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.
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 Ojibwe (Anishinaabeg) people who moved westward onto the prairie and parkland region, The Ojibwa of Western Canada, 1780-1870 (University of Manitoba and Minnesota Historical Society Presses, 1994). In the final stages of 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 project team included Indigenous, Jesuit and academic advisory panels. I was able to learn from Salish and Coeur d'Alene mentors as well as senior museum consultants.
My doctorate at McMaster University focused on the representation of Indigenous peoples at "living history" sites around the Great Lakes. Dr. Trudy Nicks, my academic supervisor, had just published (with Tom Hill) the report on the Task Force on Museums and First Peoples (1992) which influenced me in thinking about Indigenous material culture in museums.
I taught at the University of Winnipeg for several years, including courses on the Peguis reserve as well as for Indigenous students in Winnipeg. Teaching Indigenous students made me sharply aware of the need for contact with heritage items in Indigenous communities, and the difficulties of making such contact given the location of heritage items in museums, often far from home.
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. I also lectured and published to instil a sense of responsibility across the UK museum profession to Indigenous communities.
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 Nogojiwanong (Peterborough, ON) area I have done volunteer work for the Curve Lake Cultural Centre and am planning a project with Hiawatha First Nation to bring items in a UK collection back for a study visit. I am working with the Ontario Museum Association to plan a workshop about Indigenous collections.
I look forward to supporting changes in the museum profession internationally regarding repatriation and decolonization.
Let me know how I can support your work or organization.