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Guidance for Practice on Colonial Statues and Memorials Sites

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Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) 24hr Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Confirmation that unmarked graves exist on the grounds of former residential schools has re-traumatized survivors and initiated a public outcry. 


The RWG would like to express solidarity with our communities and with all Indigenous people in this difficult time.


We would also like to provide some guidance to conservators and other cultural heritage professionals who may be asked to intervene on objects and in situations that are related to recent events. 


As conservators, we have the power to preserve voices: it is our responsibility to take Indigenous perspectives into account and to be responsible for the results of our actions and inactions.  


We encourage conservators to consult the CAC-CAPC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice for support, in particular CAC-CAPC Ethical Principles:1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9.  We also encourage you to review your own practice in relation to Indigenous values, views and perspectives by consulting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), especially articles 11, 12 and 31, and Appendix E, Ethical Guidelines for Research, of the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP).

Beyond this, we would also like to provide specific guidance related to, in particular:


(1) colonial statues and 

(2) memorial sites.

Colonial Statues

Interventions have been and will continue to be carried out on public colonial statues with paint, messages, objects, symbols, and tools. For many, these materials and actions are now part of the physical, conceptual, and historical integrity of these objects. 


If conservation treatment is considered, consultation with communities must be undertaken first. The removal of interventions is considered by many to reinforce the colonial system; from this perspective, erasure not only damages the integrity of the object but contributes to the silencing of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis voices.

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Memorial Sites

Thousands of community-driven memorials have manifested in public and private spaces to mourn the children who died in Canada’s Residential School System. These include hundreds of shoes symbolizing children as well as living interventions like the planting of white pine saplings (e.g. 1492 Land Back Lane). 


We are also seeing mistakes being made, such as the swift removal of memorial objects (e.g B.C Legislature ). 

Finally, we’d like to remind you that conservators working in and outside of institutions are also individuals with the ability to contribute to the process of unsettling* colonial practices through advocacy and education. You have the right to protest. 


If you would like to consult the RWG about any of these issues, we are here to help.  Please contact us through our contact page  with any questions. Please indicate if you’d like your question to be kept confidential. 


*Attempt to assert a decolonizing approach to museum practices through the rejection of ongoing/socially upheld colonial mechanisms (source).

Published July 12th, 2021
Written by RWG Members
Illustrations of interventions on the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald in Montreal by Charlotte Parent

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