Of Boundaries and Borders: First Nations' History in Museums

Moira McLoughlin (Santa Clara University)

Abstract: This paper suggests that traditional history museums can be approached as maps that to orient their users to linear, culturally specific narratives of time and space. As an alternative, the paper proposes that we consider museum as borderlands: spaces of coexistence, negotiation, and transformation which do not assume given centres of power.

Résumé: Les musées d'histoire traditionnels sont présentés comme des cartes routières qui orientent les visiteurs à travers des constructions qui sont non seulement linéaires mais aussi culturellement déterminées dans le temps et l'espace. Cet article propose une vision alternative des musées en tant que terrains neutres de rencontre, c'est-à- dire comme des lieux de coexistence, de négociation et de transformation qui ne supposent pas de centres de pouvoirs pré-établis.

Amongst the hundreds of thousand of visitors to the 1988 Calgary Olympics were a few hundred travellers returning home after absences of up to 300 years. As early as 1668, they had left to tell the "Old" World of another; to act as witness to the expanding dominion of those explorers with whom they travelled. They also offered evidence of the complexity and history of this seeming "New" World. In 1988, as the Olympics' flagship exhibit, these "cultural objects" were invited back to the Glenbow Museum to speak of the moment of that diversity and richness. Their presence, their hosts declared, attested to "the richness, diversity and complexity of Canada's Native cultures" (Harrison, 1988, p. 12), which had enabled the survival of their creators' descendants.

But within their narratives were painful silences; powerful absences. They were not asked to speak of the disruption and extinction, the change or the loss, that was evident on their return. Their invitation specified public homecoming stories of a culture that flourished centuries ago, but demanded silence on their subsequent travels and the circumstances that had led to their leaving. The selective muteness of these works however engendered other voices, other stories. This exhibit, The Spirit Sings, was the object of a vocal boycott by the Lubicon Lake Cree of Northern Alberta and the catalyst for a national review of the relationship between Canada's museum and Native communities.2

The Lubicon boycott was initiated to draw public attention to two critical points. The first was the exhibit's focus on the period of contact and its lack of contemporary Native voice and presence. While the extraordinary beauty and power of the works was never contested, the Lubicon argued that the museum needed to promote, rather than deny, the relationship between the historical pieces and the realities of contemporary Native life. One of those realities was the target of the second criticism. The exhibit was sponsored by Shell Canada, an oil company which had been drilling since the 1950s in what the Lubicon believe to be their traditional lands; lands that are the subject of an ongoing land claim dispute. How was it, asked Bruce Trigger who resigned from the McCord Museum when it refused to join the boycott, that a "show glorifying the creativity of Native peoples at the time of European discovery should be sponsored by an oil company that was...engaged in destroying the traditional economy and way of life of the Lubicon Lake Cree"? (Trigger, 1988, p. 15).

The exhibit's organizers answered, with a resounding echo from many in the Canadian museum community, that these were inappropriate questions to ask for they drew the players into the political realm where museums could not, and would not, speak. They were not, it was stated, political entities. I would like to argue here that, despite this overwhelming denial, museums are by their very nature political institutions. At the symposium3 called to address "the outstanding issues between museums and First Nations" (Nicks, 1992, p. 88), Native and non-Native voices, both curatorial and public, challenged the fundamental premises of an institution rooted in colonial practice. The museum's mandate--to collect, preserve, interpret, and educate--is inherently an assumption of power: of the power to define and limit the meanings of those objects, and those cultures, it provides homes to. Museum's arm's-length policies, designed according to many to protect them from hostage taking by special interest groups, more effectively distances them from those whose histories they have become responsible for. The Lubicon boycott made clear that the arm's length space which stands between the museum discourse and the many sites of what might be called contemporary practice, is that in which the Other is constructed: a space that allows the museum image to ultimately depoliticize and delegitimate those created outside it. The symposium and the disciplinary debates that have been engendered by these questions, make painfully obvious that exhibits are constructs, representations which reflect not only particular and situated interpretations of history, but more importantly create a particular vision of contemporary Canada which has the potential to defuse much of what may seem to threaten it.

Creating the Museum's Other

Bourdieu (1984) has argued that "[w]hat is at stake in the struggles about the meaning of the social world is power over the classificatory schemes and systems which are the basis of the representations of the groups and therefore of their mobilization and demobilization" (p. 479). The museum's claim to apolitical (rather than a political status) is based in the argument that once transferred into the "preserve" of the museum environment, this struggle over meaning ceases. Removed from circulation and daily contexts of use and exchange, the objects' meanings are fixed and known. Knowledge, it is insisted, is neutral, free of influence, and free to all. And this knowledge becomes centralized in the seemingly stable object, effectively and necessarily erasing the more volatile represented subject. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the original subject is replaced by the exhibitor as subject. An oft repeated observation made about museums is that they speak more clearly of themselves, of the exhibitor, than they do of the culture that is exhibited. These objects, which in the museum environment come to speak of a "subjected" population, speak through a known, specific, and entirely different subject: an articulative or speaking subject. Kopytoff (1986) writes that this assumption or appropriation of subjectivity is an assumption of power: the power to singularize an object, to make its meaning secure and unquestionable (p. 73). What is significant about the adoption of foreign objects, Kopytoff continues, is not the fact that they are adopted, but the way they are culturally redefined and put to use. The rhetoric employed to validate colonial collecting argued the necessity of protecting and conserving a culture facing inevitable extinction of assimilation. Certainly this was the case in the collection of Native art and artefact. As Doxtator (1988) has noted: "The ethnographic museum gallery was born in the nineteenth century when, at the heart of `Indianness,' was the belief that Indian cultures were technologically and intellectually inferior and incapable of surviving in competition with Euro-Canadian society" (p. 26). This rhetoric of salvage, the ability to determine what deserves to be kept, remembered, and treasured is the product of an ideology of conquest.

In the collection of another culture, the museum constructs a history which situates that Other in the theoretical and institutional framework of the collector's world. Breckenridge (1989) has argued that the collection in which a piece falls contains and bounds the represented culture. An order is imposed inherent not necessarily to the objects or the displayed culture, but to the interests and goals the exhibition will serve. In making an object one's own, through its acquisition into a collection, the object is removed from a potentially threatening environment and provided a safe, and seemingly comprehensible, meaning. In a review of The Spirit Sings, the editor of the Edmonton Journal voiced this near obsession on the parts of Canadian exhibitors and publics: "It has long been clear that we actually prefer our native culture in museums. We certainly do not prefer it running the Department of Indian Affairs. Nor do we prefer it announcing the news on national television or determining its own political destiny" (Hume, 1988, p. B1). Continued mastery over the boundaries within which the received object and recovered history is situated guarantees control over the message that is ultimately created and passed on to the audience. While the museum then is making its exhibits more accessible, it is always careful to shape and supply the very terms on which those exhibits can be encountered.

At the Canadian Museum of Civilization's History Hall, visitors are offered a "true exploration of Canada's history" (MacDonald & Alsford, 1989, p. 99) and the History Hall Guide promises that its authenticity "has been established through painstakingly thorough historical research." There is no suggestion, no suspicion, that such research is powerfully limited by its methodology and sources. The language of the museum's texts and brochures is an objective one, inhabited by references to a single definitive interpretation: a known history. The museum's director writes: "In a sense, a national museum elevates culture by recognizing it..." (MacDonald & Alsford, 1989, p. 3; emphasis added). Public exhibition then, is not simply an exchange of knowledge, but a recognition, a legitimation of objects and cultures which had, it is implied, descended into obscurity. The "come discover" invitation used so repeatedly in museums only extends the illusion that began with Columbus' "discovery" of America. Truths are discovered and illuminated. The Museum's Souvenir Booklet tells us that the Grand Hall "reveals the culture, lifestyle and monumental art of Canada's Pacific Coast" (p. 7; emphasis added), again as if earlier concealed or lost to all. And it is a singular culture, a singular lifestyle and art, conflating a complex and diverse history and people into a surprising homogeneity, which I will argue below has important political ramifications.

The museum then presents the illusion of an objective, authorless and truthful experience. The Canadian Museum of Civilization envisions these truths to be the glue our multicultural mosaic has lost. In fact, this is its announced mandate. In a statement that quite eerily suggests the "subjected" nature of Canada's First People, the museum's director suggests: "The more visitors can intimately experiment with the cultures on display the more likely they will make a true contact with these cultures" (MacDonald, 1989, p. 20). This true contact is dependent upon the metaphor of "experimentation," with its overtones of powerless subjects and human manipulation. We can, it is argued, participate and seemingly control the nation's collective memory, for this is how the Museum identifies its collections. But what does this collective memory, as structured in more traditional Canadian museums, recall of Native Canadians and how does that memory inform contemporary realities? I would like to suggest that, in fact, Native Canadian history has been situated outside this collective memory. Despite its ubiquitous presence in Canadian history and anthropology museums, it has remained distanced both from the exhibitor's world and from the complexities of contemporary Native life.

Marginalization in the museum setting is accomplished by the erection of barriers which demarcate the distance between the exhibited and the exhibitor: the creation of the Other. The Colonial Other is that which is not self-defining: he or she exists in opposition to those who have the power to construct and enforce boundaries of race, gender, and ethnicity. The Other is marked by difference--in location, time, colour, custom, history or gender. This distance, which lies behind what Fabian (1983) has called "the West and the Rest" (p. 28), is most recognizable by its emptiness and lack. It is not a difference that is defined by characteristics of its own identity or subjectivity (in other words, by its femaleness, blackness or Indianness), but by absence; by its not being male, white or First World. Fixed as the subaltern in seemingly inescapable binaries (tradition /progress, past /present, spirituality/rationality, myth /science, craft /art), the Other is at one and the same time inferior (for they are marked by lack) and threatening. His or her presence outside those boundaries is a continued reminder of possible vulnerability. What is emphasized in this construction of distance is the space not between the centre (so often impossible to identify and locate, and so impossible to penetrate) and a population with its own history, but the space between ourselves and "not us." This barrier, erected between exhibited and exhibitor, defines cultural boundaries and determines who exists within and who "without."

Mapping Colonial History

In the remainder of this paper, I would like to consider two alternative methods of looking at history museums and their exhibits, both which are situated within what Kaplan (1990) has termed the language of the atlas. The ongoing debate around how museums can best serve diverse communities echoes with geographical descriptors--boundaries, distances, inside and out--which point to the very powerful relationship between identity and place (be it spatial or temporal). In considering the shifting character of this relationship in the museum, I have adopted the working metaphor of "mapping."4 In the first section of the paper, I will consider the way in which we might use this metaphor to critically analyze how the spatial configurations and boundaries of these museums continue to perpetuate colonial structures of power. This will allow me to set out in a very abbreviated form some of the criticisms that have recently been levelled at museums. While I strongly sympathize with the critiques of this methodology--that it can be seen as a passive and purely deconstructive move--I remain convinced that it is an important and necessary starting point. I would like, however, in the paper's second section, to move beyond this and suggest that the linear and boundary-enforcing colonial model that best describes current museums be replaced with a reconfigured "border" location or "borderland."5 This interpretation of place and time attempts to defuse any given centre of power and asks that we look more closely at intersections; at the interfaces between peoples and the places from which they speak and act. I believe the latter model more clearly expresses a goal identified in The Task Force Report on Museums and First Peoples to forge "new partnerships" that work from within a "commonality of interest" (p. 7).

Museums, like maps, exist in order to orient their users: to indicate where one has been, where they can go, and how that travel may best be accomplished. In the map, the unknown loses its threat of confusion. These museological maps define and negotiate spatial and temporal distances, constructing boundaries between the place where one is and is not. Their "major centres" and "capitals" of history and culture privilege certain places, indicating in the process their relationship to others on or off the map. As Fabian (1983) has argued in his discussion of the anthropological construction of time: "The history of our discipline reveals that such use of Time almost invariably is made for the purpose of distancing those who are observed from the Time of the observer" (p. 25). It is an argument, I believe, equally revealing of museum's construction of space. As visitors to the museum, as readers of its map, we travel through histories that are fixed in space and time for our perusal.

Again, in a discussion of anthropology, Appadurai (1988) has noted: "These outsiders, these observers, are regarded as quintessentially mobile; they are the movers, the seers, the knowers. The natives are immobilized by their belonging to a place" (p. 37). In this sense then, the user of the map is not forever tied to a single location like the Other she or he visits. That Other, Appadurai has argued, remains "somehow incarcerated, or confined, in those places" (p. 37); not simply in space, but in thought and belief as well. The visitor's is a linear journey, the progress of which is marked by these captured moments in time and space.

These are the maps that best describe many contemporary museums: places which are themselves highlights on other, more urban, maps. Recommended as destinations in city guide books, they promise visitors "voyages" and "trips" into other worlds and times. As Duncan (1991) has noted, these are cultural spaces "marked off and culturally designated as special, reserved for a particular kind of contemplation and learning" (p. 91) that assumes other social and economic boundaries. Once we enter the museum and traverse the boundaries that marks outside from in, chaos from known, we are inevitably provided with another map that will guide our trip in words and /or images. These remind us that spatial arrangements here are no accident and contain narratives of their own.

Perhaps the most immediate spatial distinction to be found on these maps is the distance that separates the presentations of Euro and Native Canadian histories and cultures. Inevitably these are to be found on different floors or in different wings of museums; with boundaries open, if at all, only for European excursion into Native spaces. This is not unique to the museums discussed in this paper, nor to Canada. The Smithsonian Museum in Washington presently houses Native American history in an entirely different building. Native Americans can be found in the Natural History Museum, other Americans in the Museum of American History. While the provision of a separate history for Canada's First People may be considered an indicator of respect for a distinctive culture, and perhaps even as an unwitting support for self-government, I would argue that this practice of presenting these two cultures as having no common history and no common future acts to depoliticize and deny Native Canadians a role in current national restructuring.

Consider the floor plan of the Glenbow Museum's third floor (Figure 1). Here, the brochure suggests, one can witness what appears to be the inevitable consequences of the "unfolding" of Western Canadian history. However, as the floor's introductory text hints, it is in fact two different histories, one of which seems tagged on as a historical afterthought.

Step back in time and trace the colourful history of Western Canada. The journey begins with the first explorers and fur traders, then moves to the early days of ranching, thru the dramatic building of the CPR, to the exciting discovery of oil in Alberta. Explore the unique cultures of Canada's Native Peoples through displays of rare ceremonial and religious objects, clothing and an 18 foot tipi.

If one follows the arrows and completes the tour as advised by the brochure, we begin at the fur trade. The earlier presence of Native Canadians is acknowledged in only three of the first six exhibits (from the Fur Trade to the Riel Rebellion), and is quickly dismissed as the country and its two "founding" cultures move into the future. It should also be noted that in these first exhibits, Native Canadian culture is in the process of collapse and decay. Interestingly, cultural erosion is expressed as a loss of spatial control, a loss of a place on geographical maps. While Indian Treaties celebrates alliances between Europeans and First Peoples, the next two exhibits take on a more solemn tone, tracing the loss of traditional land and the movement to reserves (seemingly as a response to the unexplained disappearance of the buffalo): "When the buffalo were destroyed, the Indians were obliged to settled on reserves...reduced to poverty after settling on reserves, many Indians were obliged to beg in order to survive." In the Missionary exhibit another loss, in this case of faith: "Whether Catholic, Methodist or Anglican, most missionaries sought to turn Indians away from their own religion and culture, believing they would find equality with the white, both on earth and in heaven...."

Figure 1
Floor plan of the Glenbow Museum's Third Floor

While there is no contesting the reality of these threats and the very real resultant loss, the history of adaptation, transformation, and recovery is denied by its absence. As Fry & Willis (1988) have argued in their work on photographs of Australian Aboriginal peoples, these first six exhibits "present appearances which thus produce disappearances" (p. 24): presences that are marked by absence. In these spaces history as a process of coexistence appears impossible; progress demands the replacement of one people, one time, with another.

The Glenbow's tour continues with a forward moving time-line--through the homestead, railway, and oil industries--to be deposited in the pre-Second World War years. With only one exception (one can break from the path and leave the floor in the ranching exhibit), the spatial configuration reflects the temporal, drawing the visitor through an uninterrupted linear vision of history. However, on leaving the 1930s, we turn the corner to suddenly find ourselves in a non-historic time. There is no sense in the Native Peoples' Gallery of development or evolution as there was in the presentation of Western Canadian history. It would appear that their presence became invisible in the other galleries because they had somehow become trapped here, wherever this may be. Few of these cases, divided by tribal identification, mention specific years or even events. However, we are certain that these people no longer exist for they, and their lives, are discussed only in the past tense. The gallery contains a confusing mix of pre-contact and contact era artifacts which comment on the immediate influences of English and French material culture (beads, metal, horses, and guns), but it is an entirely innocuous interaction. With the loss of the temporal structure comes a parallel disruption of the linear historical map. There is no longer a recommended path to follow within these exhibits; no sequential narrative. Here visitors can wander without prescribed method to witness a history that does not "unfold" to any logical and expected end.

While Euro-Canadians have a history marked by progress, Native Canadians have a culture most clearly marked by its fixity. Western Canadian identity is marked by its accomplishments--the railroad, the oil industry--while Native Canadian identity is tied to the region and the land that was inhabited (e.g., Indians of the North). This location is an interesting comment on a more contemporary lack or absence, given the current status of First Nations' land claims and the disputation of current Canadian maps. This historical journey, which begins with the first explorers, is not history from a Native Canadian point of view, nor from a chronological view of the province's history. The floor's layout reinforces that this is the history of Canada's white settlers, where Native Canadian culture has been inexorably pushed to hang at the end of the exhibit, where it acts as a confusing footnote to Euro-Canadian progress.

The only exhibit that contradicts this is the more recent (1986) Métis exhibit, which "tells the story of the lives and history of the Metis people in Western Canada from the earliest days to their present day circumstances" (Nicks, 1986, p. 52). (Unfortunately space restrictions in the permanent exhibit meant that the travelling exhibit's final section on Métis involvement in the constitutional debates of the 1980s was omitted.) This exhibit is in sharp contrast to the others, not only bringing the Métis population into the present with video tapes of individuals speaking directly to the visitor of their own lives, but also discussing the diversity of the population and its relationship to the white world. Interestingly though, it is only the Métis who are able to move into the present in these history museums. At the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Métis exhibit is included in the larger history of British and French Canadians, while at the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature they are one of many "immigrant" histories. Aside from this identity crisis, I think it is worth noting that it would seem to be this intersection with white cultures that propels Métis culture into the present. Polarities of authenticity and purity would seem to dictate that Aboriginal Canadians are to be found in the past. 1

At the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, a particular schizophrenia is apparent in its history floors. As the museum floor plan indicates (Figure 2), this depiction of history begins in the present with "time capsules" of the last five decades. As the visitor moves into the "re-creation" exhibits of earlier British Columbia history (described in the brochure as Modern History), he or she travels back through the history of urbanization and industrialization to the fur trade and first contact with Native Canadians, with the same linear vision of history that characterized Western Canada at the Glenbow. Reversal of the usual forward-moving path suggests even more powerfully the inevitability of this particular destination: late-twentieth-century Western Canada. Laid out so that we move back in time, each exhibit, each object, becomes a supporting player in this narrative and evidence of the clear path to this present. The time-line that appears repeatedly throughout the exhibit (Figure 3) reinforces this interpretation. We begin here in The Metropolis and follow neatly defined and bounded historical moments back to the period defined as Native Cultures. Without a known existence before 1675 and ending with the beginning of the Gold Rush in 1850, Native Canadians are again effaced from any contemporary modern map of history. This guide suggests a homogenous world which acts simply as a preface, a moment, in the history of the modern world.

This simple regressive time-line, however, is not the same historical mapping to be found on the floors. After the Exploration exhibits (where no reference is made to Native Canadians), visitors have two options: they may leave the floor or take a massive temporal leap to the earliest days of British Columbia, neatly passing over the centuries of Native settlement. What follows Exploration is not the expected movement into first contact and a discussion of eighteenth-century Native culture, but an archaeological exhibit entitled The 12,000 Year Gap which focuses on the 12,000 years of prehistory for which there are no concrete documents. Here the visitor learns how this prehistory has been pieced together through the careful research of archaeologists. Not surprisingly, it is only the intervention of non-Native science that opens Native history to us.

Figure 3
Replication of the Royal British Columbia Museum's Modern History Time-line

Following this exhibit, which serves as the boundary between these two worlds, we enter the First Peoples' Gallery, where the regressive time-line has been abandoned and the space structured so as to take the visitor through a chronological progressive history of Native cultures. It remains, however, a history defined by the presence of the two "founding" cultures. Its exhibits are divided into two distinct sections: pre-contact and post-contact history. Again, this is a space and a history marked most visibly by the presence of the French and English. And while I would agree with Clifford (1991) when he writes that this exhibit is unusual in the complexity of its treatment of Native history, the transformative presence of Europe in these galleries only more sharply points out the Native absence in the Modern History halls. The land claims exhibit that concludes the First Nations Gallery, could quite logically be seen as an integral part of B.C.'s modern history and lead into, or become a part of, the time capsule exhibits that open the floor. However it remains locked out by the floor's physical layout and the historical boundaries that it reinforces.

It is interesting to note that where dissatisfaction has emerged with these representations, and this is particularly true of museum educators, a potentially more worrisome approach has been proposed: that of universalism. In this context, all boundaries are effaced in the name of what is identified as shared. Many public and school programs now work to emphasize the commonality of all Canadians. It is, I would argue, a colonial attempt to recover the Other, to fill this space by denying all but decorative difference; to reassure ourselves that we can know and understand this Other. It is an attempt to fill this absence with ourselves and our worlds. If one is not the Other, then one is somehow the Same. Difference becomes domesticated. In emphasizing these seeming commonalities (most particularly spirituality and family), contemporary expressions of difference and self-definition can be momentarily quieted.

Hall (1982) has observed that in order for one voice, one meaning to be made credible or legitimate, it not only must prove itself authoritative, but it must deny the legitimacy of others. In the colonial museum context, it is contemporary expressions and practices that are being defused and depoliticized. The Native Canadians presented most often in these museums are not those who live outside its doors, but a romanticized people of a mythical ahistoric time, for whom the greatest cost of contact was a change from quillwork to beadwork. But despite, and perhaps finally because of, the fact that this homogenous "they" is defined by lack, this has become for the very large majority of Canadians a reality. Real "Indianness" becomes defined by tradition and technologies now absent. Such exhibits imply that this is the location where the real Native Canadian can, or should, still be found and that those who we may encounter outside its walls or on the evening news are somehow deviations or bastardizations of a pure knowable essence. Change and ultimately the realities of contemporary life are perceived again as the loss of that culture: deculturation. Denied a place and a voice in institutional histories of Canada, and with those realities that lie outside the museum being systematically silenced within it, the ability to act politically or socially is seriously minimized. If one has never been acknowledged as a participant in Canadian history, how is that a constitutional presence can be found now?

The boundaries created in these maps have served as the constituting frames of identity, fixed and essentialized within spatial and temporal constructs. They work as metonyms, like those historic and tourist maps that use visual images to orient the viewer, substituting a recognizable essence for the whole, conflating and absorbing internal difference. This essence then structures the museum within a primary dichotomy--"here" and "there"--which has been translated into the numerous dichotomies of the museum--"traditional" and "contemporary," "past" and "present," "authentic" and "inauthentic," and ultimately "us" and "them." Gupta & Ferguson (1992) argue that this "presumption that spaces are autonomous has enabled the power of topography to conceal successfully the topography of power" (p. 8). Like those familiar maps, museums have traditionally not explored the spaces between centres, or the process of travelling from one hub to another. They have in that sense, like their paper and plastic counterparts, remained two dimensional. In discussing such dichotomies in the construction of time, Fabian (1983) has given voice to their inherent stasis: "Instead of being a measure of movement it may appear as a quality of states; a quality, however, that is unequally distributed among human populations of this world" (p. 23).

Moving Toward the Borders

This construction of the Other is, however, encountering increased resistance, particularly from work in post-colonial theory and practice. This work, which is quickly impacting on the philosophy (if not the permanent exhibits) of museums, sets out to recover the Other: not its lost, pure or authentic voice, but contemporary speech which is historically, socially, and politically situated. Post-colonial theory and practice asks that we question the polarities that have perpetuated this particular representation of the Native Other and to explore the ground that lay between. The challenge to traditional museological thought and practice is asking that we consider alternative spaces, to map out spaces and identities that defy essentializing. These critiques suggest a museum where encounters within these polarities is paramount: a borderland.

homogenous. Nor need it parcel neatly into zones: precultural, cultural and postcultural. It just could be more often than we usually like to think, criss-crossed by border zones, pockets and eruptions of all kinds. These border zones, pockets and eruptions along with our supposedly transparent cultural selves, are as profoundly cultural as anything else. (Rosaldo, 1988, p. 87)

Recent councils and meetings of world indigenous peoples have given concrete evidence to the emergence of cultures and nations ill defined by traditional understandings of nation and border. These new maps must also acknowledge for difference within: for spaces within spaces. They also raise perhaps the most frustrating and engaging question communication and cultural studies has encountered: How can difference and distinction be preserved while constructing a common national or international dialogue?

Unlike the margins of colonial maps, borders reflect a meeting of two or more cultures. They are spaces where citizens, languages, and customs coexist, necessarily recognizing the presence of one another. Borders are transformative places, where neither here nor there, one temporarily inhabits two realities. These are not, however, idealistic oases of blind commonality. Borders are more often than not places characterized by contestation and friction, by negotiation over identity, and by an acknowledgment of different political and cultural agendas. In our border encounters, we must document our very existence; providing evidence of our allegiances, we define our relationship to others. Here we have the overt recognition that we are, to varying degrees, constitutive of one another's identity.

There is already movement at the borders. In places long marginalized, tribal museums ask that we reconsider constructions of space, history, and academic discipline. Often housed in buildings which once served as residential schools, their stories are inevitably of contact and transformation. Repatriation issues--or the demand that certain ceremonial or sacred pieces be returned to their original owners--have brought with them alternative spaces like the museums at Alert Bay and Cape Mudge. Others like the Woodlands Cultural Centre at Brantford and the Secwepemc Museum in Kamloops have begun to exhibit their own collections in centres which are communal and multi-disciplinary in nature. While much about these exhibit spaces is dictated by the museum discipline, much has been transformed. At the U Mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay ("U Mista" meaning the state of luck that brings those captured in war home), the potlatch collection is to be found in the simple, open space of the Big House. The collection, repatriated from Ottawa only 13 years ago, literally stands along the sides of the house, leaving a large open space in the centre. The individual pieces are unlabelled, presented in the order of their appearance at the potlatch and free of the glass and cases that marked them as objects of study in Ottawa. The Centre's then director, Gloria Cranmer-Webster saw the importance of the collection not simply in its historical value, but as an impetus for contemporary practices and for its part in the continuing transformation of Kwakw_ is more a symbol than anything else: the symbol of something bad that happened but also a symbol of victory or a battle won" (personal interview, April 2, 1990). The texts accompanying the pieces set out the history of the suppression of the potlatch and its impact on the Alert Bay community. The narrative here is neither linear nor historical. This is not a pristine timeless world nor simply a preface to a larger history. Here Native and non-Native worlds meet in the past and present. The exhibited objects refuse a strict disciplinary classification weaving their roles as aesthetic, historical, and cultural players through the ongoing life of Alert Bay.

The Kwagiutl Museum in Cape Mudge shapes its space to reflect not the polarities of ancient and modern, but all that stands between. The brochure tells us that "the lofty beam structure of the traditional Big House and the spiral form of the sea snail reflect the evolution of Kwagiutl culture through time." While traditional museum cases and glass have been retained, the space is not divided according to traditional anthropological classification, but according to the family that owns the pieces and the rights to the songs and dances which would accompany them in the potlatch ceremony. Internal understandings of the pieces' genealogy and place in the community here determine the configuration of space.

In these instances where the museum is located on the reserve, the surrounding community is inextricably part of its impact. Clifford (1991) notes in his discussion of tribal museums that "[in] a local museum, `here' matters. Either one has traveled to get here, or one already lives here and recognizes and intimate heritage" (p. 229). When asked what role her museum might play for those who live outside the reserve, Linda Jules, director of the Secwepemc Museum, observed:

We have a feeling that if you are going to study Schuswap culture you shouldn't go to Ottawa to study it, you shouldn't go to Victoria to study it, you should come to where the culture sprang up because then you are able to experience the climate and the environment, you are able to experience the community and you can talk to the people. We are part of the culture, you know--we really don't like the idea of studying Native culture in isolation from Native people. (Personal interview, April 9, 1990)

These are, in every sense, border museums, for their histories are indelibly marked by the presence of others.

While smaller tribal museums provide the critical space for local histories, their distances from the centre can also reinforce the marginalization of that history. What then, does the border metaphor suggest for larger non-Native museums? It asks that we turn our attention to the intersections of cultures; moving away from a generalized, yet culturally specific, sweep of history to a more careful depiction of how we continue to produce difference, in all of its dimensions, at those points of contact. "The move we are calling for, most generally, is away from seeing cultural differences as the correlate of a world of `peoples' whose separate histories want to be bridged by the anthropologist and toward seeing it as a producer of a shared historical process that differentiates as it connects it" (Gupta & Ferguson, 1992, p. 16). At borders we are forced to contemplate the mechanisms by which we become a citizen of one place and the Other of another. Museums must, in essence, turn themselves inside out to reveal the distances with which a seemingly singular culture constructs the Other.

The Task Force on Museums and First Peoples, along with recent museum literature,6 begins to provide a sense of what these borderlands might look like; what meetings will be enacted there. Museums are being asked to consider a representation of history that is marked by continuity, contact, and transformation; where past and present no longer work as isolated and discrete units. Static time-lines, which glorify the past and make suspicious the present, are slowly being abandoned. For example, at the Royal British Columbia Museum, the final exhibit of the First Peoples' Gallery addresses the history and present status of land claims, while the Canadian Museum of Civilization promises its halls will look to the future of Native Peoples. Borderland museums cannot be intent simply on recovering the past, but must turn their resources to exploring how that past is constantly being negotiated and redefined in a present and future. The Glenbow Museum, and other institutions, augment slow-changing and unwieldy permanent exhibits with temporary programmes that address current First Nations issues.

However, all involved in this debate are quick to agree that even this perspective on history will be problematic if it continues to be the product of a single cultural voice. The border map must orient its visitor, not with one authoritative interpretation, but with multiple voices and potentially conflicting constructions of history. The Task Force made this diversity of voice its first recommendation: "Museums and First Peoples will work together to correct inequities that have characterized their relationships in the past. In particular the desire and authority of First Peoples to speak for themselves should be recognized and affirmed by museums" (Task Force, 1992, p. 7).

This may, in fact, require that First Peoples also be asked to comment on the histories of Canada's "founding" cultures. As the Task Force further recommends though, these multiple voices cannot remain visitors to, or the illegal aliens of, these borders: "All museums and art galleries with ethnographic or Aboriginal art collections should develop programs which encompass legitimate opportunities and encouragement for the employment of Aboriginal peoples at all levels of their operations" (Task Force, 1992, p. 8).

It further suggests that the multiplicity of voices be extended so as to question the authority of any given disciplinary voice. This will allow museums to explore those traditional mapping techniques that identified art and history as the domain of European citizens and anthropology and artefact as the territory of the native. In the spring of this year, Gerald McMaster mounted an exhibit on the popular construction of First Nations' history and culture at the UBC Museum of Anthropology.7 In considering the impact of savage braves, stoic chiefs, Indian princesses, and cigar-store Indians on the consciousness of twentieth-century Native and non-Native Canadians, McMaster's work also challenges the visitor to reflect on the role of this institution in either perpetuating or challenging the on-going meaning of these representations.

The alternative map suggested here focuses both on the history of cultural contact and on the history of the travels of the objects themselves. Part of the process of turning the museum inside out is the inclusion of what Durrans (1988) has called a "transactional history." "This narrow history could be linked not only with wider historical experiences such as explorations or colonial relations but also with earlier uses and presentations of the material by previous generations of anthropologists and curators, emphasizing the value of reinterpreting collections" (p. 162). If museums are to relinquish a single authoritative voice, they must be willing to reveal the mechanisms by which objects were acquired, classified, and reinterpreted in this new context. As Durrans has noted, it would be excruciatingly cumbersome to do this with each and every object. However, the UBC Museum of Anthropology has shown, in a spring 1993 exhibit of student work, that it can be done successfully and in a thought-provoking manner on a small scale. During this exhibit, the students targeted certain objects to illustrate the relative nature of interpretation. Small panels asked viewers to consider questions such as how the exhibition context may alter the potential "meaning" of a piece and whether "imitation," or replication, may, in fact, be seen as the sincerest form of flattery.

Finally, the border metaphor further suggests that museums integrate these histories in floors and exhibits that explore points of conflict and consensus, revealing the structures of power that mark Canadian history. This is not to argue that those who occupy the border are not products of unique and specific cultural histories, but to acknowledge that those histories are never isolated. While its name still suggests the exclusions of certain histories, and its exhibits struggle for contemporaneity, the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature presents a provincial history which reflects upon the interrelationships of both the natural world and humankind and of the disciplines of anthropology, history and, to a smaller extent, art. While their exhibits provide specific histories of peoples and nature, they also acknowledge that important pieces of those histories involve responses to the presence of others.

For this metaphor to be revealing, we must all recognize our presence at these borders and acknowledge systems of privilege that make them operative. As Hall (1990) has argued, identity is constituted both outside and within representation: it is a product of many imaginations and discourses. Borderlands ask that we reject the notion of an ethnic or racial difference as somehow structured by a presence and its opposing lack or absence. Further, it demands that we deny normative status to those who only appear to be without ethnicity: the authors of, rather than participants in, multiculturalism. Difference is not denied but is self-defined and amplified to take in those who had occupied the centre. It becomes inclusive rather than exclusive. But at the same time, it restores to the homogenized Other variety and multivocality, difference within difference that refuses the single voice narrative of the colonial museum. In the reconstruction of museum maps comes the possibility of a voice directed both inward and outward. While there is no doubt that larger museums will continue to speak of the French and English founding cultures and of non-Native intersections with Native, the singularity of that voice can no longer be assumed. For within the diversity of Native cultures, there are those who wish to speak not simply of themselves but of Others: of those who have until now spoken for them.


The author would like to thank Christine Bachen for her comments and insights on earlier drafts of this paper; and Stephen Lee for having been raised on a border and challenging me to think more carefully about my understanding of how maps work.
For background on the debate sparked by The Spirit Sings, see Muse (1988); Harrison (1993); Nicks (1992); and Turning the Page (1992).
Nicks (1992) writes that the boycott officially ended with the intervention of George Erasmus, then National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. In the fall of 1988, he invited the Canadian museum community to participate in a symposium which brought together all concerned voices. The symposium Preserving Our Heritage: A Working Conference Between Museums and First Peoples was held at Carleton University in November 1988. 4
Geographic metaphors have become important theoretical tools in communication and cultural studies. See Grossberg & Kaplan for good overviews. In addition the work of Appadurai (1988); Clifford (1991b; 1992); Gupta & Ferguson (1992); and Soja (1989) have been of invaluable assistance in clarifying these ideas.
In addition to the above mapping references, the border metaphor has been brilliantly elaborated in the work of Anzaldua (1987) and Gomez-Pena (1992).
Recent anthologies have set out the debates within museums from a variety of perspectives. See Lumley (1988); Karp & Lavine (1991); Karp, Mullen-Kreamer, & Lavine (1992); and Vergo (1989).
The exhibit, entitled Savage Graces, ran at the UBC Museum of Anthropology from July 25, 1992 to August 15, 1993.


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