Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Dreaming of an Eighth Fire Museum Practice: Indigenous voices in the Canadian Museum of History and Te Papa

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posted on 2023-03-09, 22:47 authored by Lindsay Bilodeau

Museums and Indigenous peoples have long had a complicated relationship. Though this difficult relationship is well documented, the experiences of individual Indigenous museum practitioners have not been closely examined. Instead, the literature tends to focus on decolonising museums, collections management and repatriation, and museum practice more generally. Studies do not specifically engage with the experiences of individual Indigenous museum practitioners, nor do they delve too deeply into the question of what happens to their voices in museums. Through an exploration of the ways in which Indigenous museum practitioners’ voices appear in the Canadian Museum of History (CMH) and Te Papa, this thesis addresses that gap in the literature. I ask about the connections between Indigenous voices in the museum and the experiences of contemporary Indigenous museum practitioners. Through a framework based on the Anishinaabe Seven Fires Prophecy, this research goes on to revise and expand the field of museum studies by asking what a different future might look like for Indigenous museum practitioners.

This research was conducted using qualitative methods. Semi-structured interviews explored questions about the experiences of Indigenous museum practitioners and focused on the ways their voices appear in each museum, as well as their dreams and aspirations for the future of museums and museum practice. Interviews were supplemented with observational research in exhibition spaces. This research is theoretically grounded in critical Indigenous methodologies including Kaupapa Māori, and research as relations and reconciliation. I also employed autoethnography and ethnography to reflect my non-objective role in this research, and action research in order to reflect the research’s forward-looking, change-making nature.

I found that Indigenous peoples see their voices appearing in front of house spaces via language, as well as objects and their arrangement. Their voices also influence the operation of these museums through their unique perspectives as Indigenous people. Though they are making differences in museums, Indigenous museum practitioners still have to fight to be heard in many instances. The most poignant finding is that their dreams have positive change-making potential. Based on their dreams, I make recommendations for changes to current professional practice in the sector and contribute academically to the museum studies and Indigenous studies research landscapes through the use of the Seven Fires Prophecy as a framework.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Museum and Heritage Studies; Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

210899 Te tuku ihotanga me te ahurea Māori kāore anō kia whakarōpūhia i wāhi kē (Māori heritage and culture not elsewhere classified); 219999 Other Indigenous not elsewhere classified; 130499 Heritage not elsewhere classified

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

3 Applied research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis




McCarthy, Conal; Smith, Jo