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Adjunct Graduate Faculty, Trent University (Department of Anthropology + School for the Study of Canada)

Emeritus Professor of Museum Anthropology, University of Oxford

Emeritus Curator (Americas), Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

 

 

 

I am a Canadian of settler origin, and believe passionately that settlers have the responsibility to step up and support processes of reconciliation in museums.  

Since the 1980s, I have worked for and with the museum sector and Indigenous communities internationally. 

 

In 1981 I began a joint undergraduate degree in anthropology and Native Studies at Trent University, working with John Milloy, Marlene Brant Castellano, Tom Porter, the late Jacob Thomas and the late Fred Wheatley. I was fortunate to spend time working in Indigenous communities (Curve Lake, Winisk, Lac Seul, Sandy Lake, Akwasasne) doing community-based learning. 

 

My Master's degree at the University of Winnipeg, under Professor Jennifer S.H. Brown, led to a book about Anishinaabeg people who moved westward onto the prairie and parkland regions, The Ojibwa of Western Canada, 1780-1870. In writing that book, I began to work with material culture as documents about the histories of Indigenous women's lives, which led me into the world of museums.

 

Following my MA I worked for Dr. Jacqueline Peterson on Sacred Encounters: Father DeSmet and the Indians of the Rocky Mountain West, a large travelling exhibition. The cross-cultural project team included Salish and Coeur d'Alene, Jesuit, academic and museum advisors, who became important mentors.

 

My doctorate at McMaster University focused on the representation of Indigenous peoples at "living history" sites around the Great Lakes. Dr. Trudy Nicks, my supervisor, had just published (with Tom Hill) the report on the Task Force on Museums and First Peoples (1992) which became an important influence on my work.

 

For several years I taught at the University of Winnipeg, including courses on the Peguis reserve as well as for Indigenous students in Winnipeg. This experience made me aware of the need for contact with heritage items in Indigenous communities, and the difficulties of making such contact with heritage items in museums.

In 1996 I began a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship on multi-cultural interactions in the historic Red River Settlement. As part of this I travelled to the UK to examine historic Indigenous material culture and began to build networks there. In 1998 I accepted the post of Curator for the Americas at the Pitt Rivers Museum and Lecturer (later Professor) in Museum Anthropology at the University of Oxford.

 

While at Oxford I linked Indigenous peoples in North America with their heritage items held in UK museums, through a series of grant-funded research projects, teaching and publications. 

 

Much of my work has involved international projects: fundraising and logistics to bring delegations to the UK or to loan items from the UK to museums near communities of origin. I have worked on international repatriation cases and advised the museum sector in North America and the UK, and have organized international conferences and workshops to link Indigenous people and museum professionals and begin productive dialogue around historic collections.

 

Since returning to the Peterborough, ON area I have worked for and with Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg through the To Honour and Respect exhibition, co-curated with Dr. Lori Beavis (Hiawatha). I continue to teach through an adjunct faculty position at Trent University (Anthropology and School for the Study of Canada) and guest lectures at various universities. From 2021 to 2023, I served as Exhibits Project Manager at the Canadian Canoe Museum, assisting the CCM team with the development of displays for the new museum and liaising with Indigenous contributors to the displays. 

My consulting has supported museums and Indigenous communities internationally through a range of research, policy, curatorial and repatriation projects.

A full CV is available upon request: laurapeersconsulting@gmail.com

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