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New Encounters: Communities, Collections and Museums

New Encounters: Communities, collections and museums conference


The international New Encounters conference at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra in March 2016 considered critical issues and ideas about Indigenous communities, historical collections and museums. It was held in conjunction with the Encounters exhibition.

Keynote presentations

Dr Mathew Trinca, Director, National Museum of Australia

Museum director Mat Trinca 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, CEO, Autry Museum of the American West; Founding Director, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, USA

Cheyenne Arapaho citizen and museum director Richard West Jr 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, CEO, Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre, Western Australia

Bunuba woman and Indigenous leader June Oscar 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, Curator of the Pacific Northwest, Museum of Anthropology and Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Jennifer Kramer 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, Fine Arts, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

Métis artist and academic David Garneau’s ‘From artefact necropolis to living rooms: Indigenous and at home in non-colonial museums’, on the importance of First Nation peoples working in museums to influence how they are understood and represented. Transcript

Jim Enote, Director, A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Centre, New Mexico, USA

Zuni tribal member and museum director Jim Enote on his life working in cultural heritage in terms of seasons, and the current flowering of ideas and practices planted many years ago. Transcript


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?

View the full program

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


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