Too many white experts

“Surely the time has arrived and we have matured sufficiently to have
an Indigenous voice present a history of Indigenous art in this country.
Hetti Perkins’s Art + Soul was a wonderful and popular introduction to the
topic, but the time is ripe for Indigenous people to take control of their own
discourse on their own cultural traditions.” – (Sasha Grishin, 2016, 343)

The above quote encapsulates a frustration I have with cultural institutions and academia, where the discourse around First Nations culture, history and people is led by non-Indigenous people. This was exemplified recently when I saw discussion at a symposium about decolonising cultural institutions where only one of the four speakers on the topic was First Nations. Meaning, three quarters of the discussion around decolonising was filled with the thoughts and opinions of colonisers, essentially colonising the space about decolonising

Yet, a major aspect of decolonisation is strengthening the concept that First Nations people and ideas should be represented by First Nations people themselves (Smith, 1999, 151). In addition to this, decolonisation is also about dismantling the idea of white as the default (Moreton-Robinson, 2004, 75). Something that is hard to do when non-White or First Nations is the token.
Don’t get me wrong, I want non-Indigenous people to be part of the discussion. I want them invested to help make systematic change on all levels. But the key word is “part”

If the decolonising discourses are led by non-Indigenous people, this could only continue the academic thinking that frames white scholars as knowers of First Nations people and culture and frames First Nations people themselves and their culture as the known (Watson, 2002, 13). This type of thinking does not recognise First Nations agency and self determination.

As consequence, white led policies and outreach to address First Nations issues are developed and white saviour-hood and paternalistic thinking are permitted. All of which are done not recognising that First Nations people have our own solutions. However, they can’t be heard because settler colonial voices drown them out.

This is the same type of thinking that allows a non-Indigenous researcher to go to Arnhem Land, interview knowledge holders about the watercrafts , check some documents for verification and context, write a PHD and become an “expert” on Arnhem Land watercrafts. But how does the community benefit? The researcher gets a doctorate, but the knowledge holders don’t even get considered experts.

This is the same type of thinking that supports an archaeologist to get an 125k grant to verify what we, First Nations people already knew. This is the same type of thinking that allows non-Indigenous anthropologists to be the faculty head of an Indigenous studies department at a university.

This is the same type of thinking that permits a non-Indigenous curator confidently deciding what First Nations material goes in an exhibition. Essentially choosing how to represent us and our culture.

This is the same thinking that is epitomised when Keith Windshuttle writes about who the first people on this land were without any evidence (Westaway, 2016), when John Stone (2017) writes about how the break down in Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations is all because of how flawed First Nations people are or when Caleb Bond (2017) can decide what is important for rural First Nations communities.

While this thinking is prevalent, work needs to be done to ensure that First Nations voices are not just part of the conversation around our culture, our history or our people, but are leading it.

By Nathan Sentance.

Bond, Caleb. “Caleb Bond: Moving Triple J Hottest 100 from ‘Invasion Day’ won’t make an iota of difference to the plight of Aboriginal people” The Advertiser , 16 Sep 2017.

Grishin, Sasha. “Rattling Spears: A History of Indigenous Australian Art” Aboriginal History Journal 40 , 2016 341-343.

Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. “whiteness epistemology and Indigenous representation” Whitening Race: Essays in social and cultural criticism. Ed. Aileen Moreton-Robinson. Aboriginal Studies Press, 2004.

Pearson, Caden (CadenPearson). “Seems a foreign notion to many that Indigenous people have our own solutions #QandA”. 07 Aug 2017, 12:19 UTC. Tweet

Stone, John. “Aboriginal Policy: 50 Years of Failure” The Quadrant, 11 Nov 2017,

Watson, Irene. Looking at you looking at me — : an aboriginal history of the south-east. Volume 1. I. Watson Nairne, 2002

Westaway, Michael and Joe Dortch. “Who we should recognise as First Australians in the constitution” The Conversation, 13 Mar 2015,

Can the digital provide balance?

My blog post regarding the need for libraries, archives and museums to collect First Nations social media output to add a balance of perspectives to their collections. Written for the GLAM Blog Club theme of Balance

While social media is criticised for a myriad of valid reasons, one aspect of social media that can be praised, is its ability to democratise discourse and amplify First Nations voices so that we can take part in and be heard in national conversations (Pearson, 2017). This is important because many discussions on Indigenous affairs in the mainstream media are oversaturated with colonial-settler opinions, leaving very little space for First Nations perspectives (Welcome to Country, 2017). Of course this exclusion is not a new phenomenon. For example, the preponderance of material relating to First Nations people, culture and history in library and archive collections were recorded by colonial-settlers from a Eurocentric viewpoint (Thorpe and Byrne, 2014). Consequently, this has not only led to a lack of First Nations perspectives in collections and history, it has also led to misinterpretations and distortions of  First Nations culture and history which have informed stereotypes and disinformation regarding First Nations people (Sentance, 2017).

In addition to presenting a settler-colonial distortion of First Nations history, in many cases mainstream media has failed to report it. For instance, if were to rely on the major media outlets for information, you would probably not be aware of the amazing achievement of  Clinton Pryor or be aware  of the recent tragedy of Tane Chatfield.

Because of this, I think it is essential for libraries, archives and museums to collect First Nations social media. Doing so will assist them in balancing out the Eurocentric bias in their collections.

Additionally, it will help them collect contemporary First Nations history as it is happening. Thus, preserving these stories for future generations to access.

Particularly in relation to social and political movements as a lot of people use social media to disseminate information on political activities like protests or gatherings (Duarte, 2017). For example, the picture below was shared extensively on social media for a national First Nations gathering. Although, pamphlets and flyers still exist, progressively they will  only exist in digital form.


Furthermore, Pearson (2017) notes that not only do public discussions lack First Nation opinions, they severely lack diversity of First Nations opinions creating a monolithic perception of First Nations people which is an issue that is being rectified through social media. For instance, constitutional recognition is framed by many mainstream media outlets as what First Nations communities want and only the government was in the way, however it is more complex than that with many First Nations people having differing opinions on the matter. This asks the question, if only a small number of First Nations voices are being collected, would those in the future researching the Indigenous affairs in 2010s find that complexity in library and archive collections (Sentancea, 2017)?

All that being said, there are a number of challenges that libraries, archives and museums would need to consider to achieve this?

  • Is it ethical? 

While libraries, archives and museums could easily create partnerships with Facebook, Youtube, etc to make it legal to collect social media, but legal does not mean ethical. For example,  the current legal systems fail to fully recognise and apply Indigenous cultural and intellectual property rights and as result there has been numerous cases of cultural theft and cultural appropriation. In regards to libraries and archives, because of copyright laws, there have been stories of documentation of sacred ceremonies  becoming public domain, thus becoming openly available or of First Nations communities not being able to access cultural heritage material in collections relating to them and their families because they do not own copyright (Christen, 2015).

This is because much of the First Nations cultural heritage in library, archive and museum collections was recorded or collected without First Nations consent (Christen, 2015). Therefore, this type of collecting needs to stop. But, if a museum was to collect a tweet without the consent of the First Nations author of the tweet, would that mean they are just continuing colonial collecting practices?

  • Who decides what gets collected?

Of course, you can not collect all of social media, there is too much as Library of Congress has found out (McGill, 2016). That means someone needs to decide what social media gets collected based on what they think will be of value to people in the future. However, if this decision making is done by a non-Indigenous person then what they consider valuable will be influenced by their settler-colonial mindset potentially leading to important material being devalued (White, 2017) This would also continue library, archive and museum collections being filled only with what colonisers deems important and interesting.

  • The digital divide 

The digital divide does disproportionately affect remote and rural First Nations communities (Barr, 2014).  With access to the internet being hampered by infrastructural issues (Barr, 2014).

At the same time, the divide is narrowing with help of increased infrastructure as well as ease of access to mobile phones. Additionally, First Nations people are, demographically, one of the highest users of Facebook (Callinan, 2014)

  • The technical aspect

This is where I shrug my shoulders. I do not understand the complexity of capturing and collecting social media. Especially now, that social media is not just text based, but has images and videos (McGill, 2016). And after it is captured, how is it preserved when technology is changing so fast? These is a discussion for another time with different people, though I would love to take part, but I would not be able to contribute much.

In conclusion, the paradigm is shifting and national media, arts and academia is including more First Nations people in the discourse around Indigenous affairs, not just as subjects but as experts.  That being said, to get a more complete picture of contemporary First Nations life for future generations, libraries and archives and museums must collect First Nations voices on social media, but like all initiatives working with First Nations people and culture, libraries, archives and museums need to collaborate First Nations people in the process. Remember, nothing about us, without us.


By Nathan Sentance.

Barr, Philippa Nicole “The digital divide is narrowing but more needs to be done” The Conversation. 6 October 2014. Web

Callinan, Tara “Remote Indigenous Australians rely on Facebook to stay in touch” NITV News 26 August 2014. Web

Christen, Kimberly  “Tribal Archives, Traditional Knowledge, and Local Contexts: Why the “s” Matters,” Journal of Western Archives 6. 1(2015). Web

Duarte, Marisa. “Connected Activism: Indigenous Uses of Social Media for Shaping Political Change.” Australasian Journal of Information Systems [Online], 21 (2017): n. pag. Web.

McGill, Andrew “Can Twitter Fit Inside the Library of Congress?” The Atlantic 6 August 2016. Web

Pearson, Luke “Social media amplifies Indigenous voices, even if they don’t always agree” ABC News 26 May 2017. Web

Sentance, Nathan. The Paternalistic Nature of Collecting. Archival Decolonist, 12 June 2017. Web

Sentance, Nathan. Diverse voices in diversity. Archival Decolonist, 14 June 2017. Web

Thorpe, Kirsten and Alex Byrne. Indigenous voices in the State Library of NSW. State Library of NSW, 18-19 November 2014. Web

Welcome to Country. Sunrise and Today stage Aboriginal debates without any Aboriginals. Welcome to Country, 27 August 2017. Web

White, Kelvin L. “Race and culture”. Research in the Archival Multiverse. Ed. Anne J Gilliland, Sue McKemmish and Andrew J Lau. Clayton, Victoria: Monash University Publishing, 2017. 352-281. Print.