An Exercise in Futility – Reflecting on the Breakdown of Indigenous Identity in Canada Hall

by Anna Hoque

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The Canadian Museum of History is a powerful disseminator of national narratives and the building of Canadian identity. Within the museum, Canada Hall specifically portrays Canadian identity that elevates the status of settler narratives and downplays or excludes Indigenous representations allowing for a space that prioritizes the modernity of settlers against the stagnancy of Indigenous peoples. The deliberate cut of Indigenous representation and the hierarchy of powers established through the physical manifestation of the museum sends the audience a very strong message: the lack portrayal of Indigenous peoples in Canada Hall and the messages of profit through development of land pushes for the emergence of an image that Canada is a nation that is built and maintained by a successful settler society that is separate from the intersections with its Indigenous communities. Three major themes are explored in this paper: (1) Using the rationale behind Massey Commission and the establishment of the Museums Act of 1990 as well as the 2013 Amendments to the Museums Act to help to establish the legitimacy of the museum as a cultural institution and how the backing of the State has helped to impart knowledge in ways that benefit the hegemonic institutionalized powers politically and economically (2) Presenting Harold Innis’ (1972) time/space biased media theory to establish how museums are a physical embodiment of nation-building and denying the equal representation of Indigenous knowledge-making processes serve to only re-iterate the lack of Indigenous identity within the Canadian national narrative (3) Emphasizing how now is an opportune time to re-evaluate what dominant messages and ideas expressed through exhibits in Canada Hall about the stagnancy of Indigenous identities and transform the relations between settler and Indigenous representations in order to tease out the links that exist between Indigenous peoples, settler societies, and neo-liberal values of development. In conclusion, the visual disconnect of Indigenous peoples entrenches the hierarchical agenda that the Canadian government has pursued in neo-liberal policy-making and separates the realities of Indigenous communities from settler groups, nothing happens in isolation so to deliberately separate the two, offers a fragmented presentation of the Canadian narrative and does not properly address the need to have a Canadian identity that is more representative of the culmination of the intersections of realities. These interruptions in the dialogue of Canadian national identity end up contributing to the breakdown of a democratic public sphere and the cultivation of a space where citizens can become active agents within the nation-state. The land cannot only be portrayed as a site for exploitation and development; the missing narratives are doing disservice in how Canada is appearing to the masses.


Canadian Museum of History + CMH, Indigenous, identity, culture, Canada


Anna Shah Hoque  is a 3rd-year Undergraduate student pursuing an Honours B.A. in Canadian Studies and Communication Studies. She is predominantly interested in the construction of identity, specifically, Indigenous identity, as portrayed through dominant mass media and cultural institutions in Canada.