Accepted Paper:

Unsettling Histories: Uncovering an early Coast Salish collection at the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Scotland  


Christopher Martin

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the histories of an early Coast Salish collection at the Perth Museum and Art Gallery to demonstrate how objects can reveal alternative narratives of cross-cultural interaction and continue to shape knowledge and relationships from within a museum setting.

Paper long abstract:

First Nations collections from the Northwest Coast in British museums date primarily from the late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century, shaping the stories they have been able to tell. Familiar narratives of power relations between Indigenous and Settler communities during British colonial rule have tended to dominate, ignoring individual object histories in favour of broad narratives, and homogenising object stories rather than exploring their differences. This paper discusses the largely overlooked terrestrial fur-trade collections which predate large-scale non-Indigenous settlement of the Pacific Northwest to examine how individual object histories can affect the construction of records and exhibits. Focussing on a small collection of Coast Salish models and cultural possessions donated to the Perth Museum and Art Gallery in 1833, I will problematise the often-assumed stasis of museum objects by demonstrating the ways in which historic artefacts have the capacity to challenge dominant narratives and foster contemporary knowledge sharing. The power dynamics entangled within this collection tell of the Hudson's Bay Company's reliance on First Nations knowledge and exchange networks, and the intimate stories of individual relationships which both allowed and shaped early collections. By developing understanding of the personal relationships which shaped museum collections, I will shed light on a period of collecting which directly influenced nineteenth-century scientific knowledge in Scotland and shaped intercultural exchange in Western Canada. Through these individual narratives, I will explore how the museum lives of objects and associated archives shape collections, and contribute to the comprehensive understanding of collecting as a continuing engagement between Scotland and Canada.

Panel P017
Seeing Past the Settler Gaze: Objects and Objectivity in the Post-Colonial Archive