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  • Writer's picturestephaniehamilton

Consultations for the Indigenous Roadmap continue in Australia’s capital

On​​ 21 September 2017, we hosted the Canberra leg of our workshops at the National Museum of Australia (NMA). The workshop was presented by Terri Janke, with the help of her team, Tamina Pitt and Elizabeth Mason. This was the second workshop for the MGA Indigenous Roadmap project. Through our workshops, we have heard from key stakeholders across Australia on how the roadmap should look, including the issues, goals and strategies to address them. We were glad to see a variety of representatives attend the Canberra evet, from a range of institutions including NMA, AIATSIS, Questacon, Canberra Museum and Art Gallery, CSIRO and more.

[Image above] Alex Marsden, National Director of Museums Galleries Australia, opening the workshop

[Image] Breakdown of Canberra workshop attendees

To set the scene for discussion, the workshop started with two speakers, Margo Neale and Gary Oakley. Their knowledge and experience working in museums with Indigenous collections gave us examples of engagement and collaboration. By the end of the workshop, we had compiled a document as a group that outlined the participants ideas on the goals, challenges and opportunities for the roadmap.

We first heard from Margo Neale who is a Senior Curator at the National Museum of Australia (NMA). She spoke about her work on the NMA’s project, Songlines. The project resulted in the Songlines exhibition, which tells the Aboriginal story of the Seven Sisters constellation.

The project began as a research collaboration between senior custodians of Martu country and Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) and Ngaanyatjarra lands of Australia's Central and Western deserts, along with the National Museum of Australia, the Australian National University and other partners. Of significance was the strong leadership by the NPY Women’s Council.

Margo highlighted the significance of building a two-way relationship of mutual respect and benefit between the Aboriginal communities and her museum. The NMA worked with the Aboriginal women leaders to create the collection and the exhibition so that it could be told from an Indigenous perspective. The NMA also assisted the Aboriginal women create their own collection to be used and maintained in a private Aboriginal maintained archive in the Northern Territory. The aim of the Aboriginal women was to use the collection to create an archive of their knowledge so that it can be accessed and used by their young people. The knowledge is then passed down generations, and remembered so that the Songline lives on.

[Images above] Margo Neale speaking about her work on Songlines

We also heard from Gary Oakley, who was the first Indigenous Liaison Officer and Indigenous curator at the Australian War Memorial (AWM). Gary is now an Indigenous Historical Custodian with the Australian Air Force (AAF).

When Gary began his work at the AWM, Indigenous service was remembered in a small corner display in the memorial. He felt that there was a wealth of stories of Indigenous service that were untold, and that needed to be remembered. He set out to change it, ultimately impacting the perception of Indigenous service and the way the Defence does business. The AWM and AAF now support Indigenous led curation and custodianship. The exhibitions ask Indigenous people for their own inputs and their own artworks.

[Image] Gary Oakley speaking about his work in Defence

The presentations were insightful and provided us with some great case studies and discussion points. Our participants broke off into groups to discuss the issues.

Here are some of the strategies our discussion groups came up with to achieve better Indigenous engagement in museums:

  • Integration: Museums, galleries and cultural institutions need to have an Indigenous voice throughout all collections.

  • Consultation is long-haul: Sector needs to recognize that genuine and proper consultation is a long process and is not going to work in a corporate timeframe.

  • Employment: Indigenous staff should be given the support needed to fulfil their roles. There needs to be a new employment framework where staff can spend some of their time in community.

  • Collaboration: Institutional competitiveness is disastrous; should instead share resources. Engaging with students is vital. There should also be collaborations with other large organisations - e.g mining companies.

  • What do communities want? National resting place; national knowledge/cultural centres; devolved model where control sits with communities.

Thanks to everyone who participated in our workshops and assisted us with our research for the MGA Indigenous Roadmap!

If you missed out on the Canberra workshop, we will be bringing our workshops to other locations. We are also accepting submissions until 30 November 2017, so please send them to us as soon as possible!

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