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Pinto, Meg. "Reconciliation in Canadian Museums." Ph. D. Diss, University of East Anglia, 2013.


This dissertation focuses on developing practical methodology for museums in Canada, and discusses the following subjects:

*Understanding the implications of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the museum field

*Understanding residential schools, the '60s scoop, and other key issues of which museum staff should be made aware

*Understanding the effects of trauma on individuals and communities and how trauma directly affects the relationships between museum employees and Aboriginal communities

*Examining standard museum methods for handling traumatic subjects and how these can have negative effects for those concerned

*Revising Canadian history to move past the 'Nation-building' or 'Progress' model: developing integrated history galleries that can encompass both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal histories and worldviews

*The concept of Healing Exhibits: examining successful ways of displaying trauma and assisting communities in recovery

*Using the Circle as an encompassing methodology for working toward Reconciliation in museums

Most museum professionals that I have spoken with have felt at a loss as to how to manage traumatic subjects within the gallery space and admit that this is simply not something that museologists have expertise in. Yet, experimenting with what to do can be dangerous and risks re-traumatizing those concerned. Though this work is primarily targeted to museums that collaborate with Aboriginal community groups, it may also be useful for any small to medium sized museum focused on local history. 

The full work is available for free download here:


Since the late 1980s, Canadian museum personnel have been actively engaged in collaboration with Aboriginal communities on issues to do with exhibition design and collections management. Despite these collaborative successes, tensions between museum employees and Aboriginal community members are commonplace, indicating that problems still remain within the relationships that have developed.

This thesis examines the implications of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada for the future of museum practice. It argues that unresolved colonial trauma is  preventing those in the museum field from moving past an initial phase of relationship- building to a successful era of partnership. When viewed through the lens of trauma, the museum field is heavily influenced by denial on the part of museum personnel as to the extent of violence committed against Aboriginal peoples at Indian Residential Schools and the resulting level of dysfunction present in current relationships between Aboriginal communities and non-Aboriginal museum employees. I provide a revised account of Canadian history, which includes the aspects of colonialism that are most often censored, in order to situate these problems as part of the historical trauma that is deeply embedded in Canadian society itself.

John Ralston Saul’s concept of the Métis nation is used as a framework for reconciliation, portraying Canada as a country that is heavily influenced by its Aboriginal origins despite the majority belief that the national culture has been derived from European social values. As a response to this proposition, the Circle is presented as the primary Canadian philosophical tenet that should guide both museum practice and Canadian society in the future.

Meg Pinto