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Outgoing Royal BC Museum Indigenous collection curator calls it a ‘wicked’ place

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The Royal BC Museum is facing more questions this week over its treatment of Indigenous staff and handling of Indigenous culture.

Outgoing Indigenous collection curator Troy Sebastian took to social media on Tuesday to blast the institution, which he described as a “wicked place.”

Sebastian, a Ktunaxa writer, said the museum has failed to acknowledge the presence of systemic racism in the institution and said its culture remains steeped in a colonial mindset.

Aside from the collection, the permanent gallery within the museum still depicts Indigenous peoples as a backward, socially stunted, and perpetually time stamped on the cusp of extinction. The Vanishing Indian is still on sale at the museum. The province of BC profits from this.

— Troy Sebastian (@Skink00ts) February 9, 2021

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“Currently there are Indigenous human remains held in the museum. There are sacred objects that have been taken from our community during the potlach ban and during the residential school system, and that is an example of the systemic racism that is currently in the museum,” he said.

“(In the museum’s permanent gallery,) Indigenous peoples are people without history, without future and a people without land or law, and that portrayal has to stop.”

Sebastian also echoed Lucy Bell, a Haida woman and former head of the Indigenous Collection and Repatriation Department, who cited racism in her resignation last summer.

“She said there was microaggressions, she said there was discrimination against Indigenous people and she said there was outright harassment, and that’s been my experience in my time as curator,” he said.

Click to play video 'Premier John Horgan on Royal BC Museum controversy'

Premier John Horgan on Royal BC Museum controversy

Premier John Horgan on Royal BC Museum controversy

On Tuesday, museum CEO Jack Lohman stepped down.

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It hired a diversity and inclusion consultant in August after Bell’s departure, and has a task force working on a report into its equity, diversity and inclusion policies.

A separate formal investigation is being headed by the Public Service Agency.

Daniel Muzyka, the museum’s acting CEO and board chair, said the institution was taking the complaints seriously.

“Any allegations brought up by Troy or others in the museum we’ve been very conscious of, and we’ve been following up,” he said.

But modernizing the institution and its approach to cultural issues, he said, was neither an overnight fix nor was it one the Royal BC Museum is facing alone.

“Cultural change is a process, it involves everyone in the organization,” he said.

“I would say that while every museum has a different situation, world wide, museums are being challenged in their presentation of history, they’re being challenged in the acquisition of their collections, and culture issues are something we really do want to understand all of the elements of. We’re very concerned and we want to make sure we deal with them.”

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Muzyka added that the museum was increasing resources to its Indigenous connections and repatriation unit.

But Sebastian said for a museum whose catalogue relies so heavily on Indigenous culture to truly evolve, it must be led by Indigenous people.

“You cannot treat Indigenous peoples like this, and tell the story about us, and of us, without us,” he said.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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