On being an First Nations worker in GLAM

I would like to start by saying that I love working in GLAM. It given me so many experiences, friends and opportunities. That being said, there some issues that I have experienced being a First Nations GLAM professional.

  1. You’re one of few. The State Library of NSW recently done a survey of public libraries and found employment of Aboriginal staff has decreased in the last ten years. This isn’t uncommon. In America, 87% of archivists are white. And out of the 13% POC archivists, First Nations people make up a small minority
  2. You’re asked to do everything related to First Nations culture. This includes a lot that isn’t related to your job description. For example, whenever, there’s an ATSI enquiry, you’re asked to answer it even though other staff have the capable skills to also do so. Or instead, of getting a First Nations curator, they ask for your assistance with First Nations content in exhibitions. While this presents opportunities, it also is more work and something rarely asked of non Indigenous GLAM professionals
  3. You’re afraid to let go of control. Alternatively, to my previous point, sometimes you want to control everything First Nations related out of fear if you relinquish control to non Indigenous GLAM professionals the same issues that have alwasy been around would persist in GLAM institutions. There are many very well intentioned people don’t understand how different aspects of GLAM work can negatively impact First Nations people.
  4. You’re the communty’s face/ access point to the organisation. Just as the the things you do can reflect poorly on your organisation, the things your organisation does can reflect poorly on you, especially in eyes of community. This is because many community members see you as the face of the organisation. Therefore you can get blamed for the actions of institution, even though you weren’t involved in the decision making process. This part of the privilege and burden of First Nations identified role, which is something organisations need to recognise.
  5. Sometimes colleagues think you’re crazy. To be honest, this has not happened to me, but other First Nations GLAM professionals have told me stories about them being in meetings and people looking at them like they’re crazy, not understanding why they’re fighting for something so much or why they are making “a mountain out of a mole hill” Again, this is because many people, even those who are well intentioned, are ignorant about the impact GLAM work can negatively have on First Nations communities as well as the issues First Nations.

While there are many great aspects about working in GLAM as a Wiradjuri man, exposing people to different parts of culture and diverse stories, that does not mean there are not many, many parts of working in GLAM that could be improved for First Nations workers.

by Nathan Sentance

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