Burnaby Village Museum limits use of 1920s settler costumes in effort to decolonize

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As a step toward decolonization, staff who provide educational information and school tours will no longer be wearing 1920s settler costumes at the Burnaby Village Museum.  (Burnaby Village Museum/Facebook - image credit)
As a step toward decolonization, staff who provide educational information and school tours will no longer be wearing 1920s settler costumes at the Burnaby Village Museum. (Burnaby Village Museum/Facebook - image credit)

As the Burnaby Village Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary, the museum is taking a closer look at their use of historical costumes in an effort to decolonize their collection and activities.

Nicole Preissl, the Indigenous education programmer at the museum, says starting Saturday, May 7, staff in educational roles — those providing school tours and teaching on other historical information — will no longer be wearing 1920s settler costumes.

"In order to make sure that we're teaching these really important cultural things, both the settler history and the Indigenous history, it's really important that it comes from a neutral perspective and not this person that's in 1920's garb," Preissl told CBC News.

"It almost feels like it might come from a biased standpoint."

Preissl, who is a member of the Sto:lo and Leq'a:mel First Nation, says she never saw her culture and people reflected in any museum. It is something she hopes to change not only for future school children, but also for elders, Indigenous community members and people of colour.

"It's so important for me to see the Indigenous content be expanded," she said.

"I never saw myself reflected in any museum. I never saw my culture, my people, my aunts and my uncles and my grandparents. I would have loved to come to a place like the Burnaby Village Museum to be able to learn about my people."

Museums across the province have been taking steps to undo their part in erasing Indigenous history. Last year, the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria announced it would be closing sections of the First People's gallery in order to work with Indigenous people to appropriately repatriate and conserve certain items.

Rebecca MacKenzie, director of communications at the Canadian Museums Association, says they've been working with over 2,000 museums for the past three years to help decolonize their collection.

"Not two museums are the same. On top of that, there are thousands of Indigenous nations that hold territory here. So it's important to realize that there's an endless combination of ways to decolonize," MacKenzie said.

She said while it's important to recognize that each museum will have to figure out their own way of decolonizing, it's crucial for museums to work closely with Indigenous people to present their stories and their culture.

MacKenzie adds that decolonization does not just mean managing collections or repatriation, but having a "full-circle" approach that applies to hiring for staff positions and museum operations.

"What kind of voice do Indigenous people have within your operations?" she said.

"We've seen examples in the past in museums featuring objects and then having a lot of opinions about what happens once they hit Indigenous territories. That is not appropriate."

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