British Columbia

Royal B.C. Museum to close exhibits that further colonial narrative

The B.C. Royal Museum has announced it will be closing sections of the First People's gallery on its third floor as it seeks to decolonize the institution.

Museum says it will work with Indigenous groups on repatriating, conserving items

A museum building is seen with a sign saying "Royal BC Museum" and "IMAX" on its front above entry doors for visitors.
The Royal B.C. Museum is a Crown corporation, receiving an annual $11.9 million grant from the government. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The B.C. Royal Museum has announced it will be closing sections of the First People's gallery on its third floor as it seeks to decolonize the institution.

The announcement is part of the museum's response to calls to action from Indigenous leaders to increase cultural safety and make the museum a welcome place to all.

Earlier this year, its CEO stepped down after allegations of racism from Indigenous staff. 

"Decolonization of the museum's galleries is important and long overdue," said acting CEO Daniel Muzyka in a statement.

Closing the exhibits will involve consultations with Indigenous Peoples and First Nations to appropriately repatriate and conserve certain items, he said.

The First Peoples gallery is one of the core galleries that will be closed and carefully dismantled. The museum will consult with Indigenous British Columbians before creating a new exhibit. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Replacing the exhibitions will take years, according to Muzyka. The museum's goal is to reflect the lived experiences of people who live in modern British Columbia, as well as those who have historically lived in the region.

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

"That will involve a great deal of consultation, building new narratives around the lived experience as told by the people themselves, not through some historic lens or colonial lens," Muzyka said, although this work won't begin until the floor is fully closed in January.

The museum says the work to create new narratives that will include underrepresented voices will be long term.

The museum's third floor, known as the First People's gallery, includes the exhibits Our Living Languages: First People's Voices in B.C. and Becoming B.C. 

The Becoming B.C. gallery, which focuses on the story of European settlement in B.C. and has been widely criticized for pushing a colonial narrative, will be the first to close.

Troy Sebastian, a former employee, says the decision is good news.

When he left his job as curator of the Indigenous Collection in February, he wrote, "I am happy to leave that wicked place behind. Yet, as long as the museum continues to possess my family's sacred items that were taken from us during residential school, I can never truly leave."

Sebastian is Ktunaxa and says Indigenous people have long spoken out about how they are depicted in the First People's gallery in particular. He describes it as "a time-lock capsule of racist attitudes from previous eras that kind of persist to today." 

"Having a museum that depicts Indigenous people as not having a voice, a face, or any authority at all, is something that just can't continue," said Sebastian.  

He's calling on Victoria residents, who he says have shown a willingness this year to support Indigenous people at events like Orange Shirt Day and vigils in the wake of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc discoveries, to demand that change at the museum happen and happen quickly. 

Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Minister Melanie Mark said it's part of the government's commitment to truth and reconciliation.

"For too long, museums have been colonial institutions that exclude others from telling their own stories," said Mark.

With files from Kathryn Marlow