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The New Encounters conference was held Canberra in March 2016 in conjunction with the Encounters exhibition.

Conference audio on demand

New Encounters: communities, collections and museums
  • Last updated: 18 March 2016
  • 12 programs
Listen to the presentations from the conference, exploring critical issues and ideas about Indigenous communities, historical collections and museums.

Keynote presentations

Dr Mathew Trinca 23:42

Dr Mathew Trinca, Director, National Museum of Australia on the strength and potency of objects in the Encounters exhibition, their impact on Indigenous and non-Indigenous people today and how museums can empower Indigenous communities to manage collections. Transcript

Dr Richard West Jr 26:44

Dr Richard West Jr, CEO, Autry Museum of the American West; Founding Director, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, USA on the impact of repatriation legislation on museums and Native communities in the United States and what that experience suggests for museums in the 21st century. Transcript

June Oscar AO 40:29

June Oscar, CEO, Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre, Western Australia on the new relationship between Indigenous people and museums and the spirit of reconciliation reawakened by equal partnerships in the exchange of historical truths. Transcript

Dr Jennifer Kramer 34:38

Jennifer Kramer, Curator of the Pacific Northwest, Museum of Anthropology and Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada on ‘Indigenous cultural belongings in the museum and the work of figurative repatriation’, where museums and First Nations peoples work together to share custodianship of cultural materials. Transcript

Associate Professor David Garneau 35:06

David Garneau, Fine Arts, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada on the importance of First Nation peoples working in museums to influence how they are understood and represented. Transcript

Jim Enote 25:56

Jim Enote, Director, A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Centre, New Mexico, USA on his life working in cultural heritage in terms of seasons, and the current flowering of ideas and practices planted many years ago. Transcript

More on the conference

New Encounters explored how Indigenous communities and museums are re-thinking relationships with colonial collections – questioning and confronting the legacies of colonialism in creative and unexpected ways.

The conference focused on the ways in which artists and communities are re-connecting with cultural collections and re-imagining their ongoing relationships with the museums that hold these collections. Key questions included:

  • What are the rights and responsibilities involved in the care and custodianship of collections – for museums and communities?
  • What are the points of cohesion and tension between Indigenous values and the operation of museums – what are the limits, barriers and potentials of collaboration?
  • What do different models of engagement look like – locally, regionally and globally?
  • What are the legacies of colonial exchange and past collecting practices?
  • How can museums and communities effectively re-engage with historical collections?

16–18 March 2016 | Visions Theatre, National Museum of Australia

Conference interlocutor: Dr Dawn Casey, former Director of the National Museum of Australia, Western Australian Museum and Powerhouse Museum

Day 1: Wednesday 16 March 2016

Session 1

Introduction by Margo Neale, Indigenous Advisor to the NMA Director, and Senior Indigenous Curator

Welcome to Country

Welcome by conference interlocutor, Dr Dawn Casey

Keynote presentations

Dr Mat Trinca
Director, National Museum of Australia

Dr Richard West Jr
CEO and President, Autry Museum of the American West; Founding Director, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Session 2

Early encounters: Engaging strangers

Professor Marshall Sahlins
Charles F Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, University of Chicago, USA

Dr Shayne T Williams
Language and culture consultant, NSW AECG Inc

Dr Jude Philp
Senior Curator, Macleay Museum, University of Sydney

Dr Tiffany Shellam
Senior Lecturer, History, Deakin University

Session 3

Legacies of colonial exchange 1

Professor Paora Tapsell
Chair of Māori Studies in the Department of Pacific and Indigenous Studies, Otago University, New Zealand

Professor Jane Lydon
Wesfarmers Chair of Australian History, University of Western Australia

In conversation:
Gregory P Lehman
Senior Lecturer, Institute for Koorie Education, Deakin University

Patsy Cameron
Artist, writer, Aboriginal Elder and inaugural member for Tasmania on the National Aboriginal Education Committee

Session 4

Enduring encounters: Exhibiting collections from the British Museum

Dr Lissant Bolton
Keeper, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, British Museum

Dr Ian Coates
Head, Collections Development, National Museum of Australia

In conversation:
Harley Coyne
Senior Heritage Officer, Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Western Australia

Dr John Carty
Head of Anthropology, South Australian Museum

Public panel

New Encounters: Public panel discussion

Hosted by ABC RN’s Saturday Extra presenter Geraldine Doogue. The panel includes:

Dr Richard West Jr
CEO, Autry Museum of the American West; Founding Director, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Associate Professor David Garneau
Fine Arts, University of Regina, Saskatchewan

Dr Dawn Casey
Former director, National Museum of Australia, Western Australian Museum and the Powerhouse Museum

Professor Paul Tapsell
Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies, Otago University, New Zealand

Dr Richard Luarkie
Former Governor, Pueblo of Laguna, New Mexico, USA, Board Member Smithsonian National Museum of the Native American, Washington DC, USA

Day 2: Thursday 17 March 2016

Session 1

Keynote presentations

June Oscar AO
CEO, Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre

Dr Jennifer Kramer
Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Canada

Session 2

Cultural property, access and repatriation 1

Dr Richard Luarkie
Former Governor, Pueblo of Laguna, New Mexico, USA, Board Member Smithsonian National Museum of the Native American, Washington DC, USA

Dr Sandy O’Sullivan
Director of the Centre for Collaborative First Nations’ Research, Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Northern Territory

Anne May Olli
Director, Riddo Duottar Museat, Norway

Session 3

Dr Mille Gabriel
Senior Researcher and Curator, National Museum of Denmark

Dr Gaye Sculthorpe
Section Head, Oceania, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, British Museum, UK

Associate Professor Henrietta Marrie
Office of Indigenous Engagement, Central Queensland University, Cairns

Eeva-Kristiina Harlin
Doctoral Researcher, University of Oulu, Finland

Session 4

Legacies of colonial exchange 2

Dr Conal McCarthy
Associate Professor, Director of Museum and Heritage Studies, Victoria, University of Wellington, New Zealand

In conversation:
Professor Rosita Henry
Head of Social Sciences, James Cook University

Trish Barnard
Independent curator and writer, Honorary Research Adviser, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Studies, University of Queensland

Professor Howard Morphy
Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Australian National University

Day 3: Friday 18 March 2016

Session 1

Keynote presentations

Jim Enote
Director, A:shiwi A:wan Museum, New Mexico

Associate Professor David Garneau
Fine Arts, University of Regina, Saskatchewan

Session 2

Unsettling collections, connecting communities: Artists and curators in conversation with Djon Mundine OAM

Puawai Cairns
Curator Māori, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Abe Muriata
Artist, Girrungin Arts Centre, Cardwell

Mr Wanambi
Artist, Associate Professor, Chung Yuan Christian University, Taiwan

Jonathan Jones
Artist and curator

Dr Julie Gough
Artist and curator

Session 3

New models of engagement

Dr Gabrielle Tayac
Smithsonian National Museum of the Native American, Washington DC, USA

Margo Neale
Indigenous Advisor to the Director and Senior Indigenous Curator, National Museum of Australia

Rodney Carter and Professor Eleanor Bourke
Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council

Session 4

Circling the future: Conference wrap-up

Speakers include:

Dr Dawn Casey
Former director, National Museum of Australia, Western Australian Museum and the Powerhouse Museum

Anne May Olli
Director, Riddo Duottar Museat, Norway

Russell Taylor AM
Principal, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

Dr Richard Luarkie
Former Governor, Pueblo of Laguna, New Mexico, USA, Board Member Smithsonian National Museum of the Native American, Washington DC, USA

Closing remarks

Dr Mat Trinca
Director, National Museum of Australia

Opera performance: Singing to the cloak

Tiriki Onus
Performance artist, Inaugural Hutchinson Indigenous Research Fellow and Lecturer Arts and Culture, Wilin Centre, University of Melbourne

The National Museum’s Indigenous Reference Group members were pleased to support the New Encounters conference:

  • Mr Peter Yu (Council Member and Group Chair)
  • Mr Adrian Brown
  • Mr Jason Eades
  • Henrietta Fourmile Marrie (Gimuy Walubara Yidinji)
  • Mr Russell Taylor
  • Mr Vic McGrath
  • Ms Irene Stainton

Trish Barnard


Trish Barnard is an independent curator, writer, and an Honorary Research Adviser, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Studies, University of Queensland. She is the former Senior Curator for Indigenous Studies in the Cultures and Histories program at the Queensland Museum. She has extensive experience in the interpretation of collections and the curation of exhibitions, and co-curated (with Peter Denham) the first major survey exhibition of art from Cape York Peninsula – Story Place: Indigenous Art of Cape York and the Rainforest, at the Queensland Art Gallery in 2003.

Trish has contributed Indigenous content to many other exhibitions including the successful Enchanted Rainforest at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, Townsville. She is interested in new developments and innovations within the industry and regularly writes for exhibition catalogues, commentates on contemporary Indigenous art issues and embraces opportunities to enhance public understanding.

Lissant Bolton


Relationships around objects: the British Museum Oceania collection

The role and importance of museum collections is never static. Their significance changes as history unfolds and as the interests people have in the objects change over time. This paper reflects on the significance of collections from Oceania in the British Museum, considering the relationships in which the objects were and are embedded, and the impact those embedded relationships have on our understanding of the history of the region. In doing so, the paper reflects on the 2015 exhibition Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation.


Dr Lissant Bolton is an anthropologist and Keeper of the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the British Museum. Her research focuses on Vanuatu where she has worked collaboratively with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre for many years. More recently she has been involved in research leading up to the Indigenous Australia exhibition in London and Encounters in Canberra. Her publications include: Unfolding the Moon: Enacting Women’s Kastom in Vanuatu, 2003; Art in Oceania: A New History, 2012 (co-author); and Melanesia: Art and Encounter, 2013 (co-editor).

Eleanor Bourke & Rodney Carter


Traditional Owners’ rights and responsibilities in Victoria

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council (the Council) was created under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (the Act) to provide a state-wide voice for Aboriginal people on the management and protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria. As a statutory body made up of Victorian Traditional Owners, the Council is committed to realising its vision of a community that understands and respects Aboriginal cultural heritage and the rights and cultural responsibilities of Traditional Owners.

Council members Eleanor Bourke and Rodney Carter will speak about Traditional Owners’ rights and responsibilities to care for their cultural heritage, how these rights and responsibilities are supported by the Act, and how the return of cultural materials to Traditional Owners is fundamental to both historical and contemporary understandings of identity, cultural continuity and reconciliation.

Rodney will also draw on his experiences in dealing with institutions to contest ‘ownership’ of cultural heritage, including his fight for the rightful return to the Dja Dja Wurrung Peoples of a Dja Dja Wurrung bark etching that is included in the Encounters exhibition.


Professor Eleanor Bourke was born in Hamilton, Victoria, and is a prominent member of the Wergaia people with a career in Aboriginal affairs spanning 40 years in Victoria, the ACT and South Australia. Eleanor has held various executive positions in the community and in state and federal government sectors, including five years as the co-Chair of Reconciliation Victoria. Eleanor has also played a leading role in the education sector. She was appointed professor and headed the Aboriginal Research Institute in South Australia and the Centre for Aboriginal and Islander Studies at Monash University.

Eleanor is a member of the Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation and has made a significant contribution to the Council as a member, Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson. Eleanor was also a board member of Native Title Services Victoria and chaired the first stage of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria’s Right People for Country project. Eleanor’s three-year appointment as a Council member will end on 12 August 2018.

Rodney Carter is a descendant of Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta people and resides between Pental Island near Swan Hill and Bendigo in Central Victoria. He currently works for his people, the Dja Dja Wurrung, as the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation and the Dja Dja Wurrung Enterprises Pty Ltd.

A defining moment for Rodney was negotiating for, and being a signatory to, the Dja Dja Wurrung people’s native title settlement under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010. Rodney applied for a position on Council because he strongly believes that Victorian Aboriginal people are those best placed to manage their own history, places and materials for the benefit of all Victorians. Rodney’s three-year appointment as a Council member will end on 31 August 2018.

Puawai Cairns


Indigenous curating as activism?: Reflections on contemporary collecting, curating, and working with Māori communities

Working on behalf of a museum in an Indigenous role can be a precarious thing. You wear many different hats – your tribal member hat, your museum hat, your activist hat, your advocate hat – and at times these various roles are complementary or oppositional. You can be required to operate in a role as activist for your community which is sometimes challenging to the museum for which you work. Museum policies do not align with tribal or cultural processes, dubious colonial practices have caused mistrust, and collection holdings become contested objects by both parties, creating a tumultuous terrain that an indigenous person must navigate, and sometimes without a precedent to guide them.

This presentation will discuss some case studies of interest that touch on these issues from my experiences as a curator at Te Papa. I will talk about some of the challenges of acquisition, curating, and exhibiting, where the aim has been one of advocacy, positioning the museum to help empower, uplift or respond to a self-identified need by Māori communities.


Puawai Cairns is Curator of Contemporary Māori Culture at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. Her iwi affiliation is Ngāti Pukenga, Ngāti Ranginui and Ngaiterangi.

She has a long-standing research interest in the contemporary Māori world, the diversity of Māori activity over recent decades, and the potential for collecting objects relating to this period. She has spent the last two and a half years researching the stories of the several hundred Māori soldiers who served in the First World War, as part of the curatorial team of Te Papa’s major exhibition on World War I: Gallipoli: The Scale of our War.

Patsy Cameron


Portraits from Wybalenna

Amongst the British Museum’s collection is a group of 17 portraits which JS Prout completed of Tasmanian Aboriginal people at Wybalenna, Flinders Island in 1845. Greg Lehman and Patsy Cameron will discuss these portraits from the perspective of being both a historical and a personal archive. After presenting an ‘art history’ based reading of the development and role of portraiture in colonial representations of Aboriginal people, their focus will shift to the personal dimension; how the descendants of the portraits’ subjects have reconnected with – and re-imagined – this significant archival material.


Patsy Cameron grew up on Flinders Island and traces her Tasmanian Aboriginal heritage through her mother’s line to four ancestral grandmothers: pleenpereener, wyerlooberer and teekoolterme from the northeast Coastal Plains nation and Pollerelbener from the east coast Oyster Bay nation. At the head of her family is teekoolterme’s father, the revered pairrebeener clansman and formidable warrior leader, mannalargenna.

Her thought-provoking book Grease and Ochre: The blending of two cultures at the colonial sea frontier was published in 2011.

In recognition of over three decades of dedicated work in Aboriginal education, community affairs and promoting cultural heritage, Patsy was inducted onto the Tasmanian Women’s Honour roll in 2006.

Patsy continues her passion as a cultural heritage practitioner weaving traditional baskets, creating shell necklaces, working with kelp and whittling wooden implements. She facilitates Cultural Integrity Workshops, conducts interpretive walks on Country, undertakes Aboriginal research projects and cultural field trips around Tasmania, and represents and reflects community views on many committees and reference groups.

John Carty


Dr John Carty is an anthropologist and curator who works with Aboriginal artists around the Western Desert, the Pilbara, Kimberley and Central Australia. His exhibition work led to him recording the artists’ stories and oral histories that form the basis of the Aboriginal art history in Ngaanyatajrra: Art of the Lands.

From 2007 to 2010 he was the principal researcher on the Canning Stock Route project that led to the groundbreaking exhibition Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route, at the National Museum of Australia.

John is currently Head of Anthropology at the South Australian Museum. Previously he was Research Associate at the Australian National University on the Engaging ObjectsARC Linkage project, which accompanied the NMA’s Encounters exhibition and the British Museum’s Indigenous Australia exhibition.

Dawn Casey


Dr Dawn Casey is a descendant of the Tagalaka clan group from around Croydon, North Queensland. She has been awarded three honorary doctorates (from Charles Sturt, Queensland and Macquarie universities), the Australian Government’s Public Service Medal (PSM), the Australian Government’s Centenary Medal, three Australia Day Public Service Medals, the Australian Institute of Architects’ Glem Cummings Award, and has been made a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Her career includes a number of key executive positions in the public sector in areas including Indigenous affairs, cultural heritage and overseas aid and development.

She has previously held the positions of the Director of the National Museum of Australia and the Western Australian and Powerhouse museums.

Previous board appointments include member of the Charles Sturt, Western Australia and Canberra University councils, member of the Queensland Design Council, executive member of the Australasian Council of Museum Directors, Chairperson of the Indigenous Business Australia and Indigenous Land Corporation, Lead Member of the Global Environment Facility (International) and member Development Board for Commonwealth Countries (International).

Ian Coates


Changing encounters

The National Museum of Australia’s Encounters exhibition has brought many exhibition visitors into engagement with the nation’s complex colonial history of relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. There is an ambition that the exhibition will change the way Australians understand that history and its connections to the present.

Another legacy has been substantial change within the museums involved in developing Encounters. This paper reflects on changes at the National Museum of Australia. These changes, in practice and policy, are both tangible and conceptual. Well after the exhibition ends they will impact on the way the Museum engages with Indigenous stakeholders and themes.


Dr Ian Coates is Head of Collections Development at the National Museum of Australia. He has undertaken research in many museums in Australia, the UK and northern Europe, with a focus on investigating the histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material held in museums throughout the world.

Ian has completed many exhibition and research projects, often with a strong element of local community engagement. The most recent is the Encounters exhibition collaboration between the NMA and the British Museum. The intersection between Indigenous and colonial histories, and the potential of museum collections to inform new colonial narratives remains a key research passion.

Harley Coyne


Harley Coyne, a Menang man from Albany, has been a Heritage Project Officer in the Western Australian Department of Aboriginal Affairs for nine years. In this role he coordinates a number of heritage programs including the repatriation of Aboriginal ancestral remains across the South West and Great Southern regions of Western Australia, in conjunction with the Western Australian Museum.

The aim of the project is to coordinate the reburial process in consultation with the Noongar community, Government and non-government agencies. He has successfully returned and reburied 39 sets of ancestral remains to seven Aboriginal communities. This work has allowed him to engage with Aboriginal communities in a range of other programs.

Harley’s family has a long established connection to the Albany area. He has been a member of the Albany Heritage Reference Group, and was recently involved in the development of heritage management and interpretation at the Oyster Harbour fish traps near Albany. During the development of the National Museum’s Encounters exhibition Harley also worked with the curatorial team. Harley is passionate about preserving every aspect of Aboriginal heritage and culture and enjoys working with the wider community sharing his ideas and thoughts.

Jim Enote


Jim Enote, a Zuni tribal member, has been a high-altitude traditional farmer since childhood, and is an interrupted artist.

He is the director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center at Zuni, New Mexico. He also is the president of the board of Zuni A:shiwi Publishing and a board member of the Grand Canyon Trust in Flagstaff.

For more than 20 years, he has tackled land and water conservation issues around the world and is committed to conserving and protecting his own and other Native cultures. He is currently involved in repatriation efforts for Zuni artifacts and cultural mapping at Zuni Pueblo.

He is the associate director of the Indigenous Communities Mapping Initiative and, through the A:shiwi Map Art Project, has evoked reactions and memories about cultural places using Indigenous artistic sensibilities and Indigenous names of places.

Mille Gabriel


Sharing the hunt – The return of cultural heritage from Denmark to Greenland

During colonial times (1721–1953) Danish officials, arctic explorers and missionaries collected large numbers of archaeological and ethnographical artefacts in Greenland. As a result, the National Museum of Denmark eventually became the holder of one of the world’s largest Arctic collections. From 1982 to 2001 the national museums of Denmark and Greenland engaged in an extensive museum partnership resulting in the return of about 35,000 archaeological and ethnographic artefacts – a process later identified as Utimut, the Greenlandic word for ‘return’.

With a point of departure in the colonial relationship between Denmark and Greenland, this paper will examine the rationales behind the Greenlandic requests and the basic principles on which the repatriation partnership was founded. The Danish-Greenlandic museum partnership has received a great deal of international attention and it is often seen as a model for repatriation. This paper will however argue that Utimut is a very special case. Greenlandic requests for repatriation go back nearly a century and have from the outset been inextricably linked to both the formation of museum institutions within Greenland and the overall political processes leading towards decolonisation and the introduction of home rule in 1979.

What makes it unique is not just the amount of material returned and the amicable atmosphere of the partnership, but the way that Greenlanders on the one hand ascribe to themselves a pan-indigenous identity in their struggle for self-determination, while they on the other hand differ strikingly from other indigenous peoples by mobilising arguments inherent in nationalised discourses.


Dr Mille Gabriel is the senior researcher and curator of the American collections at the National Museum of Denmark. The focal point of her research is the relationship between museums and source communities, including issues of physical and virtual repatriation, knowledge-sharing and co-curation. Of special interest to her has been the return of cultural heritage from Denmark to Greenland. At the National Museum of Denmark she has curated exhibitions such as Powwow – We Dance, We’re Alive (2012–13) and Web of the Spider Woman – Rugs from Navajo Nation (2014). She is also the Secretary of ICOM Denmark and a member of the special committee for culture of the UNESCO National Commission of Denmark.

David Garneau


From artifact necropolis to living rooms: Indigenous and at home in non-colonial museums

There is much talk about decolonisation, and museums are near the centre of this discussion. The professed goals of decolonisation are to bring about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life.

However, because the return of land is unlikely to ever be more than fractional in Canada and Australia, and traditional Indigenous life-ways are nearly overwhelmed by Settler and global cultures, these goals are compromised from the start. If assimilation remains the unstated desire of Settler Canada, then seeming de-colonial alterations to museum policy, exhibitions, and forms of community engagement may simply be the machinery of assimilation in slow motion and with a new name. If so, then it is understandable if conscientious First Nations, Inuit, and Métis curators and audiences decline participation.

However, if there is an explicit will to shift museums from sites of colonial (re)production to spaces of non-colonial conciliation that honour the creative sovereignty of Indigenous people, then Indigenous people should co-author that future.

Designing non-colonial museums is difficult work on both sides. Non-Indigenous people will surprise themselves by defending colonial intellectual regimes under banners of professionalism and standards; and Indigenous people may feel that their efforts constitute unacceptable compromise of their Indigeneity.

This paper describes some of the textures and tenor of curatorial compromise and the limits of Indigenous cooperation. Before non-colonial activity can occur in a predominantly Settler setting, both parties have to do some de-colonial labour. Participants must understand how museums function as agents of colonisation before they can remodel rather than simply redecorate them. Next, we require reasons and protocols. This paper sketches a few ways a non-colonial museum might perform – including de-centering conservancy, artifacts, and the spectacle, and centering Indigenous belongings and bodies as carriers of knowledge.


Associate Professor David Garneau is a Métis artist and academic at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. His practice includes painting, drawing, performance art, video, curation and critical writing. He is interested in visual and tactile expressions of contemporary Indigenous identities – especially the revival of Métis art – and moments of productive friction between nature and culture, materialism and metaphysics.

His art appears in the collections of The Canadian History Museum; the Canadian Parliament buildings; Indian and Inuit Art Collection; the NONAM museum, Zurich; the Musée de la civilisation, Montreal; Glenbow Museum; Mackenzie Art Gallery; Mendel Art Gallery; Dunlop Art Gallery; City of Calgary; the SaskArts Board; Alberta Foundation for the Arts; Paul Martin foundation; and numerous private collections.

Garneau has curated numerous large and small exhibitions: The End of the World (as we know it)Picture Windows: New AbstractionTranscendent SquaresContested HistoriesMaking it Like a Man!Graphic VisionsTEXTiles. He recently co-curated (with Michelle LaVallee) Moving Forward, Never Forgetting, an exhibition concerning the legacies of Indian Residential Schools, other forms of aggressive assimilation, and (re)conciliation.

Julie Gough


Dr Julie Gough is an artist, freelance curator and writer who lives in Hobart. Her research and art practice often involves uncovering and re-presenting conflicting and subsumed histories, many referring to her own and her family’s experiences as Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

Her traditional maternal Country is Tebrikunna, in far north-east Tasmania and her Trawlwoolway descent is through the family of Woretemoeteyenner, the eldest daughter of Mannalargenna. Her current work in installation, sound and video provides the means to explore ephemerality, absence and recurrence:Gough holds a PhD (Transforming histories: The visual disclosure of contentious pasts, University of Tasmania (UTAS), 2001), MA (Goldsmiths College, University of London, 1998), BA Hons (UTAS, 1995), BA Visual Arts (Curtin University, 1994), BA Prehistory/English Literature (University of Western Australia, 1987).

She has exhibited widely in Australia since 1994 including: undisclosed, National Gallery of Australia, 2012; Clemenger Contemporary Art Award, National Gallery of Victoria, 2010; Bienniale of Sydney, 2006; Liverpool Biennial, England, 2001; Australian Perspecta, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1995. Gough’s work is held in many public collections.

Julie curated: the touring exhibition Testing Ground, 2013; tayenebe: Tasmanian Aboriginal Women’s Fibre Work, 2009, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, National Museum of Australia (NMA); and was on the curatorial team for INSIDE: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions, NMA, 2011. She was one the five artists involved with the Engaging Objects ARC project, which accompanied the NMA’s and British Museum exhibitions, and her work features in the NMA’s Unsettled exhibition.

Eeva-Kristiina Harlin


Sámi heritage and repatriation

In my paper, I discuss the repatriation of tangible Sámi heritage in Norway, Sweden, and with a particular emphasis on Finland. The Sámi are the only indigenous people in European Union and they have a Sámi parliament in each of the Nordic countries, but each a varying position legally. The administration of cultural heritage also varies from one country to another. There are professional Sámi museums in each Nordic country and they have prominent collections of cultural items. However, most of the oldest and rarest cultural items are located outside the Sámi area - in Nordic and European museums, governed by others.

In theory, the Sámi have cultural self-governance in Finland but in practice cultural heritage matters are in the hands of the state and discussion of repatriation is rare, and when addressed, almost always opposed. It seems that the reluctance to discuss repatriation, is related to a broader Finnish history and denial of colonialism, but also to today’s political situation. In my presentation I will try to enlighten how challenging the discussion around repatriation can be, and how it reflects the Sámi – majority relations.


Eeva-Kristiina Harlin is a researcher at the University of Oulu, Giellagas Institute (Institute for Saami Cultural Studies) in Finland. Her PhD deals with tangible Sámi heritage and repatriation politics in the Nordic countries. Currently she works with two projects: ‘Domestication of Indigenous Discourses? Processes of Constructing Political Subjects in Sápmi’ at the University of Oulu and ‘To collect Sápmi’ at the Swedish History Museum.

She previously she worked as a curator in the biggest Norwegian Sámi museum (RiddoDuottarMuseat), as a project manager in a Nordic repatriation project (Recalling Ancestral Voices) in the Finnish Sámi museum Siida and as an archaeologist at the National Board of Antiquities in Finland. Eeva-Kristiina has an MA in archaeology from the University of Helsinki, Finland, and has also majored in osteoarchaeology at the University of Stockholm, Sweden. She specialises in Sámi collections, repatriation and historical archaeology related to Sámi culture.

Rosita Henry


Professor Rosita Henry is Head of Social Sciences at James Cook University. Her anthropological research concerns the interface between people, places and things as expressed in practices and performances of everyday life.

She is author of the book Performing Place, Practicing Memory: Indigenous Australians, Hippies and the State (Berghahn Books, 2012) and co-editor of The Challenge of Indigenous Peoples: Spectacle or Politics? (Bardwell Press, 2011). More recently, she has been conducting research in relation to the ARC Discovery project, Objects of Possession: Artefact Transactions in the Wet Tropics of North Queensland.

Jonathan Jones


Sydney-based artist Jonathan Jones is a member of the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi nations of south-eastern Australia. He works in a range of mediums, including drawing, sculpture and film, and creates site-specific installations that use light, shadow and the repetition of shape to explore Indigenous practices, relationships and ideas.

An underlying concept of Jonathan’s work is the process of mapping or tracing as well as representing both the traditional and contemporary by working with the connections between a particular site’s historical and current usages. Engaging with a variety of disciplines from architecture and archaeology to biology and linguistics, he often works with everyday materials such as fluorescent lights and blue tarpaulin, recycled and repurposed to explore relationships between the community and individual, the personal and public.

Collaboration is at the heart of Jonathan’s practice and many projects have seen him work with other artists and communities to develop art that acknowledges local knowledge systems and specific concerns. Jones has previously worked with community groups and elders in remote, rural and urban environments, including the communities of Boggabilla in northern New South Wales and Amata in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands of north-western South Australia.

He has worked on several major public art commissions, and has exhibited both nationally and internationally. In 2014, Jones won YOUR VERY GOOD IDEA, an initiative of Kaldor Public Art Projects, and he was one the five artists involved with the Engaging Objects ARC project, which accompanied the NMA’s and British Museum exhibitions, and his work features in the NMA’s Unsettled exhibition.

Jennifer Kramer


Indigenous cultural belongings in the museum and the work of figurative repatriation

The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia, Canada uses the term ‘cultural belongings’ for the collections we house in order to avoid the art/artifact tautology. More importantly, through respecting Indigenous values, cosmologies, and ways of knowing the world, this descriptor recognises Indigenous ownership but also allows stewardship outside of Indigenous communities. In my work as a curator I practice collaborative museology and in my research as a cultural anthropologist I practice critical museology. Both methods of engagement and analysis re-imagine relations between Indigenous stakeholders and the museums that display and store their cultural belongings.

This paper will discuss various acts of what I call ‘figurative repatriation’, where cultural belongings in museum collections are claimed and declared in public spaces as Indigenous cultural property without enacting physical repatriation. I will share examples of the diverse ways in which First Nations communities on the Central Northwest Coast of British Columbia engage with their cultural belongings in museums. Indigenous Elders, leaders, educators, language speakers, and artists use historical ethnographic collections to (re)connect to ancestral ways of knowing and being, to bolster and inspire artistic, social, and ceremonial practices, and to add material proof for their ongoing rights to self-governance. These reunions stimulate powerful personal, emotional, spiritual, and political responses.

I argue that creative outputs from these exchanges, whether educational curriculum development, multi-media performance, exhibition, or interventionist installation, produce evidence of our mutual entanglements. They acknowledge the co-constitutiveness of our ongoing colonial relations and our efforts to decolonise. In my opinion, this evidence, sometimes called art, is meant to elicit response. Contemporary artwork relies on Indigenous artists’ own forceful epistemologies to counteract dominant Western ones of formal aesthetics or abstract anthropological categorisation. They also assertively transform ethnographic artifacts back into cultural belongings. I will argue why this can most effectively occur in an intercultural space such as the museum and not at home on Indigenous territory.


Dr Jennifer Kramer is Curator of the Pacific Northwest at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) and Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. A critical and collaborative museologist, Kramer’s research focuses on Northwest Coast First Nations visual culture and its entanglements with aesthetic valuation, commodification, appropriation, tourism, legal regimes, and museums.

She has worked with the Nuxalk Nation of Bella Coola, BC since 1994 on issues of cultural revitalisation, repatriation, selling art, and Native-controlled education, resulting in the book, Switchbacks: Art, Ownership, and Nuxalk National Identity (UBC Press, 2006). She is also the author and curator of Kesu’: The Art and Life of Doug Cranmer(Douglas & McIntyre Press, 2012), which explores one Kwakwaka’wakw man’s innovative career as an Indigenous modern artist. Kramer is co-editor with Charlotte Townsend-Gault and Ki-ke-in of the multiple award-winning Native Art of the Northwest Coast: A History of Changing Ideas (UBC Press, 2013). This anthology compiles excerpts from 250 years of writings about Northwest Coast art with 28 reflective essays contributed by Native and non-Native art historians, anthropologists, legal experts, artists, and holders of traditional Indigenous knowledge.

Her current collaborative research involves (re)connecting Central Northwest Coast First Nations (Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Wuikinuxv, and Kwakwaka’wakw language speakers, cultural teachers, and artists) to their cultural belongings housed in museum collections globally. She is also a research partner for the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council funded project Tshiue-Natuapahtetau/Kigibiwidon: Exploring New Alternatives Concerning the Restitution/Recovery of Indigenous Heritage with two First Nations in Quebec: the Ilnu of Mashteuiatsh and the Anishinabeg of Kitigan Zibi.

Gregory P Lehman


Portraits from Wybalenna

Amongst the British Museum’s collection is a group of 17 portraits which JS Prout completed of Tasmanian Aboriginal people at Wybalenna, Flinders Island in 1845. Greg Lehman and Patsy Cameron will discuss these portraits from the perspective of being both a historical and a personal archive. After presenting an ‘art history’ based reading of the development and role of portraiture in colonial representations of Aboriginal people, their focus will shift to the personal dimension; how the descendants of the portraits’ subjects have reconnected with – and re-imagined – this significant archival material.


Gregory P Lehman, a descendant of the Trawulwuy people of North East Tasmania, has worked in a range of Indigenous research roles over 30 years, investigating deaths in custody, return of land, management of World Heritage associative values, reconciliation, education, history and identity. He is currently a Senior Lecturer ‎at the Institute for Koorie Education, Deakin University and a member of the NMA’s Indigenous Reference Group.

Greg is a past director of the Riawunna Centre for Aboriginal Education and Manager of Aboriginal Education in Tasmania. He has a long-standing interest in, and is a significant contributor to, public discourse on Indigenous identity and cultural interpretation in Australia. He is a regular national contributor of essays and reviews and was recently included in the Griffith Review’s edition ‘Tasmania: the tipping point?’

His current research is an examination of the visual representation of Tasmanian Aborigines in colonial art.

Richard Luarkie


Finding balance in the process of repatriation

Our Indigenous teachings tell us that once-sacred objects, animals, plants or humans are returned to the earth, whether intentional or not, humanity ceases to have control. Once those items of sacredness are returned to the earth, a spiritual repatriation ensues that we as humans have no knowledge of or authority over. However, in this modern day, we are faced with the challenge of how to properly repatriate objects of sacredness to communities or regions based on man-made policy or law. It raises questions as to whether or not we as humans are disrupting a process that is absolutely out of our domain. It also raises questions as to how we as humans exercise compassion and respect for those that left their footprints, offerings and prayers on this earth long before our existence.

Cultural knowledge and sensitivity must be a constant in any of these repatriation processes, but unfortunately this cultural knowledge is often minimal, not openly shared with the public by descendants, or simply absent. Adding to the dilemma and complexity are the international auction houses that are now finding it popular and profitable to auction items that are of great spiritual significance to indigenous people the world over.

The combination of external forces like auction houses and technology have created titanic shifts in indigenous spiritual learning systems and indigenous knowledge transfer, but is inspiring the conversation around indigenous knowledge repatriation. Dr Luarkie will share his experiences, thoughts and considerations on these very important issues impacting indigenous and non-indigenous people around the globe.


Dr Richard Luarkie was raised by his grandparents at the Pueblo of Laguna, one of 19 Pueblo tribes in New Mexico, Richard was exposed to an upbringing that was rich with New Mexico Pueblo culture and values, a deep tradition of contribution to community, and with inspiration to live a great life.

Most recently, Richard has served two terms as the Governor for the Pueblo of Laguna tribe. Richard has a passion for strategy, analytics and economic advancement. His professional experience includes being a small business owner, as well as working for international companies like American Management Systems and AT&T Global Strategy – Advanced Products and Services. He has also worked for his own tribe’s business enterprises and has served on several boards and committees. The majority of Richard’s professional career has been in the private sector in the areas of technology, strategy and economic advancement. Currently, Richard is the CEO for the Emerging Equities Solutions Group, a professional services firm focused on data and analytics, strategy, and economic advancement.

Richard has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from the University of New Mexico, a Masters of Business Administration from New Mexico State University, and a PhD from Arizona State University – School of Social Transformation.

Henrietta Fourmile Marrie (Gimuy Walubara Yidinji)


Historical Perspectives on First Nations Peoples

Henrietta will present a historical perspective on issues surrounding the relationship between First Nations peoples in Australia and museums in general, over the past 30 years.

She first articulated these issues in a series of earlier pioneering papers – ‘Aborigines and Museums: A Case Study in Scientific Colonialism’ (1987), ‘Who Owns the Past: Aborigines as Captives of the Archives’ (1989) and ‘Aborigines as Captives of the Archives: A Prison Revisited’ (1994). She will present an overview of these issues from the perspective of two decades later.


Associate Professor Henrietta Fourmile Marrie was born and raised at Yarrabah, and is an Elder of the Gimuy Walubara clan of the Yidinji people and Traditional Owner of the land on which the City of Cairns and southern suburbs is now located.

She has a Masters in environmental and local government law from Macquarie University. Henrietta has extensive experience in legislative and policy analysis, Indigenous cultural and natural resource management and impact assessment, intellectual and cultural property law, international relations, heritage legislation and philanthropy. As an academic, she has published more than 100 papers in books and journals, nationally and internationally.

She served for six years, from 1997 with the United Nations Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, Canada. She is the first Indigenous Australian to hold a full-time professional position in a United Nations agency.

In late 2003, Henrietta moved to The Christensen Fund, a California-based private philanthropic organisation, as the program manager for its grant operations in North Australia. She served with the Fund for nine years overseeing a grant budget supporting Indigenous initiatives of nearly $30 million. In 2014, she was listed among the Westpac – Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence.

Henrietta is currently an Associate Professor at Central Queensland University – Office of Indigenous Engagement, Cairns. She is also an Adjunct Professor with the Cairns Institute of James Cook University, Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Queensland – Centre for Sustainable Responsibility in Mining, and a Visiting Fellow with the United Nations University – Institute of Advanced Studies (based in Yokohama, Japan) where she established the Institute’s Traditional Knowledge Initiative based in Darwin. She is also the Cairns Indigenous Arts Fair Patron.

Conal McCarthy


Encountering Self and Other through museum collecting and display: Lessons from Aotearoa New Zealand

In the early 21st century, museums in Europe have taken steps to come to terms with their colonial legacy in an attempt to chart new futures for ethnographic collecting and display (Rassool 2014). Much of this work rests on the now orthodox analysis of museums and empire inspired by Edward Said’s Orientalism (Said 1978, Karp and Lavine 1991).

Despite this postcolonial soul searching, recent research on historic ethnographic museums have refigured collecting as an ambiguous relational process (Gosden and Knowles 2001, Gosden, Larsen and Petch 2007) and challenged the notion that indigenous peoples took no part in collecting (Harrison et al 2011, 2013).

As the scholarship has presented more complex views of museums and colonialism, what has been happening behind the scenes of today’s museum? Experiments in exhibition collaboration since the 1980s have co-produced innovative new ways of exhibiting ‘the artifacts of ethnography’ (Kirshenblatt-Gimbett 1998,  Phillips 2011, Golding and Modest 2013, Silverman 2015).

This paper assesses exhibitions such as Encounters in a wider academic context, and asks how current professional practice intersects with critical museum theory and history. It does so by referring to one post-settler nation where interaction between indigenous people and settler society and its institutions has been remarkably close. Even the revised notion of indigenous agency circulating in the literature, which has steered contemporary museum efforts to re-engage with native and tribal communities in former settler colonies, pales in comparison to the active involvement of Māori people with museums in Aotearoa New Zealand (Tapsell 1997. Henare 2005, McCarthy 2011).

Employing a theoretical framework that sees museum collections as assemblages of material and social agency, in particular Andrew Pickering’s theory of the ‘dance of agency’ (Pickering 1995), it presents several key ‘moments’ in an extraordinary history of Māori engagement with collecting and display which circle around the national museum in Wellington: the project in the 1900s to establish a National Māori Museum; the collecting and fieldwork activities of the Board of Māori Ethnological Research in the 1920s; Māori leader Āpirana Ngata’s role in the revival of Māori Arts and Crafts in the 1930s and 40s, and, finally, the famous Te Maori exhibition in the 1980s and its subsequent impact on museum approaches to collecting and display, and on independent tribal initiatives to manage their own heritage.

In tracing this history, I consider the lessons of the past for contemporary museum practice, and in particular what museums can learn from the emergence of an indigenous museology.


Associate Professor Conal McCarthy is Director of the Museum & Heritage Studies programme at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

Conal has degrees in English, art history, te reo Māori and museum studies and has worked in galleries and museums in a variety of professional roles. Among his current research projects is the history of museum visitation in Australia and New Zealand, a multi-author study of museums and anthropology 1900–1940 with Duke University Press, and a project on Indigenous museologies in Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Canada. Conal is part of a Marsden-funded project led by Professor Anne Salmond from Auckland University called ‘Te Ao Hou: Transforming worlds in New Zealand 1900–1950’.

He has published widely on museum history, theory and practice, including the book Exhibiting Māori: A history of colonial cultures of display (2007) and Museums and Maori: Heritage professionals, indigenous collections, current practice (2011). His latest book, an edited collection on contemporary museum practice, which deals with a range of topics from management to collections, exhibition and programmes, was published in a new series International Handbooks of Museum Studies in July 2015.

Howard Morphy


Collections, exhibitions and value creation processes

The objects in museum collections are signs and symptoms of history but they are also a rich resource for future dialogues and for changing understandings in the present. Consciously or unconsciously museums are engaged in value creation processes that influence attitudes to the objects they contain and to the people who produced them. The very act of collecting is an acknowledgement of value, but over time the value of objects changes. Museums and galleries have played a central role in this process of change in which the significance and very categorisation of their collections may be transformed.

In this paper the central focus will be on the process whereby some Indigenous artefacts came to be viewed as works of art, and the implication of this in the present and on understanding of the past. The main case study will concern the South Australian Museum’s collection of Toas from the Lake Eyre region of Central Australia. Toas were a largely neglected part of the Museum’s collection until, in the 1980s, they were moved into the category of art object. The paper will analyse the implications of this change of status and the process that resulted in their re-categorisation.

The paper will conclude that the process of value creation is ongoing and that collections are open to reinterpretation over time. However, the value of the objects lies not in particular interpretations that fix their meaning in time but in the possibility of reinterpretation. A key responsibility of museums is to create a balance between the potential of objects to provide insights into human societies and historical processes and the entangling narratives that influence their meaning at different points in time.


Howard Morphy (BSc, MPhil London, PhD ANU, FASSA, FAAH, CIHA) is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at The Australian National University. After completing his PhD at the ANU he was appointed a lecturer in anthropology before moving to Oxford in 1996. He spent ten years at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, as curator and University Lecturer in Ethnology. In 1996 he moved to University College London as Professor of Anthropology and the following year returned to the ANU, eventually becoming Director of the Research School of Humanities and the Arts. He took up his present position in 2013.

As an anthropologist Professor Morphy has a fairly broad engagement with the discipline, with a strong focus on religion, material culture and visual anthropology. He has written three monographs: Journey to the Crocodile’s Nest (Aboriginal Studies Press, 1984), Ancestral Connections (Chicago, 1991) and most recently Becoming Art: Exploring Cross-Cultural Categories (Berg, 2007). He has also authored a general survey, Aboriginal Art (Phaidon, 1998). He was awarded the 2013 Huxley Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

In addition, he has co-edited two of the main source books in the respective fields of his expertise: The Anthropology of Art: A Reader (with Morgan Perkins, Blackwells, 2006) and Rethinking Visual Anthropology (with Marcus Banks, Yale University Press, 1997). He has won a number of distinguished awards and fellowships, including the Malinowski Memorial Lecturer (1993), a Montgomery Fellowship (Dartmouth College 2012) and the Huxley Medal (2013). He has been President of the Council for Museum Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association.

Professor Morphy has a strong commitment to applied anthropology. His involvement in e-research and in the development of museum exhibitions reflects his determination to make humanities research as accessible as possible to wider publics and to close the distance between the research process and research outcomes.

Djon Mundine 


Mundine OAM, member of the Bandjalung people of northern New South Wales, is a curator, writer, artist and activist. He has held prominent curatorial positions in many national and international institutions, including the National Museum of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and Queensland Art Gallery. Between 1979 and 1995 he was the Art Advisor at Milingimbi and Ramingining in the Northern Territory. He was the concept artist of the Aboriginal Memorial at the National Gallery of Australia in 1988.

In 1993 he received the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the promotion and development of Aboriginal arts, crafts and culture. In 2005-2006 he was Research Professor at The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) in Osaka, Japan. He is currently an independent curator of contemporary Indigenous art.

Abe Muriata



I want to talk about my weaving. I’m a traditional weaver and I want to talk about making jawun, also known as the bi-cornual basket. It is a practice largely discontinued in other areas of the wet tropics and yet there are a lot of people with a great interest in the form. People in galleries and museums know that it is a rare piece of art. They know and we know that there is a need for it to be continued. For both men and women to make them.


Abe Muriata is a Girramay man of the Cardwell Range area in northern Queensland. A self-taught weaver of the lawyer cane jawun, Abe explores different techniques to create finely crafted bi-cornual baskets unique to the rainforest people. Abe taught himself the weaving technique from watching his grandmother make them when he was a child and by studying old examples in museums and galleries. He is inspired by the precision of craftsmanship of jawun created by his ancestors.

Abe also creates different manifestations of jawun by using other materials like ceramics and recycled and non-traditional materials. His work is included in a number of major institutions in Australia and overseas.

Margo Neale


God enters the Dreaming: a case study at the Vatican

The treasures of the Vatican are associated with the works of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo Da Vinci or ancient Roman tablets, but not Australian Aboriginal material culture. Who would have thought that amongst the treasures in the vaults of the Vatican lie century-old Aboriginal belongings. How did they get there? Who knew they were they? What has been done about them?

Museums in the 21st century can no longer ignore Indigenous peoples and their rights, or the cultural responsibilities to their belongings. So how did the Vatican readdress its responsibilities to the source communities, their histories, their values, and their voices, in relation to this collection?

Enter the National Museum of Australia (NMA). On 15th October 2010 an exhibition of 100 objects from the Vatican’s ethnological collection, went on permanent display in the Vatican museums to coincide with the Canonisation of Mary McKillop. As the senior Indigenous curator at the NMA, I was invited to curate this exhibition from their holdings, none of which had been on public display for over 40 years.

In the paper, I explore the engagements that occurred between the Vatican, the NMA and the source communities. Drawing on field encounters, I focus on the strengths and challenges faced in the case of the Vatican’s engagement with communities.


Adjunct Professor Margo Neale, is the Senior Indigenous Curator and Indigenous Advisor to the Director of the National Museum of Australia. She was previously the NMA’s inaugural Director of Indigenous programs and the Gallery of First Australians. Formerly she worked at the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales - where she co-established the Yiribana Gallery, and the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) - where she established the Indigenous Art Department.

In the 1970s Margo worked with the Aboriginal homelands movement in Arnhem Land and in the 1980s she was a practising artist and teacher of art and history on Christmas Island. In Canberra in the 1990s she taught in schools and colleges, and was the inaugural curator of the National Indigenous Heritage Art Awards. She is an internationally renowned curator of major exhibitions, including pivotal roles in the Asia-Pacific Triennials of international contemporary art at QAG in the 1990s, the international touring retrospective of the contemporary work of Emily Kame Kngwarreye in Japan (and Australia), the national touring retrospective of Lin Onus. More recently she curated a permanent exhibition from the Vatican’s century-old Aboriginal artefacts.

She is the author, co-author or editor of 12 books, including the Oxford Companion to Aboriginal art and culture, and a co-recipient of 12 Australia Research Council Grants. Margo has won a number of awards and been appointed by successive Australian governments to Prime Ministerial advisory panels across art and history, including as a participant in PM Rudd’s 2020 Summit of Ideas and as a judge for the Prime Minister’s Australian History Prize. She is an Aboriginal Australian from the Kulin nation with Wiradjuri clan connections.

Anne May Olli


Repatriation from the Norwegian museums to the Sámi people in Norway – the Sámi people’s rights to their own past

The project ‘Bååstede’ (‘return’ in the southern Sámi language) was initiated by the Norwegian Folk Museum (NFM) in 2007 and was announced at a conference in Enare (Recalling Ancestral Voices). In 2011, the Sámi Parliament and NFM established a workgroup consisting of representatives from the Sámi Parliament, NFM and The Network of Sámi Museums. The work group mandate was to look at strategies for the repatriation of half of the Sámi collection stored at NFM. The workgroup delivered their report in march 2012 and this led to a repatriation agreement signed in June 2012 by representatives of the Sámi Parliament, Norwegian Folk Museum and Norwegian Heritage Museum.

The agreement says that 2000 Sámi objects are to be returned to the six Sámi museums in areas that the objects represent. However, it also recommends that the collections not be moved to lesser conservation conditions and that the contents of pesticides in the objects be reduced before repatriation. The costs of this are estimated at about 37 million Norwegian kroners (about 4 million Euro or 4.6 million US dollars). This has challenged the repatriation because this is money the Sámi Parliament doesn’t have, and the Norwegian government has not, so far, wanted to contribute.

The intension of repatriation from majority to minority is often to revitalise cultural elements. However, pesticide challenges make it difficult for the Sámi society to be in direct contact with objects. Pesticides like DDT have shown to be related to Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, and therefore present a health and safety risk to staff and visitors at the museums.


Anne May Olli, a Norwegian Sami woman, has been the Director of the largest Sámi museum in Norway, RiddoDuottarMuseat (RDM) since spring 2015. The RDM consists of five local museums in the middle of Finnmark in Northern Norway. The administration is located in Karasjok, at the museum Sámiid Vuorká-Dávvirat. RDM is the museum that will receive the largest amount of the repatriated objects from the Bååstede project.

Olli was awarded a Master in Conservation from the University of Oslo in 2013 and has worked as a conservator at one of the local museums in RDM for many years, with an emphasis on documentation of traditional Sámi technology and its use in conservation. She represented the Network of Sámi Museums in the work group and has a master’s degree on pesticides in the Sami collections.

Tiriki Onus


Singing up the cloak: a musical score for storytelling

The possum-skin cloak is one of the most iconic objects held in museum collections, despite their scarcity. They have been the focus of a renaissance of art and identity among Aboriginal people of south-eastern Australia. For more than 2000 generations, the possum-skin cloak has been one of the most significant pieces of culture and identity – wearable culture that educated, protected, sustained and validated. It was given to you at birth and, as you grew, it also grew. More panels would be added as required, all the time incising your clan designs and stories into the skin of the cloak with a scribe. When you died, you were wrapped in your cloak and buried.

As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we live in two worlds – continually stepping across the cultural abyss between one world and the other. We are expected to be experts on our language, culture and traditions, always apologising for what has been taken from us, and forever viewing ourselves through the eyes of the dominant culture. I constantly find myself asking the questions: ’What are the multiple narratives that inform my identity as a 21st-century Yorta Yorta man; What technologies and oral histories remain that I can draw upon in a quest for a greater understanding of my own identity as an artist; How can those technologies, narratives and cultural markers be employed for the betterment of the wider community?

Using song and storytelling, I depict my own personal journey – from searching for a place where I fit in, to making a connection with my country and people, my belonging, through the making and movement of a possum-skin cloak.

The story of this cloak is not the story of one person. Rather, it is the story of a community of artists and cultural custodians coming together, sharing pieces of a puzzle to create something that belongs to everyone.


Tiriki Onus is a Yorta Yorta bass baritone and performance artist. He grew up in Melbourne and spent ten years as a successful visual artist, art conservator and exhibition curator before he began singing professionally.

His first operatic role was in the premiere of Deborah Cheetham’s Pecan Summer in October 2010, which he reprised in 2011, and 2012 for the Melbourne and Perth runs. He received the Dame Nellie Melba Opera Trust’s Harold Blair Opera Scholarship in 2012 and 2013.

Tiriki is currently Inaugural Hutchinson Indigenous Research Fellow and Lecturer Arts and Culture, Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development, University of Melbourne, educating others in the field of indigenous identity, arts, culture and history.

June Oscar


June Oscar AO, an Indigenous leader from the far north of Western Australia, sheds light on the truth that is waiting to be told when we re-encounter objects from the past, released from museum collections and archives. Her presentation awakens their living history through her telling of the story of her people, the Bunuba. Issuing forth from the stories of these objects is an emergent dialogue – a dialogue disrupting the disturbing quietness that pervades the foundation stories of the Australian nation-state.

Sandy O’Sullivan


Confronting and Assuaging Fear: Collections, Representations and Engagements of First Nations’ Peoples

Imagine you’re doing a multi-year Australian Research Council-funded project on the representation of First Peoples in national museum spaces, and you’ve already visited 150 (of the eventual 462) museums over three countries. Suddenly you find your work grinding to a halt because of a major sticking point for your participants.

In this presentation, there will be a discussion of some of the key moments that led to this and the solutions that finally restarted the conversations and the research.

The project, now in final write-up, began as a way to identify effective representations and engagements of First Nations’ communities and peoples in the leading museum spaces of their own countries. The research asked a single question of museum staff: what works?

This presentation will focus on some of the stories and ideas that have emerged from this question, and will highlight the difficulties that some museums have in dealing with their own ideas around identity.


Dr Sandy O’Sullivan is an Aboriginal (Wiradjuri) academic, and Director of the Centre for Collaborative First Nations’ Research at Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education in the Northern Territory.

She has a PhD in Fine Art and Performance, and for the last 23 years has taught across performance,  design and First Nations’ perspectives. Sandy is an enduring Australian Learning and Teaching Fellow, is completing an internationally-focused Australian Research Council program examining the representation and engagement of First Peoples across 450 museums, and is committed to supporting positive engagements for Communities, museums and keeping places.

Jude Philp


Not just Britannia: International diplomacy in 19th century Torres Strait.

Encounters is an international exhibition, not because of the works that have come from overseas institutions, but rather because Encounters gives us 27 world views from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians through the historic material culture of communities at a time when they were working to maintain and create order in their rapidly changing circumstances.

The exhibition is selective, necessarily so as it principally comes from the selections made by British government officials, sailors, traders and interested visitors over two centuries. Yet the British were not alone in exploring and exploiting the wealth of the land and seas that came to be Australia. Following the Kulkalgal leader, Maino, I explore the relationships he had with the Papuan Kiwai leader Maino and the Tongan Joseph John. How can museums include the descendants of the extended and adopted families of Indigenous Australians whose heritage differently conceived today?


Dr Jude Philp has been the senior curator at Sydney University’s Macleay Museum for the past 10 years. Prior to this, she worked in the anthropology divisions at the Australian Museum and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge (where she also undertook her PhD). Her research centres on 19th-century collections and cultural interactions of people from the Torres Strait and south-east coastal Papua New Guinea.

Marshal Sahlins


Marshal Sahlins is the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. He is one of the pioneers of the modern history of anthropology. From early work on ‘stone age economics’ to a brilliant theory on who killed Captain Cook to a recent, revolutionary approach to kinship, he has repeatedly reset the agenda for the discipline. A particular focus of his research has been the intersection of culture and history, especially as those play out in early–modern Pacific societies.

Gaye Sculthorpe


Unpacking the ‘Dja Dja Wurrung barks’ debate: a view from London

The Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation exhibition at the British Museum in 2015 and the Encounters exhibition at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra have drawn much media commentary, often centred on where objects in museum collections belong.

Much attention has focused on the ‘Dja Dja Wurrung’ bark objects, which were the subject of legal action in 2004. This paper will consider some elements of this debate in the context of the recent exhibitions, its limitations and the national and international context of moving forward beyond rhetoric to practical outcomes.


Dr Gaye Sculthorpe is Head of the Oceania section of the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the British Museum. In that capacity, she curated the BP exhibition Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation at the British Museum in 2015 and was co-author of the accompanying book.

Gaye moved to London in 2013 to take up that position after working for nine years as a member of the National Native Title Tribunal, based in Melbourne. Prior to that, she worked in local, state and national museums in Australia. For many years, she was Head of the Indigenous Cultures Department at Museum Victoria and from 2006 to 2013 was a trustee of that Museum.

Born in Hobart, Gaye studied history and anthropology at the Australian National University, museum studies at the University of Sydney, and has a PhD from La Trobe University. She is a descendant of Tasmanian Aboriginal woman, Fanny Cochrane Smith.

Tiffany Shellam


“The most callous object of all”, Phillip Parker King and the Worrora at Hanover Bay, 1821

In August 1821 at Hanover Bay an encounter occurred between the crew of Phillip Parker King’s hydrographic expedition and several Worrora people. This was a violent encounter in which King’s surgeon was speared and at least one Worrora man was shot. Aboriginal weapons and tools were taken by the explorers as retaliation for the spearing. The textual representations of this encounter by King and his crew, the subsequent history of the Worrora material culture that was seized during it, and their circulation through ethnographic and antiquarian networks in England, are important reminders that the collection of ethnographic material and knowledge about Aboriginal lifestyles accrued during human encounters were key goals of Royal Navy expeditions in the early 19th century.

Some crew members, however, such as John Septimus Roe, had personal motivations for the theft of Aboriginal material. Roe was a keen amateur collector whose Australian material collected while part of King’s hydrographic survey team was sent to England to be displayed in ‘Roevial’ – his family’s antiquarian museum in Newbury, Berkshire. Roe and his father, Rev James Roe, were connected to ethnographic and antiquarian networks in England.

This paper attempts to trace the biography and trajectory of these Worrora objects and explore the context in which they were seized, the motivations for their theft and the centrality of King’s Port Jackson Aboriginal intermediary, Bundle, to the encounter.


Dr Tiffany Shellam lectures in history at Deakin University. She publishes on the history of encounters between Aboriginal people and Europeans in the contexts of exploration, early settlement and mission stations in the 19th century. Her current research is on Nyungar epistolary activism in the 19th century, and she is writing a book on the coastal encounters during Phillip Parker King’s hydrographic survey. Her book Shaking Hands on the Fringe: Negotiating the Aboriginal world at King George’s Sound was published by UWAP in 2009.

Paora Tapsell


Lest we Forget … New encounters – or same old story?

Metropolitan museums – both in the colonies as well as at the centre of the universe – hold an ideological space of being authentic interpreters of the past. The curator is responsible for guiding the exhibition narrative, choosing her/his actors from a cast of thousands, all the while ensuring the institution’s underpinning agendas remain intact.

In recent years, these actors have again been called taonga and co-production has emerged as a guiding ethic under the more globalised rubric of Indigenous Art. But every once in a while a tear in the archival curtain reveals another past – one that might reflect community memories of actual pathways of acquisition. More often than not this evidence surfaces out of obscured archives buried deep in museums, containing curatorial communications to which even today’s curators remain ignorant and/or under-resourced to access. Deliberate or accident?

This presentation will tease out past actions and possible solutions. Repatriation of Ancestral Human Remains is the tip of the iceberg. They were not collected in isolation and the ethic of reconnecting such material to their kin communities is every bit as important as returning home the dead. Museum archives is the new space of encounter from which both parties can benefit. Lest we forget, doing nothing is not an option museums can afford if they want to remain vital and be validated as authentic knowledge-providers by source communities.

This research is supported under the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects funding scheme entitled: ‘Return, Reconcile, Renew: understanding the history, effects and opportunities of repatriation and building an evidence base for the future’.


Professor Paora Tapsell is Chair of Māori Studies and a former Dean of Te Tumu, the School of Maori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies, at the University of Otago.

Paul’s Māori ancestry originates out of the Bay of Plenty and Waikato regions. His research interests include Māori youth identity in 21st century New Zealand, role of cultural heritage and museums in nation states, taonga trajectories in and beyond tribal contexts. Paora continues to build on his past museum experiences at Rotorua Museum (curator), Pitt Rivers Museum (doctoral research), post-doctoral studies (CCR/ANU) and Auckland War Memorial Museum (Director Māori).

He is a former Co-Chair of Museums Aotearoa and sat on Te Māori Manaaki Taonga Trust. Today he serves on the Otago Museum Trust Board, Pukaki Trust, Sir Hugh Kawharu Foundation, Te Potiki National Trust and as an Eisenhower Fellow (NZ).

Paora’s most notable exhibitions are The New Dawn (1991), The Legacy of Houmaitawhiti(1993–97), Ko Tawa – Maori Ancestors of New Zealand (2005–08) and Te Ara – Māori pathways of leadership (2010–14).

His publications are not only academic in nature, but also include very accessible books on taonga and leadership (Pukaki, 2000, Ko Tawa, 2006, The Art of Taonga, 2011, Te Ara, 2013) and most recently a digital web service designed to assist urban-raised Māori youth reconnect to their ancestral communities (

Gabrielle Tayac


Hearing these words: Engaging publics, nation-states, and Native sovereignties at the National Museum of the American Indian

The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian opened in 2004, shattering a sound barrier of centuries-long enforced silencing of Native voices in telling our own histories and experiences on a widely visible public scale. As visionary founding director, Rick West, said on that inaugural day, ‘We thus are the original part of the cultural heritage of every person hearing these words today, whether you are Native or non-Native’. His statement continues to encapsulate the opportunities and tensions embedded in NMAI’s project to promote indigenous peoples’ living cultures, ancient histories, and future directions not only for Native sovereign bodies but for a majority non-indigenous national public.

This paper explores evolving curatorial processes in three exhibits utilised by the presenter – Our Lives, IndiVisble, and Native New York – at the National Museum of the American Indian in various stages of production to illuminate the ways in which communities, publics, and institutions balance representation with interpretation. Research methodologies, design, and material culture are considered. The purpose is to open dialogue with symposium presenters not only to give examples of NMAI’s work but to engage international colleagues in assessing best practices in indigenised museology in globalising nation-states.


Dr Gabrielle Tayac, a member of the Piscataway Indian Nation, earned her PhD and MA in sociology from Harvard University, and her BS in social work and American Indian studies from Cornell University. Her scholarly research focuses on American Indian identities, religious traditions, and social movements, maintaining a regional specialisation in the Chesapeake Bay.

Gabrielle has served in staff and advisory capacities for numerous organisations including Amnesty International, Survival International, National Geographic, the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs, the Accokeek Foundation, the National Park Service, and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities.

Most recently she was appointed by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to the Historic St. Mary’s Commission. Gabrielle is a member of the American Academy of Religion and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. She also works as a community advocate alongside indigenous peoples from Latin America, especially with US-based members of the National Association of Indigenous Salvadorans (ANIS).

On 12 October 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landfall, and as a co-founder of the hemispheric League of Indigenous Sovereign Nations, she was one of the organisers of the largest civil actions north of Mexico calling for indigenous rights at the United Nations in New York City.

Since 1999, Gabrielle has been on staff at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Her curatorial credits include the inaugural show, Our Lives: Contemporary Native American Life and Identity, Return to a Native Place: Algonquian Peoples of the Chesapeake, and IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas. She is currently working on new permanent exhibitions for NMAI’s New York and Washington, DC venues.

Most importantly, Gabrielle shares her life with her two children, Jansikwe and Sebastian Medina-Tayac, in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Russell Taylor


Russell Taylor AM has been the Principal (Chief Executive Officer) at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, since March 2009.

Although born and raised in Millers Point, an inner city Sydney waterfront suburb that today forms part of the tourist precinct area known as ‘The Rocks’, Russell proudly identifies as a Kamilaroi man with family connection to traditional country in the New England area of New South Wales (Walhallow) as well as to La Perouse and Redfern in Sydney.

In addition to being a member of the National Museum of Australia’s Indigenous Reference Group, Russell  is also a member of the Council of the University of Technology, Sydney, a member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Advisory Council and a member of Charles Darwin University’s Vice Chancellor’s Indigenous Advisory Committee.

Russell is also a board member of the Lowitja Institute (the National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Health Research) and a board member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation. He is a former Chief Executive Officer of the New South Wales Aboriginal Housing Office, a former member of the University of Canberra Council, and a founding and former Director of the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre.

Russell’s career includes more than 25 years in various public sector Senior Executive Service positions including terms with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, the Aboriginal Development Commission and previously as Principal at AIATSIS (1997–2003). Russell’s vocational experience also includes a 20-year career in the banking and finance sector.

Russell’s academic qualifications include graduate diploma qualifications in public sector management (University of Technology, Sydney) and anthropology (Australian National University), and a Master of Business Administration (University of Technology, Sydney).

Mathew Trinca


Dr Mathew Trinca became Director of the National Museum of Australia from 17 February 2014, having acted in the position since 2 July 2013.

Since 2006, Mathew was the Museum’s Assistant Director, Collections, Content and Exhibitions, with responsibility for collections acquisition, management and preservation, redevelopment of permanent galleries, temporary and travelling exhibitions, and curatorial and research activities.

Mathew joined the National Museum as a senior curator in 2003, after working as a history curator and manager of the MuseumLink program at the Western Australian Museum in Perth. He previously worked as a consultant for public history projects including conservation plans, exhibition developments and short documentary films. Mathew has published papers on the history of Australian travel to London, on museums and their meaning, and has co-edited two books – Country: Visions of Land and People in Western Australia and Under Suspicion: Citizenship and Internment in Australia during World War II. He is also presently the Secretary of Museums Australia’s National Council Executive.

Mathew has a PhD in history from the University of Sydney and is also a graduate of the University of Western Australia. He has research interests in the social and cultural relationships between Britain and Australia, and in museological theory and practice.

Mr Wanambi


Mr Wanambi’s father Mithili Wanambi was a painter, but he died before Mr Wanambi was able to learn from him to any great degree. Mr Wanambi began painting in 1997 as part of a major artistic program called the Saltwater Project. His arm of the Marrakulu clan (of the Yolŋu people in Arnhem Land) is responsible for saltwater imagery, which had not been painted intensively since his father’s death in 1981. Mr Wanambi drew on the knowledge of caretakers, or djunggayi (men who teach younger men their lore and how to paint designs), principally the late Yanggarriny Wunungmurra (1932–2003). This entitled Mr Wanambi to paint saltwater designs, some of which were outside even his father’s public painting repertoire.

Mr Wanambi was educated at Dhupuma College and Nhulunbuy High School and worked as a NSW Department of Sport and Recreation officer, a probation and parole officer, and at the local mine. He has five children and is now a grandfather. His wife Warraynga is also an artist.

Mr Wanambi’s first bark won the 1998 NATSIAA Best Bark award. Mr Wanambi has gone on to establish a high-profile career. In the 2003 NATSIAA awards, a sculpted larrakitj by Mr Wanambi was Highly Commended in the 3D category. Since then he has been included in many prestigious collections.

He had his first solo show at Raft Artspace in Darwin in 2004 followed by solo shows at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne in 2005 and 2008. Mr Wanambi has been heavily involved in many major communal projects of this decade including a major commission by the Sydney Opera House, the opening of the National Museum of Australia, the Wukidi ceremony in the Darwin Supreme Court and the films: Lonely Boy Richard, The Pilot’s Funeral and Dhakiyarr versus the King.

Mr Wanambi is actively involved in community recreation and health projects. In 2008, he was commissioned to provide a design for installation on a seven-storey glass façade in the Darwin Waterfront Development. He became a director of Buku-Larrnggay’s media centre, The Mulka Project, in 2007. In this role, he facilitates media projects such as the Nhama DVD, and mentors young Yolŋu in accessing training and employment in the media centre.

W Richard West Jr


Native America and museums: Transformational encounters in the 21st century

This presentation explores transformational encounters between Native America and museums in the United States during the past generation through the lens of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Autry Museum of the American West. Federal repatriation legislation enacted in 1989 and 1990 dramatically changed museum best practices in institutions holding Native cultural patrimony. In addition, these congressional Acts significantly if indirectly influenced the entire future course of museological discourse on the social and cultural role of 21st century museums in the United States.

These impacts included:

  • specific categories of Native objects, including human remains, funerary materials, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony, were returned to culturally affiliated contemporary Native communities upon request and the satisfaction of statutorily established evidentiary standards;
  • beyond their literal impact, the 1989 and 1990 Acts effected a transformation of the historical power relationship between Native communities in the United States and museums;
  • an effect of this transformation was the renegotiation of museum practices concerning representation and interpretation, including the meaning and application of terms and concepts such as ‘authority’ and ‘expertise’, that made museums far more inclusive of the first-person voices of Native peoples and communities in exhibitions and programming; and
  • all of these developments buttressed and enhanced the concept of the 21st- century museum as more than only a ‘cultural destination’ but, instead, also as an important gathering place and civic space, linked to the larger external community, that served as a forum of multiple voices for conversation, discussion, debate, and even sometimes controversy.


“I am a citizen of the Cheyenne Arapaho Nation of Oklahoma and a member of the Society of Southern Cheyenne Peace Chiefs.”

Richard West Jr is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Autry National Center of the American West. He is responsible for all operations at the Autry from collections development and financial sustainability to institutional growth and visitor experience. He oversees a team of 160 professionals as well as 300 volunteers, all dedicated to the Autry’s core mission.

West has devoted his professional life and much of his personal life to working in the national and international museum communities, and with American Indians on cultural, educational, legal, and governmental issues.

West is also the Founding Director and Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, where he served as Director from 1990 to 2007. During 2012, he was Interim Director of The Textile Museum in Washington, DC, a specialty arts institution with internationally renowned textiles collections primarily from Latin America, the Middle East, Asia Minor, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

West practiced law at the Indian-owned Albuquerque, New Mexico, law firm of Gover, Stetson, Williams & West, PC (1988–1990). He also was an associate attorney and then partner in the Washington, DC office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson (1973–1988). He served as general counsel and special counsel to numerous American Indian tribes, communities, and organisations. In that capacity, he represented clients before federal, state and tribal courts, various executive departments of the federal government, and the Congress.

West’s current board affiliations and memberships include: Kaiser Family Foundation (2007–present); International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (2007–present); Center for Native American Youth (2011–present); National Support Committee of the Native American Rights Fund (1990–present); and American Indian Resources Institute (1973–present). He previously served on the boards of trustees of the Ford Foundation and Stanford University.

From 1998 to 2000, he served as chair of the board for the American Association of Museums, the nation’s only national membership organisation representing all types of museums and museum professionals. From 1992 to 1995 and 1997 to 1998, he served as member-at-large of the association’s board of directors and in 1995-1996 as vice chair of the board of directors. West also was a member-at-large (2004–2007) and Vice President (2007–2010) of the International Council of Museums.

West, who grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, was born in San Bernardino, California, the son of American Indian master artist, the late Walter Richard West Sr, and Maribelle McCrea West. He earned a bachelor’s degree (major in American history) magna cum laude in 1965 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Redlands in California. He also received a master’s degree in American history from Harvard University in 1968. West graduated from the Stanford University School of Law with a doctorate of jurisprudence degree in 1971, where he also was the recipient of the Hilmer Oehlmann Jr Prize for excellence in legal writing and served as an editor and note editor of the Stanford Law Review.

He is married to the former Mary Beth Braden West, who retired from the US Department of State in 2005. They have two adult children, Amy and Ben.

Shayne T Williams


Museums as sites for Indigenous cultural education

The most compelling legacy of Lieutenant James Cook’s landing in 1770 within our nation’s ethos appears to be the dichotomous relationship that continues between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. This dichotomy is entrenched in the difference between non-Indigenous Australia’s celebration of Cook’s landing as symbolic of the birth of modern Australia and Indigenous Australia’s mourning of Cook’s landing as symbolic of dispossession.

This dichotomy plays out in Australia’s contemporary cultural life through museums, most notably through the tensions that underpin debate surrounding the ownership and custodianship of Indigenous cultural items, artefacts and artworks.

As an Indigenous Australian I have become increasingly concerned about the nationally disempowering dichotomy that stands as the legacy of Cook. Whilst we can’t escape the reality of our past, we can seek to minimise the effect of our past by ensuring that our past doesn’t continue to overwhelm our present and future. In the museum context there is tremendous potential for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia to reconcile this dichotomous relationship by reframing museums as productive sites for Indigenous cultural education.

It is well known that Indigenous Australia has suffered significant cultural diminishment through colonisation and protectionism. This cultural diminishment can be positively turned around through cultural education programmes founded on the core aim of re-voicing Indigenous languages and the re-practise of Indigenous cultures. As custodians of tangible Indigenous cultural items, artefacts and artworks, museums can take a leading role in the advancement of Indigenous cultural education for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike.

In this presentation I will demonstrate how cultural education is the key to reconfiguring the dichotomous relationship that continues between Indigenous peoples and museums. We need to critically re-examine the legacy of Cook in order to rewrite this legacy so that it messages to the citizens of Australia that Australia’s Indigenous heritage is the foundation of Australia’s cultural heritage.


Dr Shayne T Williams is from from the Aboriginal community of La Perouse, located on the northern side of Botany Bay in Sydney. His parents were Thomas Henry Williams OBE and Iris Williams (née Callaghan). He is Dharawal through his paternal and maternal grandmothers. He is also Dhungutti through his maternal grandfather and Gomilaroi through his paternal grandfather. He is also connected to the peoples of Victoria through his paternal great-grandfather.

From 1991 to 2011 Shayne worked within the tertiary sector, specialising in Indigenous studies, Indigenous education and Indigenous research. He is currently an Aboriginal Language and Culture Consultant with the NSW AECG Inc. In this role he is actively engaged in promoting the advancement of Aboriginal language and culture nests within New South Wales, and advancing localised Aboriginal cultural education through curriculum development and professional development of teachers.

Throughout his career he has consciously chosen to refer to himself as an Indigenous academic in order to affirm his sense of spiritual kinship with all Indigenous peoples, both nationally and internationally. He is wholly committed to the core principles of Indigenous empowerment and self-determination. These principles sit at the core of everything he does as a consultant and academic.


Conference partners included the Australian National University and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Australian National University, Department of State, USA and New Zealand High Commission.

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