sites around this nation, celebrate their connection to the oldest living culture in the world  and protect them.

The outrage people exhibited at vandalism of monuments is offensive when thinking what those monuments mean to First Nations people. Especially, when our youth are today still affected by dehumanisation that comes with the white washing of history in which these statues contribute to.

Why isn’t there national outrage when a murder of a 14 year old boy is only considered dangerous driving.
By Nathan Sentance




Reframing community consultation

Many cultural institutions undertake community consultation when working on exhibitions, services, collections or research projects that relate to First Nations people or culture.   However, there have been discussions around the use of the terms “community consultation” or “community engagement”  and the processes they entail.

An issue that I have with the use of community consultation is that in many cases it is not a collaborative process and for the most part it is about seeking approval rather than receiving input. Usually, an organisation or person has an idea than does consultation, but the trajectory of the project rarely changes based on community feedback. Aspects of the project may change, but not significant aspects, especially in regards to outcomes. This type of consultation could be considered what Poka Laenui refers to as “surface accommodation”  where  the incorporation of cultural protocols or First Nations Knowledge in the project is at a very shallow level to give the appearance of Indigenous ownership.

That being said, there are many occasions where First Nations cultural knowledge is needed and integral part of a cultural institutions’ project. For example, you might want to add videos of Elders’ stories to your gallery or collection to form a stronger narrative. However, you got to ask if this is a reciprocal relationship or just taking. Does this have a community benefit?

Many times organisations think their projects’ outcomes have self evident benefits such as if you are recording Elders’ stories, means your organisation can preserve the story for future generations.  However, that is something you think the community wants and not something they asked for. There is a big difference between the two.  The former is a continuation of the paternalistic thinking that does not recognise First Nations peoples’ agency.

Engagement needs to mutual benefits. 

Another issue I have with the way consultation is conducted is that relationship aspects of it are rarely maintained. Organisations or individuals seek First Nations communities or community members for a certain project but after the project, the organisation or individual seldom contact that community group again until the next time they need their approval or knowledge. Rarely do Elders get invited to the organisation for a cup of tea without an agenda.

Lastly, cultural practitioners and knowledge holders need to fairly compensated when being consulted for projects. No other consultants are asked to give advice or input for free. Payment for consultation helps demonstrate that your organisation values First Nations cultural knowledge.

In summary, most First Nations community engagement is better than none. Nevertheless, when engaging and consulting with community, reciprocity and empowerment need to be at the forefront. Ways of thinking may be challenged, but that is important. Projects need to have flexibility and fluidity to allow First Nations knowledge and ideas to be properly incorporated which leads to the project being more collaborative.

by Nathan Sentance