By Jérémy Appel
The first director of Indigenous engagement and reconciliation at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary said the position was important to the museum industry, which has always been insensitive to Indigenous concerns.
Amber Shilling, whose Anishnaabe father is from the Mnjikaning First Nation in Ontario, was born and raised in Treaty 7 territory.
Shilling received her PhD from the University of British Columbia last year, which focused on how Indigenous youth are using technology to engage with culture and language.
The purpose of her position at Glenbow, where she would take field trips as a child, is to help the museum determine how it can respectfully engage with Indigenous peoples.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to have such a crucial role, I think, in reimagining what Glenbow can be in Calgary,” she told CBC News.
“But also what it means to come to terms with the entire museum industry.
The museum, which is closed for three years in August, due to major renovations, but part of that process included commenting and consulting with the public, including Treaty 7 Indigenous peoples.
Melanie Kjorlien, chief operating officer and vice president of engagement at Glenbow, said the museum needs to ensure the communities represented in its collections are actively engaged.
Shilling says his job is to facilitate this representation, as museums have historically been the product of a colonial mindset, or “blank gaze.”
“Roles like these are desperately needed across galleries, libraries, archives, museums,” she said.
“We really have to keep in mind that indigenous peoples have this self-determination and this right to tell their own story, to say what we have to say – in a proper way, in a respectful way. ”
Although an Indigenous woman, Shilling acknowledges that she is a visitor to Treaty 7 territory.
“There are traditional custodians of this land,” Shilling said, referring to the Blackfoot Confederacy, Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda and the Métis region 3.
Museum consultant Tarra Wright Many Chief says she looks forward to Shilling’s collaborative approach.
“It will be really amazing to see all of these different communities, with their diverse interests and the way they use the museum, come together,” said Many Chief.