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Stories from the Indigenous Internship Program: Separation and Connection

The Indigenous Internship Program at MOA was developed by six Indigenous partners: the Musqueam Indian Band, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, the Haida Gwaii Museum, the U’mista Cultural Society, the Nlaka’pamux Nation, the Coqualeetza Cultural Society, and the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. The program provides training opportunities for Indigenous people working in museums or Indigenous people who would like to do this kind of work. Funding for the Indigenous Internship Program is provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Our latest series of MOA Stories feature the fascinating research conducted by members of the Summer 2022 cohort during their internship.


Separation and Connection

By Pablo Amadeus Takkiruq Sharpe (Inuk)

Did you know that in 1951 British Columbia had only 29 Indigenous children in care, and by 1964 that number had gone up to 1466? Hey, I’m Pablo Amadeus Takkiruq Sharpe, and I am grateful to be part of the Indigenous Internship Program here at the Museum of Anthropology! The subject of family separation is something I feel personally connected to as an Indigenous youth in foster care.

These five boys who went to St. Michael’s Indian Residential School are smiling even throughout all their hardships. Alert Bay, c. 19__. Photo by Beverly Brown. MOA ID a034013c.

Even though I lived with my birth mother until I was 12 and had the chance to spend a year in my community in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, I have always belittled the fact that I am Indigenous—until recently. I never felt like I fit in, being raised in an urban setting as well as being of mixed heritage. One of the things that has been a constant reminder for me of who I am, and that has kept me grounded, is the Inuit name Takkiruq that was given to me when I was born. Takkiruq is the name of my great-great-grandparents, who were both artists.

During our first week in the Internship Program, the four of us interns were shown around all the different areas of the museum. When we had a tour of the collections and storage areas, we looked in the collections catalogue to see what objects and belongings might be from each of our communities. I recognized a name I knew all too well: Takkiruq, my middle name! Sure enough, there is a drawing in MOA’s collection that my great-great-grandmother Mary Takkiruq drew in 1983. It is a drawing of an Inuit person in a parka holding what looks to be a harness along with two dogs. It looks to me like she is showing how they prepped their sled dogs. I don’t know much about Mary or how this picture ended up in MOA’s collection, but I’d love to find out more.

This is the drawing by my great-great grandmother, Mary Takkiruq, November 1983. 26.4 cm by 32.8 cm. MOA Collections 2978/89. Donated to MOA by Janet and Gary Dillabaugh in 2012.

I am thankful to have the anchor of my great-great-grandmother’s drawing reminding me of who I am. Unfortunately, not everyone has that luxury. Ever since the 1800s, Indigenous youths have been taken away from their families, strategically and methodically being stripped of their culture, heritage and identity. In 1831 the first Indian residential school was opened. “Indian culture is a contradiction in terms… they are uncivilized… the aim of education is to destroy the Indian,” the Nicholas Flood Davin report declared in 1879. For over 100 years, Indigenous children were taken from their homes and placed in these institutions, and it didn’t end there. In the 1950s and ’60s the government started shutting down the residential schools as the public realized how much harm they were causing. The government had to change its tactics—and that was the start of what we now know as the “Sixties scoop.” In the 1960s, Indigenous children were being taken from their homes and placed in mostly non-Indigenous families.

This is St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Alert Bay, BC, c. 19__. It is just one of the places where thousands of children were separated from their families. Photo by Beverly Brown. MOA ID a034137c.

Although today we have a better understanding of what the effects of such separation can be, these things are still going on today. The “Sixties scoop” has just evolved into the “Millennial scoop.” This is something we’ve realized, and steps are being taken by Indigenous people and governments to make things better. But the even bigger challenge is to find ways of repairing the generational trauma of our peoples and our huge loss of culture and way of living.

I think museums could be doing more to help counter the history of separation. One thing they can do is repatriate more of the older objects, and I worry that unfortunately, a lot of museums won’t. Another thing museums can do is help organize more community visits to see their collections, as well as loan those collections to the community to help them feel more connected. Because those little things could help change a person or even a whole community.