Museums & Indigenous People: History and Decolonization

Spring 2022

Image from Museums & Indigenous People: History and Decolonization
Course Details

California Institute for the Arts
School of Critical Studies

Museums are powerful institutions that shape the public’s understanding of history and culture. Museums are complicated institutions with both the capacity to contribute meaningfully to our understandings of and respect for the world and for one another, but also with a history and ongoing patterns of great harm and colonial violence. This course confronts the colonial legacies of museums while exploring the intersection of museum practice and social justice through movements to decolonize and Indigenize museums. This course is based on examining the changing relationship between Indigenous people and museums and the current state of contemporary museum practice, focusing on examples grounded in Native American and First Nations in the US and Canada. The central questions we will consider include:  How has the relationship between Indigenous people and museums changed over the last century and what are the key watershed moments and developments in the field? What are the predominant themes and narratives, objects and images in exhibitions focusing on Indigenous history and culture?  How have Indigenous communities challenged the rights of museums to house their material culture and human remains, and engaged in efforts to decolonize museums? What are the future directions in contemporary museum practice? Topics will include “salvage anthropology” and the collecting of Native American and First Nations material culture in the early 20th century; historic and contemporary exhibition practices; the ethics of curatorial practice, Indigenous activism and the federal repatriation law; collaboration with source communities, and equity and inclusivity with regard to representation within museums.