Further Relevant History
Museums are colonial tools and the discussion on the empowering of Indigenous voice within museums have been going on for a long time.
Inuit and museum history include many damaging incidents. Such as individuals being kidnapped and displayed in faraway places, often to die away from their homes. Gravesites were disturbed and remains, and items gathered. The motivating perspective was that Inuit were dying out and that the culture needed to be documented before it went extinct.
In 1988, Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta held an exhibition called “The Spirit Sings” as part of Olympics Arts Festival. This was boycotted by Lubicon Lake Cree and gained a lot of public attention questioning the role and relationship of Indigenous cultures and museums in Canada. This led to meetings of Canadian Museum Association and Assembly of First Nations and the Task Force on Museums and the First Peoples.
“Museum are not merely the custodians of objects but have a sacred responsibility to ensure that they are not used in ways that are seen as harmful or prejudicial to any group whose heritage is in their custody” “if the treasures of the past mean so much to museum, the welfare of their creators living descendants should mean no less…There is no way in the modern world that a museum can claim immunity as a cultural institution from the political implications of its policy decisions.” -Bruce Trigger
“If we simply apply traditionally successful southern methods in the north we will relegate our museums to irrelevancy as relics of colonialism.” -Barbara Winter
Within Nunavut, museums have a patchwork history. Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife was central to museum matters as a government department. Centres in many communities have been founded with various approaches, priorities, and outcomes. Examples like Inuit Cultural Institute in Arviat, Angmarlik Centre in Pangnirtung, Inuit Heritage Centre in Baker Lake, and Kitikmeot Heritage Society in Cambridge Bay. As Nunavut was founded, the Inuit Heritage Trust was created with the task of preservation, care, and study of Inuit heritage. There is currently no territorial museum and this diffusion of collections and a lack of local places to see Inuit cultural examples, leads to many individuals visiting their own cultural material objects in other national regions or internationally. A documentary called “Inuit Piqutingit: What Belongs to Inuit” from 2009 follows one group of Inuit visiting several museum collections.
“I think they would feel a great sense of pride to realize, ‘This is where I come from.’ I think it’s really important to know our past if we are going to look into the future.” – Bernadette Dean
“There are so many Inuit who have lost their identity. These things will bring understanding to people of where they come from – that would be a good thing.”- Rhoda Karetak
Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum serves Iqaluit and the communities within Qikiqtani. We celebrate Inuit culture through dialogue guided by material culture and exploration of history. Our present actions hope to contribute to passing the Inuit legacy on for future cultural continuation.