The chair of the board of a future national museum focused on the RCMP is pledging to include both positive and challenging stories about Canada’s national police force, as it is set to receive $4.5-million over three years from the federal budget.
The Department of Canadian Heritage confirmed the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina will receive that amount as part of the $66-million allocated in the April 19 federal budget to Canada’s national museums over the next five years.
Though establishing this new national museum was promised by both the Liberals and Conservatives in the 2019 federal election campaign, and is included in the 2019 mandate letter of Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, this is the first time federal money has been put behind the pledge.
“It’s great news,” said Steve McLellan, chair of the board of directors of the RCMP Heritage Centre. “This is simply not a tribute centre. This is a place for conversation.”
However, Mr. McLellan acknowledges that the centre needs to be updated to include a wider range of perspectives. The current exhibits don’t address some of the darker sides of RCMP history, such as their role in forcing Indigenous children to attend residential schools. The role of police in society has also faced increased scrutiny this year. As the centre transitions to a national museum, Mr. McLellan said, those stories will need to be included.
“There are some great stories to tell, there are some difficult stories as well,” he said, adding that the centre needs to engage with all of them. “By doing so, we’ll be on a much better path towards reconciliation. We think we have a role to play there.”
The Heritage Centre is currently run by a non-profit organization, which relies on local government grants, as well as admission fees and sponsorship. The RCMP also rents space to store historical artifacts. No timeline has been announced for when the centre will officially become a national museum, but that designation will come with more funding and an elevated cultural status.
“It makes sense for the Mounties to be recognized with a national museum because of the history that we’ve played,” Mr. McLellan said. “Very few other organizations, certainly no other policing organization, has played the role that the Mounties have in the history of Canada.”
Omeasoo Wahpasiw, a nehiyaw iskwew (Cree woman) and an assistant professor of arts and education at the University of Prince Edward Island, said that transforming the centre into a national museum puts it into the official Canadian story, which is both “exciting and really problematic.”
“If it was going to do something truly amazing, it would tell the story of the RCMP’s creation and ongoing development from a lens of colonization,” said Ms. Wahpasiw, who grew up in and around Saskatoon. “Beneath the surface is a lot of maltreatment of all kinds of Canadians. That story could be told in a way that allows Canadians to really recognize what our history encompasses.”
Ms. Wahpasiw added that if the RCMP Heritage Centre is getting this significant funding, it’s important “to have equitable funding to Indigenous cultural and heritage sites across the country. They shouldn’t have to struggle to share their stories.”
The federal budget allocated $18-billion over five years for Indigenous peoples and communities, though much of that money will go to things such as health care and community infrastructure.
This new national museum “gives us an opportunity to look at Canada in all of its facets, as opposed to just one,” Ms. Wahpasiw said.
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