The Royal B.C. Museum acknowledged 135 years of promoting the colonization of B.C. in a report released Tuesday.
“We’re not the museum we wanted to be, and we’re not the museum we should be,” RBCM chair Daniel Muzyka told media in a conference call.
An investigation by B.C. Public Service Agency into allegations of racism and toxic workplace culture at the museum was launched nearly a year ago, after the former head of Indigenous collections and repatriation, Lucy Bell, resigned. Bell delivered a public and damning speech citing the racism she regularly faced and observed in her role.
On Tuesday, the results of the investigation, as well as the results of a diversity and inclusion consultant’s work, were released.
They found that Indigenous employees have been subject to racism and discrimination at the museum, and that museum leadership didn’t effectively handle the behaviour that fostered these acts. Many staff, the report stated, found the workplace to be toxic and characterized by fear and mistrust.
In February, Indigenous collections curator Troy Sebastian called the museum a “wicked place” that “routinely discriminat(ed) against Indigenous staff.” He used the last few days of his six-month contract to speak up against the museum, and emphasized that colonialism doesn’t simply exist in the past – it must be recognized as part of the present.
As Canadians and British Columbians have become more aware of the genocide of residential schools and the deaths of so many Indigenous children, it is important to acknowledge the role that the museum played in that system.
— nupqu ʔa·kǂam̓ (@Skink00ts) June 29, 2021
Tuesday’s report also stated the museum had not moved fast enough to apply the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) and that equity, diversion, inclusion and accessibility principles had not been adequately prioritized or resourced.
Core human history exhibits were found to be outdated and narrowly focused on the province’s European colonial past. And, the museum was found to be under-resourced.
Muzyka said the museum is fully committed to making things right though, and that it is already taking steps to do so.
“The Board of Directors acknowledges the colonial history of the museum and the systemic racism inherent in that history. We recognize and apologize for the way the museum has treated individuals within our workforce and the communities we serve,” the RBCM board said in a statement.
A big part of this will be better representing the people who have lived and continue to live in B.C. Over the coming years, the museum said, it will replace its human history galleries with inclusive new exhibits on Indigenous, Chinese, Japanese and Black communities.
The museum is also hiring a new CEO and director or vice-president of Indigenous Partnerships and DRIPA Implementation. A number of other Indigenous-led and focused positions have also been created.
Already ongoing is a multi-year equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility training program to be provided to all staff and leadership. Going forward, when volunteers are brought on board they will also undergo training.
Muzyka said the museum’s new collections and research building set to be completed in Colwood by 2025 will also aid in inclusivity efforts. The new site will house B.C. Archives and offer the public far greater access to historical items and documents.
Asked how the museum will ensure staff are treated with respect and listened to going forward, Muzyka said the board will be in regular communication with them and will put a greater focus on human resources and inclusion services. He added that he expects the museum to look like a much different place a few years from now.
The full report can be read at royalbcmuseum.bc.ca.