New BC museum an $800-million ‘monument to colonial storytelling’: MLA

BC Green Adam Olsen says constructing a “shiny new building” is not the way to fix the “systemic rot” within the museum that has not yet been addressed.

Article content

The government’s plan to replace the Royal BC Museum in Victoria is an “$800-million monument to colonial storytelling” disguised as Indigenous reconciliation, BC Green MLA Adam Olsen said Tuesday.

Advertisement 2

Article content

“Most Indigenous people I speak to have no desire to visit their culture in a museum,” said Olsen, who is a member of the Tsartlip First Nation. “We don’t want to visit our culture locked behind glass.”

Premier John Horgan and Tourism Minister Melanie Mark unveiled a plan on Friday to shutter the 54-year-old Royal BC Museum on Sept. 6. It will be torn down and rebuilt by 2030 at a cost of $789 million.

The price tag sparked a firestorm of criticism from the public and opposition MLAs who said the money would be better spent on fixing the broken health-care system or giving drivers relief from soaring gas prices.

Olsen said Friday’s announcement was wrapped in the language of reconciliation, decolonization and addressing systemic racism at the Royal BC Museum.

advertisement 3

Article content

The museum’s former CEO, Jack Lohman, resigned after an internal report examining institutionalized racism found that the museum was a “dysfunctional and toxic workplace, characterized by a culture of fear and distrust.”

Constructing a “shiny new building” is not the way to fix the “systemic rot” within the museum that has not yet been addressed, Olsen told a news conference on Tuesday.

“The first step should be to understand what is broken in that institution and fixing it first, not rewarding them with a massive new building.”

Calling stolen Indigenous items artifacts, as Horgan did on Friday, reduces them to symbols of cultures that no longer exist, Olsen said. The items still have cultural significance and should be repatriated to Indigenous communities, he said.

advertisement 4

Article content

“Some of the items in the museum’s collection are the missing puzzle pieces to the broken parts of our culture, the parts that we haven’t had the benefit to access because they’ve been locked away in cabinets in the basement,” Olsen said .

Olsen contrasted the $789 million with the $500,000 the government committed in 2020 to help Indigenous communities repatriate cultural items, ancestral remains and burial items.

Olsen would like funding to help Indigenous communities across BC build small museums, giving them a direct say on how their stories are told.

Chiefs from the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations were at the announcement Friday in support of the new museum.

Mark told reporters Tuesday the government is committed to repatriating Indigenous items, but it is complex work.

advertisement 5

Article content

For example, the Royal BC Museum has promised to return the totem pole standing in the First Peoples Gallery to the Nuxalk First Nation near Bella Coola. The totem, which served as a long house entrance pole, was taken from the North Bentinck Arm village site sometime after a forced displacement of the Nuxalk people due to a smallpox epidemic around 1900.

“We are committed to returning the totem pole,” said Mark. “But you know, in order to remove a totem pole, you actually have to move the walls, and that is part of this complex work that we’re doing to rebuild a state of the art museum.”

Mark, who is Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Cree and Ojibway descent, that First Nations have a right to self-determination. Some Nations “want their artifacts to be here as tools of learning for people to understand how we made our regalia, how we built our totem poles, how we built our canoes, understanding our culture and languages. And other First Nations want their artifacts returned. It’s not easy to work. But we’re committed to doing the work.”

[email protected]

More news, fewer ads: Our in-depth journalism is possible thanks to the support of our subscribers. For just $3.50 per week, you can get unlimited, ad-lite access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites. Support us by subscribing today: The Vancouver Sun | The Province.

advertisement 1


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user follows comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your e-mail settings.

Leave a Comment