By Dawn Saunders Dahl, Indigenous Relationships and Programs Manager
The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies supports staff to continue to strengthen Indigenous relationships through action-inspired dialogue. We actively invite Indigenous community members connected to the museum collections and the Bow Valley to share stories about the living object and archival collections. These consultations celebrate the stories about how items were made, who made them, as well as continuing to identify relatives in photographs, films, and sound recordings.
We strive to continue to develop new Indigenous education initiatives. In 2023 we created a
youth Bison activity book with community members from Ktunaxa and Stoney Nations and we
are on final production of a Bison Salmon book. New modules for the Living with Nature program are in development and modules have been piloted. These relationships contribute to the changes in the museum, starting with a new Bison exhibit in the Heritage Gallery, a new display in the Archives Reading Room, and the development of an Indigenous traveling exhibit. These efforts also build and maintain relationships which are reflected in the museum’s future endeavours, influencing programs and contributing to the hiring Indigenous staff.
Banff and Lake Louise Tourism supported the creation of a new Bird Mural Project and painting of the picnic tables on the museum grounds in the summer. The Cave and Basin Mural Project added three new Indigenous murals and this partnership with Parks Canada will continue in 2024. We will create four more box murals at the Cave and Basin Historic Site. Priority in 2024 is for Blackfoot and Stoney Nation artists, all Indigenous artists are invited to apply. Please contact Dawn Saunders Dahl if you require assistance to put your application together by February 5, 2024.
Visitors to the museum can book a tour led by Indigenous staff in the museum and in summer 2024 a tour about the Mural Project will be offered. Learn more about these tours here.
We have noticed increased participation from Indigenous communities to reach out to museum
staff for resources and to visit the museum, positive feedback from visitors, and an increase of
new partnerships. Indigenous staff in the Archives have developed Indigenous access resources and contribute to providing understandings around access and the items in the collections. Over the last 10 years, the Whyte Museum Archives has been committed to building relationships with local Indigenous Nations by creating outreach initiatives and encouraging access to Indigenous related archival materials and resources to Indigenous communities.
We are in the final stages of board approval for the Indigenous accessibility document. Outreach to Indigenous communities continues to ensure protocols and contact information is accurate. Indigenous ways of knowing comes from a deep oral tradition, passed on by Elders and Knowledge-Keepers. Protocols about how to communicate some of these details is critical for museum staff to be respectful in the preserving of cultural heritage. Indigenous communities have the right to control their knowledge and data where they see fit, and this policy will ensure that staff implement Indigenous wise practices. To understand and know protocols about access to the Indigenous materials within the collections, we require in depth consultation with Indigenous communities. By gathering this information, we preserve the protocols that are aligned with community wishes from Indigenous perspectives to ensure that this information is preserved and shared for future generations of Canadians. This policy is led by Dawn Saunders Dahl, Manager of Indigenous Relationships, working with museum staff who have assisted to create this policy to reinforce the museum’s commitment to continue genuine relationship-building with Indigenous communities.
Indigenous staff have been crucial in assisting other staff members to understand the complexities around Indigenous relationships and staff seek opportunities to engage Indigenous perspective in the museum. There has been increased discussion and inclusion of Indigenous perspectives at staff meetings and in program and event planning, and Indigenous voices are part of the planning and delivery of museum programs and exhibits. Indigenous staff are empowered by opportunities to flex their skills within their own professional development with public speaking, design and development of presentations for workshops, and talks and tours of the exhibits.
In terms of creating access, the more we consult and share time with Indigenous communities,
the more the word will get around about what resources we hold in our collections. The museum benefits when communities know about the resources in the archives, and that these resources are available for use for their projects. All these activities help to break down barriers and develop new professional skills and practices within the institution and local Indigenous communities. The museum’s Indigenous led programs, exhibits and events have increased a broader understanding of Indigenous history and strengthened relationships with Indigenous peoples, local Bow Valley community members, staff and visitors to the museum.
Stay tuned for future articles from Indigenous staff members about the activities within the Archives
department, the new murals, new education and tours we are developing, and final version of the
Indigenous Access document. We look forward to continued support with Indigenous communities and Elders, the museum board, staff and visitors to the museum and hope to see you at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in 2024!
Want to learn more? Be sure to drop by the Whyte Museum Book Shop and check out the amazing books by Indigenous writers!
Image 1: L-R: Travis Rider, Dagny Dubois, and Colleen Crawler, Hosting Indigenous Relations team.
Image 2-3: Bird Box Murals by featuring artists Tiffany Wollman (Métis) and Hali Heavy Shield (Blackfoot).
Image 4: Artist: Brandon Atkinson (Metis).
Image 5: L-R: Lillian Rose and Elisha Jimmy (Ktunaxa).
Image 6: Picnic table painting by Bruno Canadien (Dene).
Image 7-8: Picnic table painting by Cheyenne Bearspaw (Iyethka - Stoney).
Gallery 1: Photos by mural artist Tania Willard (Secwépemc).