Institutional Change Needed to Support Reconciliation

By: Diane Ell July, 2021

Cultural Areas

Cultural Industries


AR - 2020

Last March, participants at a presentation by Lindsay Nixon, learned that the relationship Indigenous peoples have with arts and cultural institutions needs to change if it is going to support reconciliation going forward.

Nixon, a Cree-Saulteaux author, researcher and lecturer, presented on their work, “A Culture of Exploitation: Reconciliation and the Institutions of Canadian Art”, which draws on the historic relationship Indigenous peoples have with the arts, as well as results from anonymous interviews conducted with Indigenous cultural workers from across Canada. Interviews identified issues such as the theft of Indigenous identity, works and objectives, tokenism, inequality, and overall exploitation that continues to this day.

“This should not be taken as punishment or blame in any way,” explains Nixon. “These kinds of calls and conversations for Indigenous thinkers and communities” with others, “are a call to relationships and reciprocity to us.”

Common areas of concern by cultural workers interviewed included tokenism, isolating work cultures and performance of institutional gestures, such as providing statements on racial issues on behalf of an organization. Nixon notes that the ideas that surfaced are part of an ongoing conversation, “drawing on a legacy of activism”, not just comments from one generation.

As part of the presentation, Nixon shared 15 Standards of Achievement intended to provide a valuable starting point for institutions, government and organizations to start conversations and explore more equitable and respectful relationships with Indigenous cultural creators. The standards range from practical approaches, such as repatriating Indigenous ancestors and artifacts to their rightful communities and/or, hiring Indigenous people into senior positions, to more transformational actions such as decentralizing provincial and national arts funding delivery systems and/or relinquishing control over Indigenous arts and culture to facilitate Indigenous cultural sovereignty.

Nixon notes that the standards are a starting point, “the challenge is that the direction of change is towards transformation.”

Those that participated appreciated the presentation. Nearly all that participated (92%) said the information was helpful for themselves and their organization, and several were interested in follow up session. The report, published by the Yellowhead Institute at Ryerson University, is available on the Yellowhead Institute website.