A Culture of Exploitation: “Reconciliation” and the Institutions of Canadian Art

On Wednesday, March 3, 2021, SaskCulture hosted an online presentation with Lindsay Nixon, a Cree-Métis-Saulteaux academic, researcher, curator and author originally from Saskatchewan; the recording of this event appears below.

Nixon shared the findings from their special report A Culture of Exploitation: "Reconciliation" and the Institutions of Canadian Art. The report drew upon the history of the relationship between Indigenous people in the arts, as well as the results from anonymous interviews conducted with Indigenous cultural workers from across Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nixon's findings revealed that the great majority of Indigenous cultural workers were uniquely exploited by Canada's art industries, and were already set up to fail when the pandemic hit. Nixon also shared 15 Standards of Achievement intended to provide a valuable starting point for institutions, governments and organizations to start conversations, and explore current and future planning on how to build a more equitable and respectful relationship with Indigenous cultural creators. 

The Standards of Achievement range from practical approaches such as repatriating Indigenous ancestors and artifacts to their rightful communities, and hiring Indigenous people in senior positions, to more transformational actions such as restructuring provincial and national arts funding to decentralize institutional modes of power, and relinquishing control over Indigenous arts and culture to facilitate Indigenous cultural sovereignty over their management.  

15 Standards of Achievement are:

  1. #ReturnOurAncestors - Uphold responsibilities to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations to digitize and make private archives and holdings accessible. Museums must repatriate the bodies of Indigenous ancestors. Expert and Indigenous-led audits of collections to assess what exists in collections, with the primary goal being the identification and repatriation of sensitive materials.

  2. No more Indigenous advisory committees - Focus on integration of diverse Indigenous people and knowledges throughout the corporate structures, on both the creative and business side of organizations.

  3. Put the onus of learning on actors within cultural institutions - Avoid tasking decolonizing of an entire organization to one employee; avoid single Indigenous hires into segregated positions; respect the interests of diverse Black and Indigenous peoples.

  4. Always centre care, capacity, realistic timeframes, and meaningful responses when addressing the concerns of Indigenous employees; make culturally sensitive supports available to employees; always consult from within as opposed to without the organization.

  5. Ensure the growth of Black and Indigenous cultural workers into senior positions.

  6. Recognize that competition is endemic within art institutions and ensure that policies and structures are implemented that ensure management and other high-level positions are held accountable for gate-keeping, macro and micro-aggressions, and toxic work cultures and behaviours.

  7. Restructure provincial and national arts funding in Canada; ensure Indigenous juries have demographic qualifications; granting bodies should shift to Indigenous board/panel/peer-reviewed or jury led adjudication processes; management of granting organizations should meet demographic quotas; granting programs should strive to include specific demographic quotas for diverse Indigenous groups; invest in strengthening Indigenous self-identification measures; policies developed in consultation with Indigenous communities.

  8. Indigenous publications, organizations, galleries and other cultural institutions should recruit Indigenous editors and department heads.

  9. Restitution should be embedded in fee structures.

  10. Drive for greater gender and racial equity in gallery exhibitions.

  11. For the foreseeable future, the acquisitions budget of Canadian art institutions must be solely dedicated to the acquisition of Black and Indigenous art.

  12. Executive, governing and advisory boards of cultural institutions must restructure to include diverse members of Black and Indigenous communities.

  13. Cultural organizations should respect basic human rights and occupational health of Indigenous and Black artists during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  14. Canada needs to develop its own federal, provincial, and territorial repatriation legislation that applies in all provinces and territories and contains strong compliance measures.

  15. Indigenous peoples should have cultural sovereignty over the management of their arts and cultures in Canada.

A full copy of the report, its findings and recommendations, can be accessed here.