The Brutality of Disposession- Indigenous heritage objects in museums
Liisa-Rávná Finbog discusses indigenous heritage objects in museums
The relationship between Indigenous source communities and museums have almost certainly been founded on highly asymmetrical relations of power, which traditionally have disadvantaged the former to the benefit of the latter. In large, this is due to the colonial past of museums; during the advance of colonialism, Indigenous people were thought to be evolutionary dead ends and thus their material culture was expected to disappear in time. To preserve the material remains of these rapidly declining peoples, museums considered it a duty to collect objects from Indigenous cultures. At times, such acquisitions, which Finbog has named the brutality of dispossession, were completed without the blessings or even the knowledge of the cultures in question. As a result, most of the older Indigenous cultural heritage objects, today are under the ownership of museums both physically and spiritually removed from their source communities. But more than the objects themselves, the brutality of dispossession has also worked to erase the intangible qualities embedded herein.
The complexities embedded in the brutality of dispossession also touch upon abstract ideas of cosmological belief, ritual practices, symbolic values, systems of knowledge, as well practices of aesthetics and making. When an object is removed from its source community, these complexities are rarely considered. Initially, it is the source community that ascribe values to their objects. When objects are relocated to museums other meanings are attributed / and they often superimpose the original ones. If repatriation addresses the return of objects, it fails to address the intangible qualities impacted when the objects were first removed from their source communities. Finbog will discuss how museums and source communities are able to include such complexities by dealing with terms such as “rematriation” and “restitution” and Indigenizing the process of repatriation, which in turn help decolonize museums and other institutions of cultural heritage.