A Culture of Exploitation:
“Reconciliation” and the Institutions of Canadian Art

About the Report

The relationship between Canadian cultural institutions (art galleries, museums, funding agencies, collections, etc.) and Indigenous peoples has always been a contentious one. The theft of Indigenous bodies and objects by these institutions is an ongoing feature of colonialism in Canada and even as Indigenous art broke into mainstream Canadian consciousness, the relationship was beset by tokenism and inequality. It was only during a period of activism that culminated in 2017, did these institutions begin to express a commitment to reconciliation. And initially, the results of the “reconciliation year” were positive with increased representation and support. However, since then and in the midst of a pandemic, those commitments have begun to evaporate.

This Special Report by Lindsay Nixon, considers themes in the historic relationship between Indigenous people in the Institutions of Canadian art and culture to contextual a series of interviews conducted with cultural workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and which reveal a renewed exploitation of their labour and their works. Finally, the Report offers 15 Standards of Achievement that can serve as a guide for institutions and governments to begin reversing this exploitation and renewing the relationship.

How can the tokenization, marginalization, exploitation, and latent conflict and trauma within these institutions be addressed?

What guidance exists for governments that funds and regulates those institutions (or fail to fund and regulate them)?

What are the tools that communities of makers can deploy to hold each other, and their powerful partners accountable?

Standards of Achievement for the Relationship Between Indigenous Peoples & Cultural Institutions in Canada: A 15 point Guide

These Standards of Achievement represent an intervention into an ongoing conversation, but one that has yet to be fully public. It draws on the voices of generations of Indigenous voices – but those who are currently grappling with this pandemic specifically – and the work of the handful of inquiries that have investigated these challenges.

It is the hope that we continue this conversation and that it results in meaningful and long-term change for our communities.


Moving into the future of art industries, institutions will need to keep an eye on ensuring that executive hires aren’t just another facet of representation and identity politics, and support for Indigenous sovereignty and liberation will be meaningfully integrated throughout Canada’s arts and culture institutions.

Feature Artwork by Kaya Joan:
waiting, transforming to rest (2020) and shaping change urgently (2020)

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