On Jan. 27, the University of Maine hosted guest speaker Starr Kelly for a lecture on the decolonization of museum practices surrounding indigenous peoples in the United States.
Kelly works as the curator of education at the Abbe Museum located in Bar Harbor. The Abbe Museum is devoted to displays and teachings about the Wabanaki tribes of Maine. Kelly is also a member of the Algonquin First Nation of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in Quebec, but grew up in Portland, Maine. Kelly left Portland to pursue her undergraduate degree at Colgate University in Native American studies, then went on to finish her master’s in secondary education with a focus in social studies at Colgate. With her work at the Abbe Museum, Kelly devotes herself to representing indigenous peoples in a respectful way through decolonization practices in museum coordination.
Kelly’s lecture focused on the decolonization surrounding museum practices as well as the implications these practices have for academic institutions. Kelly gave the audience an in-depth understanding of the term decolonization by quoting Susan A. Miller.
Miller is a respected archaeologist and seminal scholar, who stated that, “decolonization is a process designed to shed and recover from the ill effects of colonization.” Colonization has affected the lives of many indigenous groups in the New England region, and throughout the beginning of the 20th century, many indigenous practices were lost due to cultural diffusion and destruction at the hands of colonization.
Kelly spoke about ways in which indigenous peoples are commonly depicted in museum settings and how offensive it is to their communities. Museums often portray indigenous communities and their ancestors in a way that imposes European values onto their practices, which is offensive to the indigenous community and contributes to the spreading of inaccurate information. One example of the malpractice Kelly mentioned has to do with the restoration and recovery of physical Native American ancestor bodies. Kelly hopes to see a change in the way that native remains are handled in the future.
Additionally, Kelly discussed her advocacy for indigenous artists to have control over their work in museum settings. Artists are required to wear gloves while handling their work and Kelly does not believe in this practice. Kelly hopes to see museums adopt neutral policies, which allow for indigenous artists to handle their own artwork.
“Ideally, all of the voices should be at the table,” Kelly noted when discussing how to better serve indigenous craftsmen and women.
Alongside her work at the Abbe Museum, Kelly has a history of working in high schools to ensure others in her community are educated on the history and significance of indigenous peoples in the New England region. She engages with students and staff by offering a different perspective, which includes having indigenous voices in a classroom setting. She believes in changing the curriculum regarding how students learn about the beginnings of European empires, with the hopes of integrating more indigenous knowledge.
Kelly will return to speak again at UMaine at the “Deconstructing Settler Colonialism: Reflections From An Educator” event on Feb. 27. at 4 p.m. in the Bodwell Lounge. For more information on the Abbe Museum, visit their webpage at https://www.abbemuseum.org/.