'We have a duty to bear witness': Victoria protest signs to be enshrined at Royal B.C. Museum
VICTORIA -- Protesters were not the only ones taking to the streets in downtown Victoria Friday morning.
A number of archivists with the Royal British Columbia Museum were approaching Indigenous demonstrators and other supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline and asking them to donate their handmade signs.
“We have lots of material from 1886 when the museum began,” said David Alexander, the museum's head of archives. “But we need to collect artifacts from contemporary time too.”
In what the museum calls a "Rapid Response Collection" process, archivists asked demonstrators to offer their signs to be saved in the catacombs of artifacts at the Victoria museum.
“The museum and the archives hold the memories of this province,” Alexander told CTV Vancouver Island.
According to the museum, one Indigenous land defender has offered their sign so far, and more are expected to be handed over after demonstrations end. Archivists are also taking photos of signs and demonstrators to catalogue this moment in time.
“I think right now they are recognizing this movement and this moment in time,” said Indigenous youth leader Saul Brown.
The Wet’suwet’en youth says he’s pleased by the museum's interest in the mobilization against the Coastal Gaslink project, but is wary of simply handing over items, given the history Indigenous Canadians have had with museums.
“There needs to be a trade," Brown said. "Give us some are artifacts that were taken illegally and unethically and then we can talk about handing signs over.”
“We aren’t getting involved, but we have a duty to bear witness,” said Joanne Orr, who works in the museum’s collections department.
The museum makes it clear that it has no political stance on the demonstrations that have spanned the country this week, but does have a mandate to collect historically significant items.
“Some people say museums are about things that are dead, they are dusty spaces," Orr said. "Well, they are not. We are about living culture.”
The Royal BC Museum says the items and photos could be tucked away forever, but could also one day play a key role in an exhibit about social movements.