The Royal BC Museum has apologized for racist and discriminatory behaviour toward Indigenous people in its work force and the province. The Victoria museum has also promised to change outdated and offensive displays, saying its human history section has narrowly focused on promoting the story of European settlement in British Columbia.
“We’re not the museum we should be,” board chair Daniel Muzyka said on Tuesday, as he released a public report into the matter.
The report acknowledges the provincial museum’s colonial history and the systemic racism inherent in that history. It concludes that it is not a culturally safe workplace. “We apologize for the way the museum treated the many individuals within our work force, as well as the communities and Nations we serve. ... We must do better.”
Dr. Muzyka also apologized to Lucy Bell, who resigned as head of Indigenous collections and repatriation last year, and in her goodbye speech to colleagues cited acts of racism she had experienced and witnessed at the museum.
“I am truly sorry for how you’ve been treated,” Dr. Muzyka said, noting that Ms. Bell had agreed that her name could be used in his remarks.
The report calls Ms. Bell’s July, 2020, resignation a watershed moment. It sparked two processes: an evidentiary investigation by the Public Service Agency, and an internal inclusion and psychological safety audit.
The investigations found that museum leadership did not effectively handle behaviour and conditions that fostered the racism; that equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility principles were not given necessary priority and resources; and that it did not move fast enough to apply the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act to every aspect of the organization – from leadership and staffing to collections and exhibits.
The probes found that the museum is viewed by many staff as a toxic workplace characterized by a culture of fear and distrust, and that it is a racist, anti-Indigenous and colonial space, as previously reported by The Globe and Mail.
“This isn’t about a single act or a single individual. It’s about our failures as a provincial museum. And we own and wear that responsibility,” Dr. Muzyka, who is also acting chief executive officer, said Tuesday.
The findings include that staff have experienced bullying and abuse from management, that they don’t feel safe, and fear retribution if they speak out. People of diverse backgrounds are not treated fairly, and women experience a less inclusive and psychologically safe workplace than men. The report also criticizes the museum for a lack of sensitivity and understanding of LGBTQ people and issues.
The report says there are employees who experience trauma working at the museum, but don’t feel able to leave because they are attached to their job and fear slim employment prospects elsewhere in their field.
“The past year has dramatically shown the failings of the museum, failings that have hurt individuals and communities,” the report states. “Those failings must be acknowledged, confronted and addressed. The whole museum must be reimagined and decolonized to ensure that we do better as we work to earn back the confidence and trust of those who were made to feel unsafe, excluded, isolated, or unwanted.”
Ms. Bell met with Dr. Muzyka in Victoria ahead of the announcement and listened in on the staff meeting when the results were presented. “It’s been an emotional couple of days. I’m still processing all that was said and not said as I listen and read what’s being put out there,” she told The Globe.
“Reading the reports and hearing the finding has been tough and also somewhat validating,” she added in a Facebook post.
The museum says training will tackle issues of inclusion and discrimination, and adds it will continue to work with Indigenous communities on repatriation. It vows to improve diversity and inclusion.
Current and pending training for all staff includes courses on microaggressions, intercultural skills, unconscious bias, allyship and “whiteness at work.”
Changes are also coming to the governance structure, and a search for a new CEO is under way, following the resignation of Jack Lohman in February amid the controversy.
As for the museum’s public-facing exhibitions, the report says not all Indigenous Nations in B.C. are properly represented, and the experiences and achievements of many diverse communities are underrepresented or absent.
The museum says it will replace its outdated human history galleries with exhibits that incorporate the experiences and contributions of contemporary Indigenous peoples and better represent Canadians from diverse backgrounds, including Chinese, Japanese, South Asian and Black people.
“It will be very different in the sense that we are going to look at the lived experience of all of the communities and peoples of British Columbia,” Dr. Muzyka told reporters.
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