During my job interview for an internship at MOA I was asked, “What role do you think museums play in society today?” It took me a moment, as I was awed by the weight of the question. I responded that museums are places that collect and safeguard objects and artworks, making arts and culture more
accessible to the public. Now, in my role as the Visitor Engagement and Experience Intern, where I assist in the development of new and exciting content for MOA’s multimedia guide, I have had the good fortune to dig deeper into that question.
In 2020, MOA launched its multimedia guide with the aim to make the museum’s collections more digitally accessible to the public. The multimedia guide enhances the museum experience for our visitors, while bridging barriers brought by the COVID-19 pandemic that prevented people from being able to visit in-person. The first phase of the guide launched with highlights from MOA’s collection, and features objects through rich media such as high-resolution images, audio and video for deeper learning. The second phase involves the expansion of the multimedia guide content, under the direction of MOA’s Curator of Indigenous Programming, Damara Jacobs-Petersen. With the mighty help of and consultation with our colleagues, Damara and I are building an auditory experience about Indigenous lived experiences, as told by a diversity of Indigenous community members, through open conversations and storytelling. We call this listening experience Indigenous Voices.
Indigenous Voices was created with the intent to feature and amplify the voices of Indigenous community members, covering their perspectives on artistic, healing and museum practices. It also shares their viewpoints on a question that echoed through many, if not all, of the conversations: What is the museum’s role in society today? Listeners can experience the conversations through playlists categorized into the themes of Practice, Connections, the Future and MOA’s Role.
Damara invited six Indigenous artists and museum practitioners from various professional and cultural backgrounds to contribute their knowledge: Tamara Hall (Musqueam), Jasmine Wilson (Musqueam and Kwakwaka’wakw), Xwalacktun (Skwxwu7mesh and Kwakwaka’wakw), Tracy Williams (Skwxwu7mesh), Sharon Fortney (Klahoose and German ancestry) and Lyle Wilson (Haisla). Damara (Skwxwu7mesh) herself acts as the narrator to guide visitors through this listening journey. Prior to connecting with each individual, we had prepared a set of interview questions, anticipating a formal Q+A style somewhat like a podcast that we would then transcribe into the multimedia guide. We quickly learned that the questions served only as prompts for informal yet meaningful conversations, as each interview session evolved into a deep-dive into the unique lived experiences and stories of each individual.
Every conversation shed light on endless subjects, such as the importance of sharing knowledge and our relationship to nature. Tracy Williams, for example, says: “I always think about how it’s so important to teach and to share. You can’t pursue an understanding of knowledge and then not share it with those who seek it and those who long for it… Some of it’s around ensuring that I’m sharing [my] practice, out in the mountains, out on the land, because I can’t teach you how to relate to a tree if we’re not beside the tree. It’s not just a relationship with my knowledge, it’s also our relationship to the place and to the land.” Xwalacktun speaks about recognizing the life in everything: “As [per] our Ancestors, everything had life. So even before taking a tree down, they acknowledge the tree’s life, take the tree, and they’re going to give it new life. And when we work it, that new life is going to be alive, and given life by the women who have the power of giving life.”
Working on Indigenous Voices has helped me broaden my perspective on the role of the museum. It’s taught me that the museum should do more than safeguard objects and collections—that there’s a bigger part to play beyond creating open access to arts, culture and education. It can take form as something intangible, like the exchange of valuable life stories and knowledge, and creates spaces to have conversations about how we can continue to contribute to communities with empathy, respect and dignity. As Jasmine Wilson, an Indigenous museum practitioner, puts it: “It’s giving back to the community now, it’s not taking away. And so that’s what I see with museums and what our role is: to lead and to show and be upfront and honest with what we did in the past and build better relationships
with Indigenous people and stronger ones as well.”
The Indigenous Voices listening experience is available on MOA’s multimedia guide, which can be downloaded as a mobile app (via the Apple Store or Google Play) or accessed in a web browser.