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|Unsettling assumptions about community engagement :a new perspective on Indigenous Blackfoot participation in museums and heritage sites in Alberta, Canada
|Onciul, Bryony Annette
|In post-colonial nations such as Canada, sharing power and authorship is increasingly used as a strategy by museums to attempt to pluralise, democratise and decolonise relations with, and representations of, Indigenous peoples. While honourable in its intentions, the increasingly ubiquitous practice of community engagement in museums has been under analysed, and its difficulties and complexities understated. This thesis critically analyses engagement in museum and heritage practice and carefully unpicks the nuances of, and naturalised assumptions about, collaboration and self-representation. Power relations and their tangible manifestations in the form of exhibits, employment, relations, and new curatorial practices, are at the core of the analysis. As a comparative study the research provides a cross-disciplinary analysis of mainstream and community museums and heritage sites through four case-studies. Each of the case-studies engaged with Indigenous Blackfoot communities in southern Alberta, Canada, through consultation, partnership, co-ownership or community control. Between 2006 and 2009 I spent twenty-four months in Alberta researching the casestudies and conducting forty-eight in-depth interviews with museum and community members. This research makes a new contribution to the field through its emphasis on community participants’ perspectives; the importance of inter-community collaboration; and its development of the concept of ‘engagement zones’ which builds on James Clifford’s theory of the museum as contact zone. I argue that engagement creates risks and costs for participants and is not necessarily as empowering or beneficial as current discourse purports. The research illustrates that sharing power is neither simple nor conclusive, but a complex and unpredictable first step in building new relations between museums and Indigenous communities. Understanding the current limits of engagement and restrictions to museum indigenisation will enable collaborative efforts to be strategically utilised to work within and go beyond current boundaries and facilitate reciprocities that can begin to decolonise relations and enrich both museums and communities.
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|School of Arts and Cultures
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