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Good morning! Wendy Cox here today.

On Saturday, directors of Calgary’s Glenbow Museum will gather for their annual retreat aimed, in part, at plotting a course for a journey that has no end. Decolonization is the first item on the agenda – how to move forward on a process to address the museum’s depiction of the past and the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

“There’s no place to get to,” Jean Teillet, a lawyer, artist, author, Glenbow director and great-grand niece of Métis leader Louis Riel, told Carrie Tait for a story today. “There’s no final destination.”

The Glenbow is in the midst of a $179-million renovation and revitalization for the institution, a concrete fortress built in downtown Calgary in the 1970s. The museum recently created a decolonization committee to guide the effort.

Nicholas Bell, the Glenbow’s president, noted decolonization is relatively new for museums.

“It is a supremely messy topic,” he said. “The work is both just beginning and will never be completed.”

Decolonization involves philosophical and physical changes. For one, modern museums are increasingly open to returning artifacts to their original communities. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, England, on May 19 handed over regalia that once belonged to Isapo-muxika, the 19th-century Blackfoot leader known as Chief Crowfoot, to a delegation from Siksika Nation in Alberta. The items will be displayed at Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, where Treaty 7 was signed and where Chief Crowfoot died.

Mr. Bell, who believes decolonization can affect everything from a museum’s human resources policies to its architecture, wants to “demystify the museum,” making it a place where everyone feels like they belong, and the renovation is aimed at helping to address this.

In British Columbia, the NDP government concluded the best path forward for its iconic museum is to start over. The government last week released a heavily redacted business plan for its intention to tear down the Royal BC Museum and build a new facility for $789-million. The government has said the decision was based on assessments that it would be cheaper to rebuild than to renovate the downtown building, constructed in 1968 across the street from the B.C. legislature, such was the state of its disrepair.

But Melanie Mark, B.C.’s culture minister, indicated last fall that massive changes were needed at the facility that went beyond the physical structure. The museum was at the centre of a controversy in 2020, when The Globe’s Marsha Lederman wrote of allegations of a toxic, racist work environment that were made by Lucy Bell, who resigned as head of the First Nations Department and Repatriation program. The disturbing experiences she shared prompted investigations, and the CEO’s departure.

Starting last year, Marsha wrote, the museum began to close down galleries: Gone was the First Peoples Gallery, with its Indigenous artifacts lifeless behind glass. Gone was Our Living Languages: First Peoples’ Voices in B.C., a newer exhibition that served as something of a corrective. Gone was Becoming B.C. – including Old Town, a folksy walk through British Columbia’s history.

Ms. Mark, who is herself Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Cree and Ojibway, wrote in a column in January that the Royal BC Museum “has a duty to curate the past with an equal responsibility to accurately reflect a timeline of our shared history.”

The near-billion-dollar price for the B.C. project has become endless fodder for the provincial Liberals, who have repeatedly questioned why the province would spend that kind of money at a time when the health care system in the province appears in crisis, with one million people without a family physician and shut-downs at rural emergency rooms due to lack of staff.

But the government argues at the heart of the vision for the new building is an effort to more accurately reflect the province’s relationship and history with the Indigenous people living there.

The B.C. government bushes off comparisons, arguing Victoria’s museum has a larger and more diverse collection, and serves more visitors, than the Glenbow. Upgrading and repairing the existing RBCM would cost more than building a state-of-the-art museum from scratch, the provincial government argues.

The Glenbow had a head start on scores of museums undergoing decolonization. It has been re-examining its approach to objects and art from non-European cultures since it flubbed an exhibition of Indigenous items in 1988, as part of the city’s celebrations for the Winter Olympics. Among the concerns, Mohawk nations sued the Glenbow for displaying a False Face Mask; and the Lubicon Lake Nation boycotted the exhibit.

The Glenbow, in response, increased its consultation effort and worked with Alberta to pass legislation that would allow it to repatriate items to Blackfoot and Cree peoples.

Jennifer Kramer, a curator and professor at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, said museums should no longer think of themselves as giant display cases holding treasures from the past. Instead, she said, they should envision active places today that inspire the future.

Museums should create space for artists to study objects and community members to perform ceremonies, for example. Objects need to be “enacted” and stay connected to their home communities, Ms. Kramer said.

“Whistles need to be blown,” she said, noting museums can loan objects to communities of origin to broaden access. “Button blankets need to be worn.”

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.