First Nations leaders condemn widespread reports of racism at Royal BC Museum

People walk up stairs to the entrance of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, December 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

A group of First Nations leaders in B.C. are speaking out after an internal survey at the Royal BC Museum revealed widespread issues involving racism and discrimination.

“It’s disappointing, concerning and disturbed in terms of how First Nations are looked upon within the museum,” said Terry Teegee, a Regional Chief with the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations.

The First Nations Leadership Council said in a statement this week that it is disturbed by the reports of ongoing systemic racism and toxic working conditions at the institution.

“The (Royal BC Museum) must tell the stories of B.C.’s colonial and racist past — it should not and must not be a representative example of racism that still exists in our society today,” said the council, urging the B.C. Public Service Agency to complete and act upon its own investigation into the matter as soon as possible.

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The “culture” survey was sparked by the resignation of Lucy Bell, a Haida woman who was the former head of Indigenous collections and repatriation. In a speech she delivered virtually to mark her departure last summer, she cited her observations of racism, and lack of diversity at the museum.

Daniel Muzyka, who took on the role of museum board chair in June, said the B.C. Public Service Agency probe was what triggered the survey.

“There were some results that were not good, and we’re dealing with them – around diversity and inclusion in particular,” he said.

The results have been shared with the board and management, he said, but he would not go into detail – only saying it was important they had the chance to process, discuss and address the issues that were identified.

Click to play video: 'Talking about repatriation of Indigenous ancestral objects'
Talking about repatriation of Indigenous ancestral objects

Other measures already underway at the museum include a full organizational restructuring, the hiring of a diversity inclusion consultant, and mandatory education programs for employees with a focus on trust-building, microaggression, working with Indigenous people, culture training, and allyship, he said.

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“It’s clear that we need to engage in a culture-change process to address the issues and we are engaging in it,” said Muzyka. “A major part of a culture change process is education.”

There’s also work underway to review, revise and implement new policies to ensure clarity around issues of discrimination.

“Whether this is going to resolve the issues is yet to be seen, but I don’t think the issues will be resolved overnight,” said Teegee.

“It’s going to be hard work”.

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