What Guides Me

My blog post about the cultural protocols that guide what projects and programs I work on in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector.

I decided a few months ago to create a cultural selection criteria to assist me in ensuring that the projects or programs I work on match my cultural values. The idea being if a potential project or program I am meant to work on doesn’t meet most of the criteria below, I either would not do it or I would modify it so it does.

Even though I am sharing this criteria, it is mainly for me and is not intended to guide or instruct anyone else on how to do what they do.  The criteria below is heavily based on the 25 Projects chapter of Decolonizing Methodologies

My protocols for any project or program:

  • That the projects I work on privilege and centre First Nations voices and allow First Nations people to represent themselves and control how they and their manifestations of culture are represented.
  • That the projects I work on are initiated by First Nations communities expressing a need or desire.
  • That the projects I work on facilitate First Nations people to have greater control over the ways in which First Nations culture, history and people are discussed and handled.
  • That the projects I work on respect First Nations people’s ownership of their culture, stories, science, and art and ensures that First Nations people can protect their cultural and intellectual property from misuse and exploitation.
  • That the projects I work on strengthen or revitalise First Nations cultural practices and frameworks.
  • That the projects I work on support the expressions of First Nations sovereignty.
  • That the projects I work on centre appropriate First Nations languages when possible.
  • That the projects I work on are collaborative and supportive in nature.

As can seen, the list is not extensive. I plan for this criteria to be fluid and I plan to add, delete and modify criteria as I more acquire more knowledge and change as a person. Nevertheless, I think this criteria will guide me and help me assert my cultural values.

By Nathan Sentance

Decolonising the agenda, one program at a time

My blog post about how public programs can disrupt colonial narratives in GLAM. Note: this is based on my short experience in programming which I am very new to.  

The Australian Museum (AM) has one of the largest and most significant collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural material in the world and as such is a powerful instrument for cultural engagement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Aboriginal people alike. Unfortunately, as is the case in many Galleries, Libraries , Archives and Museums (GLAM)  until now much of the pre-existing Aboriginal cultural and historic narrative was told by non-Aboriginal people with a Euro-centric bias.

As a result, this narrative contains information gaps, misconceptions and inaccuracies, which sometimes lead to a simplistic views of Aboriginal people and their culture, views which have created and continued stereotypes.

This dynamic has started to shift as the AM as well as many Galleries, Libraries , Archives and Museums (GLAM) begin to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to take control over their own narrative and culture, so the First Nations Staff in GLAM can present the cultural and historic narrative of First Nations people in the way that the community wants.

One effective method for the AM and GLAM more broadly to facilitate and amplify Aboriginal perspectives is through public programs, which can get visitors to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in nuanced ways that challenge stereotypes and misconceptions.  Programs can provide First Nations cultural practitioners a space to share culture and for visitors to interact with culture  that moves beyond the static which is not how most of culture is meant to be presented.

Through public programs participants can leave with a better understanding of Aboriginal knowledge, science and history. These programs also facilitate Aboriginal voices and can provide the catalyst for important discussions.

This is also important, because while there are more and more First Nations staff in more senior positions in GLAM, there are many ways GLAM institutions still reinforce colonisation and the oppression that comes with it, in ways First Nations staff have no control over.

For example, a GLAM institution could do an exhibition that portrays First Nations people poorly or an exhibition or display that celebrates a violent invader, maybe through programs First Nations voices can challenge these portrayals and the systems that allowed them to happen in ways that not only get visitors to critique GLAM but the all coloniser output broadly. Even something as simple as tours, digital and analogue, can be used to help dispute and question Museum and Galleries colonial agendas.

All that being said, there are issues that can arise when hosting programs, I’ll list some below:

  • Resources: First Nations cultural practitioners take years spending time with Elders to build up their cultural knowledge and as such should be paid accordingly for their expertise. No other experts in any other field are asked for their knowledge for free or for cheap besides First Nations cultural knowledge holders and practitioners. This needs to stop. First Nations cultural knowledge holders need to be paid justly as the knowledge and culture they share is a valuable resource. For this to happen however, GLAM institutions need to provide enough resources and proper funding
  • Diversity of audience: This is something I try and be careful of. It is important to have Non-Indigenous participants and attendees in First Nations programs as in many cases, there the people whose worldview needs to be challenged and confronted. Nevertheless, if we only host programs aimed at these audiences,  does the community benefit? Are your programs too assimilated or does aiming for a white audience compromise  the content in anyway?
  • Ensuring mutual benefits: First Nations GLAM staff and the First Nations voices they facilitate and host have cultural values and community they are accountable to and GLAM institutions have stakeholders they are accountable to and in best case scenarios, First Nations programs would meet both institutional and community needs and that is what they should aim to do. However, if that cannot be achieved, GLAM institutions need to afford First Nations people, internal and external, the cultural safety to ensure that they are not put in positions were they forced to undertake things that go against their cultural values.

In conclusion, today, the GLAM sector has more First Nations people working within it than ever before. With the right support, First Nations staff in GLAM can deliver public programs that demonstrate the complexity and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture. This can help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take control of the narrative that surrounds them.

By Nathan Sentance

How I ended here?: a tale of good luck and great mentors

My brief blog post for this months Aus GLAM Blog Club theme of how I ended up here

How did a high school dropout from public housing become the first member of his immediate family to get a Uni degree, get fully entrenched in GLAM, and get occasionally asked to speak at things? Lucky opportunities and great mentors and because of this, I’m going to write a thank you to the people and orgs that helped me get here.

Great mentors

  • Laura McBride: Laura is a proud Wailwan woman and one of the smartest people I know. Laura’s passion for Aboriginal agency in GLAM is an inspiration to me and every conversation I have with her, I leave smarter. She is a great supporter and advocate of me offering me great advice. She is also paving the way for the future generation of Aboriginal people in the museum space by battling the way she does. She might not admit it, but she’s changing the game. While many people have different agendas, Laura’s number one agenda is to do right by our community, the Aboriginal community. I’m lucky to work with her and call her my friend
  • Kirsten Thorpe: Kirsten is a proud Worimi woman. No one has guided me more than Kirsten. She has introduced me to archival concepts that now form the basis of my thinking. She pushed me to get my ideas out of my brain and transmit them to other people. She has motivated me to think outside the box. And like Laura, the battles Kirsten has fought, is fighting and will fight, make it easier for the next generation of Aboriginal librarians and archivists to do right by our communities, make it easier for Aboriginal people to access their cultural heritage and make it easier for Aboriginal people to control their own narrative 
  • My dad, Roger Sentance: like me, my dad is a proud Wiradjuri man who inspired my love of learning. Like me he is also a high school dropout, but it didn’t stop him from being a great thinker. My dad was the one who got involved in community (even though I didn’t want to, I’m super shy). He’s the one who taught me to read and he’s the one I turned to, to proof read my assignments. He’s loving, he’s caring and he’s the bomb

Great opportunities

  • Elsa Dixon cadetship: if it wasn’t for this cadetship, I may of never entered GLAM, it gave funding to the SLNSW so they could hire two Aboriginal cadets in entry level positions. Because of this opportunity, I got taste of libraries and loved it.
  • Australian Society of Archivists Loris Williams memorial scholarship: this scholarship helped my studies so much. It also gave me a boost in my confidence and made me feel like I was going in the right direction. Thanks ASA
  • The library technician course at Ultimo TAFE: this course was a great stepping stone to my uni degree. It eased my nerves about tertiary education. Whenever I hear about TAFE defunding I get sad because of it wasn’t for my TAFE course, I wouldn’t be doing any of the cool things I’m doing.
  • Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council & Suzanne Naden: by letting assist her with the Darkinjung records project, she and Darkinjung gave me the experience I needed to be a more appealing applicant to SLNSW and Darkinjung CEO at the time, Bob Morgan gave me a great recommendation that he really didn’t need to give. Thanks Susan, Bob and Darkinjung.

How to read Aboriginal archives

My blog post about including interpretation of original material and records relating to Aboriginal people, culture and history into information literacy education

Because accessing and utilising information is a necessity to personal empowerment and social inclusion and because of the current mass proliferation of information and the abundance of information available, there has been a drive from libraries, especially academic libraries and information services to assist their users become information literate to better find, evaluate and use information. This is usually done by information services hosting and providing training and workshops with the aim increasing participants’ information literacy skills.

In Australia, these types of programs are usually based on Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework which presents six standards which underpin information literacy acquisition, understanding and application by an individual. In the tertiary educational context, these programs are usually aimed at new students to show them how identify their information needs, for example what their assessment question is asking them, how to develop a search strategy for those needs, what resources they can use to search for the information they need, what resources are considered reputable, how to note take and cite these sources. Also, there are programs are aimed at students of a certain discipline to show them what databases and journals related to their discipline are available to them and how to fully utilise them for their studies.

I suggest that information literacy workshops aimed at history, Indigenous studies, and journalism students as well as many other students, incorporate a discussion on historical context around the original material and records in GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) institutions that relate to Aboriginal people, culture and history as part of their information literacy education as these sources are considered primary and reputable. This discussion will aim to help students critically engage with this material by assisting them understand that most of Indigenous material in GLAM collections was recorded by European colonisers and as such has a Eurocentric bias and lacks an Indigenous perspective which can mean these sources may intentionally or unintentionally misinterpret, omit and/or distort aspects of  Aboriginal people, culture or history. This discussion will also put material into its historical context, describing concepts like scientific racism, so students can for example, understand that material created right up to the 1970s were based in a time where major anthropological thought considered First Nations cultures and people as savage and primitive.

Additionally, this discussion will engage students to question the intention of the material. For example, government records are considered to be by many as objective, but they were created with intention. These intentions include justifying mass displacement and more governmental control over First Nations people. Furthermore, secondary sources also need to be questioned as most these interpretations have been done by non Indigenous people which has subsequently continued the lack of Indigenous perspectives and voices in history.

In addition to this, this discussion will ask students to critically examine GLAM institutions as many people, including students see GLAM institutions as sources of authority and places of neutral facts. However,  these institutions have historically privileged certain voices (chapter 11) and have been exclusionary of many other voices, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. This has proliferated and continued a one-sided history which has aided the colonial agenda and has contributed to a social hierarchy and the dehumanisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Because these institutions and people that work within them decide what to collect and preserve based what they believe would be valuable to future generations and  that their concept of value is heavily influenced by the dominant oppressive culture, then they cannot be places of complete neutrality. This is something that many students who would potentially use these institutions do not consider.

This is not to have students not use the original material and records in GLAM institutions that relates to Aboriginal people, culture and history, but to critically engage with this material, which includes questioning it. Like, who created it, why was it made, why was it collected and why was it preserved? And to examine any invisibilities or lack of voices in the dialogue, particularly first hand accounts from First Nations people.

I believe by doing this we are helping students become more information literate particularly in regards to standard 3 The information literate person critically evaluates information and standard 6 The information literate person uses information with understanding and acknowledges cultural, ethical, economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information of the Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework.

By Nathan Sentance