C o m m o n w e a l t h
A s s o c i a t i o n o f
M u s e u m s
CAM Bulletin Number 1 - Jan. 1996
Report from the Previous Triennium
Regional Workshop: Museums, Ethics and Indigenous Peoples: Taking the Initiative
The Commonwealth Association of Museums was able to support one regional workshop in 1993 with funds generously provided in a program grant from The Commonwealth Foundation, London.
From several applications, the proposal from Belize was funded both because it fit within the guidelines and budget of the Association and because it was able to take advantage of cooperating with the Museums Association of the Caribbean to extend the impact and participation more broadly.
The following is a short report on the workshop detailed in Winnel Branche's paper presented at the Victoria symposium referred to elsewhere in this newsletter.
"On the 16th of November, 1993 in Belize City, the Museums Association of the Caribbean with major financial support from the Commonwealth Association of Museums held a Workshop entitled 'Museums, Ethics and Indigenous Peoples: Taking the Initiative'. It was attended by museum representatives of several Caribbean countries as well as those representing indigenous groups of Belize in non museum areas. Facilitators were Dr Amareswar Galla of Indian indigenous origin and citizen of Australia, Mrs Lauryn Guttenplan Grant, assistant Counsel General in the Smithsonian Institution, Dr Joseph Palacio, a Belizean of Garifuna origin and Mr Elfego Panti, a Belizean of Maya origin. From their presentations various perspectives were given on the present state and solutions for the relationship between museums and indigenous peoples.
This workshop, having come to the consensus that the present relationship and habits were very much wanting, came up with a number of steps that will have to be taken by museums to improve the situation. These suggestions give the museum major responsibilities. The Workshop suggested among other things, that:
- Museums should assist in the restoration of 'peoplehood' to the region's aboriginal peoples
- Museums should be established in all communities
- Museums should be involved in efforts at improving the economic status of aboriginal peoples
- Museum workers should be trained to handle artefacts with respect
- All cultural groups of the Caribbean's pluralistic societies should participate in museum programs on collection policy making and interpretation of natural and cultural heritage
- Museums should provide education in techniques for care and preservation of artefacts for cultural groups
- All artefacts and products of archaeological investigations in any country should remain in that country
- Concerted attempts should be made to recover artefacts from foreign collections
- Central museums should have well established policies and strategies in coordinating programs with small museums
- There should be participation of indigenous peoples in all phases of development
- There should be periodical publication of history or new acquisition of treasures
- There should be recognition of the cultural rights of the indigenous peoples and the realisation of the significance of collections to community, life and developments
- There should be a diversity of training opportunities and subjects should be included in established regional syllabuses
- MAC should promote the keeping of cultural materials in their communities of origin
- Museums and indigenous peoples through cooperation can promote, empower and facilitate each other in the cultural context
- Museums should remove stereotypes around Columbus and give a positive image of the indigenous people
- MAC should develop a more proactive approach in enshrining these principles in the development of national policies on culture
- Permission should first be acquired before use of any part of a culture
- Antiquities laws should be passed where there are none
- There should be training of indigenous archaeologists
- There should be support of the process that takes the initiative from the people to the museums
- There should be inclusion of the indigenous and aboriginal peoples in defining the roles of museums
- There should be a broadening of the concept of what constitutes a museum"
Ms Branche went on to note that the Caribbean has some advantages in that there are a number of areas where museums have not yet been established. They thus have the opportunity to begin with a thoughtful approach bearing the suggested principles in mind.
The full workshop report will be available at a later date. Ms Branche's summary defines a direction about the ways in which museums can seriously consider their role in recognising and supporting indigenous cultures and peoples and other cultural groups within pluralistic societies. Most importantly, it indicates how those roles can be translated into actions.
CAM is pleased to have been able to support this successful workshop and will consider the inclusion of other regional workshops in its future programs.
Winnel Branche was Director of Museums, Department of Museums, Belize at the time of the workshop.