Accepted paper:

Ojibwe Personhood: Museum Meanings


Maureen Matthews (Manitoba Museum)

Paper short abstract:

Acknowledging the distributed personhood of museum artefacts, a grammatical and metaphorical starting point for many Ojibwe museum objects, offers a way of breaking down colonial barriers to a sympathetic, collegial modern ethnographic practice.

Paper long abstract:

This paper takes as its starting point a Canadian Anishinaabe perspective regarding the personhood of ceremonial artefacts who, in their aboriginal context, are frequently spoken of and treated as wiikanag, ritual brothers. In a museum context, these person/objects are also treated as metaphorically animate; we would not have museums if we did not believe in the capability of artefacts to amaze and educate. Acknowledging the personhood of artefacts addresses one of the fundamental power asymmetries of the colonial museum and provides room for innovation in traditional ethnographic practice, placing the ethnographer and the artifact in a collegial rather than object/analyst relationship. Personhood is not absolute either for ethnographers who are subject to unequal power relationships within the museum nor artefacts whose vulnerability lies in their ownership by an institution but acknowledging the personhood of object/persons as Strathern, Gell and others explain, opens those objects to multiple meaningful relationships including family and community relationships long denied them by colonial ethnographic practice. This paper looks at the example of repatriation of an Ojibwe collection for new directions in ethnographic practice.

panel MUS01
A museum ethnography: decolonisation, reconciliation and multiculturalism