The Dawson City Museum and Indigenous Peoples (Part Two)

Written by: Madison Francoeur

The paper is presented in two parts. Within part one, Robin outlined the Dawson City Museum’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples as presented in the data. Part two is a response written by me (a research assistant, Madison Francoeur).


I would like to address that fact that I am an outsider to this museum and to this community. I have not visited Dawson City, nor its museum. I am an arts and cultural management student studying from Treaty 6 Territory in Edmonton, Alberta. I am of Metis/settler descent, so while I am familiar with Indigenous knowledge, I am by no means an expert and nor do I wish to be perceived as such. Therefore, this paper is written from the perspective of someone looking in from the outside. 


Part One provided a comprehensive overview of the historic and current relationship between the Museum and Indigenous peoples, more specifically the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. When assessing the recent work of the Dawson City Museum, it becomes evident that much of the work that has been done is focused on building an active partnership between the Museum and the Indigenous community and that there is a clear focus on showcasing the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in as an active and thriving part of the community. 

Many of these actions align with Moved to Action: Activating UNDRIP in Canadian Museums, the Canadian Museums Association’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #67. It is from this document, along with additional research, that I have based my understanding of what is generally accepted as best practices for museums working with Indigenous peoples and their knowledge. Within this paper, I consider the information provided in Part One about the Museum’s relationship with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in over time in relation to these standards.

What has the Museum done well?

In beginning to assess the relationship between the Museum and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, I first look towards what the Museum has done well, of which there are many successful practices that are currently in place. In particular, I will be addressing the key performance indicators and standards that are laid out in Moved to Action.

A Consideration of Key Performance Indicators

The report lists a selection of key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure a museum’s capacity to implement best practices in their organization. In the report, the KPIs are mostly assessed by what readily available on the organization’s website. Based on what I have observed, the Museum’s website is not a complete representation of the work that they have done and continue to do in regards to Indigenous collections and relationships. Because of this, I have chosen to consider the entirety of the Museum’s efforts, rather than the specifics outlined in the descriptions of the KPIs. With this in mind, amongst the KPIs, there are several where the Museum is currently exhibiting proficiency. 

Land Acknowledgement

Perhaps the simplest KPI is to include a land acknowledgement on the museum’s website. DMC’s website includes the following: 

Welcome to the Dawson City Museum

Located in Dawson, Yukon – the heart of the Klondike – on the traditional territory of Tr’ondëk Hwëchin.

This is by no means the most comprehensive land acknowledgement, but it fulfills the requirement as set out by the report. The report states that the research team did not review if land acknowledgements when done at museum events or in museum documents. 

Something of note is that best practices for land acknowledgements vary across territories and I am comparing this land acknowledgement to practices I have seen in what is colonially called Edmonton, Alberta specifically. I am not familiar with what is considered best practices in Yukon.

Indigenous-Specific Curriculum or Programming

When it comes to Indigenous-specific programming, today the DCM has integrated Indigenous knowledge throughout their spaces with exhibitions dedicated to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in integrated into their permanent exhibit. Efforts to better include content about Indigenous Peoples go back to the 1970s, as discussed in Part One, with the updated collection management practices and commissioning works. Since the 1970s, the volume of Indigenous content in the Museum space has increased (e.g., a pre Gold Rush exhibition in the early 2000s), as well as the level of consultation and collaboration in the development of exhibitions. In particular, the renewal project period of the Museum saw steps toward the inclusion of Indigenous-specific content. This includes choices like incorporating Indigenous stories throughout the exhibitions and the integration of the Han language. 

National Indigenous People’s Day Celebrations

According to the Museum’s Facebook page, in 2022 the Museum celebrated National Indigenous People’s Day at Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre in a celebration that featured “kinship, live music, and presentations.” While not required by the KPI, I will also note that the Museum also celebrated National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre as well. Both of these events were put on by the TH. The level to which the Museum was involved is unclear, but it appears that staff were present at both events and the Museum altered their hours to accommodate for the events. These instances demonstrate DCM’s commitment to working alongside Indigenous community partners. 

Indigenous Advisory Committee

Moved to Action includes the presence of a museum-led Indigenous Advisory Committee as a KPI. While the DMC does not have its own Indigenous Advisory Committee, according to Part One, they consulted with the TH Heritage Department in the development of new exhibitions. Further, in place of an Indigenous Advisory Committee related to collections and acquisitions, they advise donors to donate Indigenous content to the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre instead. However, it is unclear whether representatives of the TH Heritage Department or Cultural Center have any direct impact when it comes to museum policy and other areas of museum operation, which could be an area for growth. 

A Consideration of Standards

Moved to Action also includes a section titled “Standards for Museums,” a comprehensive list of 30 standard practices for “implementing UNDRIP and supporting Indigenous self-determination in museums” (Canadian Museum Association, 2022). Unlike the specific KPIs, the standards listed in the document do not include specific criteria to mean them. This leaves a bit more room for how these standards are can be interpreted in the context of DCM. Like the KPIs, DMC is demonstrating many of these standards already, or is working towards fulfilling them. Below are a selection of standards that the DCM appears to be demonstrating well, or is clearly working towards.

15) Engagement and partnership with Indigenous Nations must centre and support the needs and support the needs and interests of Indigenous communities as identified by communities, while at the same time take the onus off Indigenous partners and communities.

While this standard has been demonstrated at DCM in some way since the 1970s, relationships were often based on the needs the Museum identified (e.g., the need for better representation) and were with individual people. The relationship has seemingly improved and increased since then.  Specifically, there has been a relationship between the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Heritage Department and DCM since the early years of the TH becoming a self-governing nation. Interestingly, the Cultural Center was established and developed while the Museum was having some financial difficulties and had to lay off staff. Staff with museum expertise were then able to aid in the establishment of the cultural center (Interviews). Once the Museum once again had an executive director, more formal efforts were made to develop partnerships between institutions. As stated in a Director’s report from May 2003:

As requested by the Board, I contacted [TH Government official] and scheduled a meeting with him.  [All museum staff] attended.  We explained to [him] that the Museum is interested in pursuing partnerships with the T.H.  He was very receptive to that.  We also had an opportunity to meet with the other people working in the Heritage Department. We discussed the possibility of working together on Aboriginal Day.  There also seems to be a lot of interest in working together to identify photographs.  I think that this was a good first step and that all involved felt positive about working together.

The initial meeting led to a collaboration. Under a subsequent directorship from about 2007 to 2014, efforts at fostering a relationship seems to be more limited. However, with a new director in 2015, the Museum began once again making a concerted effort as evident in interviews and archival data. For example, as outlined in Part one, in 2017 the director of the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre spoke to at the DCM’s annual general meeting to congratulate the Museum staff on their work on building a better partnership with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the Center.

Over time, the relationship between the Museum and the TH has shifted from inviting local Indigenous Peoples to participate after plans are already established (as seen in the 1970s and 1990s during major changes) to inviting the First Nation to the process, which was done with the most recent renovations. These changes have been gradual, but over time has resulted in lots of significant consultation and collaboration.

I do wonder how much this relationship have taken the onus off of Indigenous partners, as required by the standard. There is the consideration that the role of consulting has been moved from individuals to the self-governing First Nation, although that does mean that the role is still placed on an Indigenous community. It would be interesting to hear the TH perspective on what taking on the onus means to them and what level of involvement is appropriate without overburdening the community.

21) Exhibits, programming, and educational material must properly cite Indigenous knowledge and recognize community knowledge. For exhibits, this must be at the same level as curatorial, programming, and interpretive staff.

This particular standard appears to be being met in a couple different ways at DCM as demonstrated in Part one. Most specifically, in the 1970s, hides that were donated to the Museum were not just achieved on their own, but instead they were accompanied by the knowledge and the process of creation that went along with those pieces. As the interviewee quoted in Part One remarked, this was “pretty forward-thinking” for the time period. This standard is also reflected through the inclusion of Han language and incorporation of Han stories throughout the exhibitions after the recent renewal project. As well, the new exhibitions focus more on topical storytelling, rather than linear, as a reflection of both Indigenous values and the Museum’s consultation with the TH Heritage Department. 

22) Ensure the proper use of terminology including names for Nations, communities, clans, families, and place names, throughout museum spaces, as well as archives and collections, as discussed in the Repatriation and Collections section. Use appropriate orthography or syllabics. 

Part One references the use of the Han language throughout the exhibition. This is a wonderful example of the above standard being demonstrated. I would be curious to see how the Han language is being represented in the Museum’s archive and collections.

30) Outside of the museum, museums should proactively support Indigenous-led cultural heritage organizations, cultural centres, and museums.

As previously mentioned, DCM has a relationship with the TH Heritage Department and the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre. There is regular consultation and communication with the TH, as well there also appears to be a strong sense of community and connection.

Where could the Museum Improve?

Several of the standards included in the list are specific to repatriation practices. For the purposes of this article, I will not be addressing repatriation actions made by the Museum. Rather than discuss repatriation, for this paper it is more significant to discuss the practices that DCM has adopted for collections management in regards to their Indigenous artifacts and exhibits. 

Something of note is that DCM appears to be actively building relationships with the local Indigenous community and is taking actions that reflect their views. However, these actions and relationships often do no hit the specific bureaucratic language or requirements that are set out by Moved to Action. This is important to recognize. I do not wish to belittle the work that the Museum has done, as they are doing important and impactful work. Also, the statistics included in the report when it comes to KPIs in museums across Canada indicate that none of the KPIs are being met by a majority of institutions. There is work to be done across the country, and considering the work that DMC has done and continues to do demonstrate that the Museum has the potential to set an example for best practices when working with Indigenous peoples in a museum setting. 

There are many ways that the Museum may choose to adapt their practices when it comes to best practices working with Indigenous peoples. Not every solution will be relevant to the goals and capacity of the Museum. Based on my current knowledge of DCM and their policies, I have compiled a selection of recommendations that could be taken by DCM to further improve their ongoing practices in regards to Indigenous peoples and their knowledge and history and move the Museum towards exemplary status on the national stage.

 Free Admission

A KPI that DCM is not currently meeting (or may be meeting in practice but is not advertising or promoting) is sponsored free admission for Indigenous peoples. This KPI specifically speaks to issues around access to collections and exhibitions that are culturally significant. The task force report put out by the CMA prior to Moved to ActionTurning the Page: Foraging New Partnerships Between Museums and First Peoples, repeated mentions the importance of access to museums by Indigenous peoples. Offering free admission to Indigenous peoples ensures that there is the recommended access while allowing the museum to care for, maintain, and preserve their collections (p.20).

Providing free admission also serves to acknowledge the complex relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Museum. It encourages recognition, respect, and reconciliation. This a practice that has been adopted by several institutions, like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Royal Alberta Museum.

From my understanding, the majority of income comes from tourists and not local Indigenous people, so I believe that this would be a possibility. This KPI is only one of many and there may be more effective ways for the Museum to foster their relationship with Indigenous peoples.

Recruitment Efforts

Moved to Action speaks to Indigenous employment and leadership in several ways through its standards for museums and KPIs. One KPI calls for specifically an Indigenous curator on staff, not just Indigenous staff or partnerships. In the standards for museums, there are two that specifically reference hiring policies:

11) Develop hiring policies and practices that take Indigenous knowledge, experience, scholarship, and community relationships into account in areas of recruitment, evaluation, and compensation as essential pieces to decolonizing museum operations.

12) Incorporate into the job description relevant ways that Indigenous knowledge, skills, and perspectives are important for success in the role.

As it can be seen in Par One, there have been several opportunities for Indigenous peoples to be involved in the Museum in the past. It is evident that there have been efforts taken to have opportunities for Indigenous involvement at the Museum. However, there does not appear to be significant efforts made in regard to the long term employment of Indigenous staff to meet the above KPI and standards.

In particular, I think back to the late 1970s period and the work that was completed to develop the exhibition on Indigenous Peoples. The work that was done at this time was done with careful research and consultation that appears to reflect some best practices. However, where this project falls flat is that this work was completed by a non-Indigenous individual. This is not to discredit the work that was done, but work of such nature could have created an opportunity for an Indigenous student or museum professional. It is acknowledged that there was a desire future changes to be completed with more cooperation from the Indigenous community. This recognition is a great step, but it begs the question of if they knew they should have this cooperation and involvement from the beginning, why not push for it more?

I am curious of what actions, if any, are currently being taken to attract Indigenous community members to work for the Museum. The previous article features an interview quote discussing the fact that the Museum has had difficulties retaining Indigenous board members. I assume that these difficulties extend to staff positions. Perhaps a new strategy for recruitment should be in order. Said interviewee mentioned that they thought that local First Nations members did not see participating on the board as relevant. A new recruitment strategy could help to change the narrative surrounding involvement with the Museum and paint it in a more desirable light.

In saying this, I am also thinking of the financial constraints of the Museum. It may not be financially realistic at this time for DCM to hire another full-time curator. It is also difficult to create full-time year-round employment opportunities for specifically Indigenous staff when opportunities for that type of employment broadly are limited as is. Nevertheless, these changes to recruitment and hiring practices are important to consider, especially when considering long term relationship building with Indigenous peoples.

Opportunities for Indigenous Staff

Recruiting Indigenous staff is only the first step. It is also important to ensure that there is motivation for Indigenous staff to stay at the Museum. 

One method that maybe be employed is the access to training opportunities. This training could come in the form of professional and technical development, as recommended by the 1992 Task Force Report (p. 9). There is also financial support for training as part of the territorial museum policy. Increase in training would also prepare Indigenous staff to take on roles in leadership, another issue that should be addressed. By having more Indigenous peoples in leadership roles, this also increases their access to policy development and implementation activities. These training opportunities could be used to attract new staff, as well as support any preexisting Indigenous staff as they grow their experience and leadership skills.

Non-Indigenous Staff Training

Working towards better practices for working with Indigenous peoples is not limited to the access available to Indigenous peoples. This can also manifest through the way that the Museum trains their non-Indigenous staff to tackle Indigenous topics. 

This type of training could be seen as reflective of many of the standards from Moved to Action. Literally, it refers to the following:

27) Museum executives and board members must take a leadership role in self-educating on Indigenous matters while recognizing the limits of their contribution.

Training can also play a very important role in many, if not all of the other standards being met. It is through education that an understanding and appreciation of Indigenous peoples and their experiences and knowledge can be formed and lead to bigger and more impactful changes being made. This type of training would also serve to improve DCM’s KPIs of Indigenous-specific programming, direction, and, most significantly, relationships.

In the previous document, there is only one reference to job training in regards to working with Indigenous materials. This particular job training occurred nearly three decades ago. That being said, there may be additional professional development that was not discussed in the interviews, materials consulted, or paper written.

While it is important to have exhibits that display Indigenous history and culture in a thoughtful and respectful way, it is equally as important to ensure that said exhibits are being interpreted correctly. As an outsider, I am immediately curious about the training process that staff undergo in regard to this. It is uncertain from the information in the previous document if there is any sort of current training process for staff that specifically pertains to Indigenous history and cultural knowledge. With what appears to be a significant focus of the Museum’s content being Indigenous topics, it seems relevant and important that staff should be receiving specific training on both the material in the exhibit, as well as the general culture and values of Indigenous peoples.

This training should ideally go beyond paid staff to include board members and even volunteers. Anyone who is involved in any capacity with the Museum should be expected to have at the minimum a baseline understanding of the communities that the Museum is representing. 

What exactly this training process should look like and what should be included is a topic that should be considered with collaboration between the Museum and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. Many of the recent changes at the Museum were also completed with this type of collaboration, so this does not seem like it would be difficult to achieve.

However, in a similar vein to the issues that are present when it comes to recruiting staff, there are issues with funding and time when it comes to training staff. While the territory provides funding for training, there is only so much funding available for DCM to hire permanent staff. With most staff being seasonal, there is not much time available for these training opportunities to happen in a logical way. This creates a complicated situation, as there is funding available for training, but a lack of time to do it.

Online Access to Collections and Archives

DCM has a rather impressive collection of images of the Klondike on their website. As of now, that is the extent of their online access to collections and archives. Said access is another KPI from the report. It would be exciting to see an increase in Indigenous-specific images added to the website, as there is already a president set with the Klondike photos, and to have this collection be easily accessed by the general public. Part One referenced a First Nations photo finding aid for the collections of the Museum and it would be great to see resources like this become more easily accessible and user-friendly. I am not sure how realistic it would be for the Museum to have a more extensive online archive at this time. Perhaps in the future, it would possible to have more dynamic online content accessible through the Museum’s website. For now, however, the more attainable step would be to increase and update the online image collection.

Each of these recommendations is made with the intentions of encouraging collaboration and building a stronger relationship with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. There have been many great strides made by the Museum since the 1970s and there is always room to grow and improve.


The Dawson City Museum is clearly making considerate efforts to work with the TH and to build an ongoing relationship. As previously mentioned, DCM is taking actions that many Canadian museums have yet to begin. There is a fairly impressive amount of effort being taking, particularly when considering collections management and collaboration with TH cultural centre. The suggestions I have brought forward would only help to strengthen the attitudes that already exist within the Museum and to expand the Museum’s capabilities to provide access, opportunity, and accessibility to Indigenous peoples in a way that is meaningful.

Moving forward with analyzing this dynamic relationship, it would be very interesting and useful to learn about the relationship between the Museum and the TH from the perspective of the TH, as that is a major piece of this story that appears to be missing from the information currently available. This perspective would be incredibly valuable when considering topics of recruitment efforts and training possibilities. I would also find it most interesting to hear from the TH on their perspective on what it means to take the onus off of Indigenous communities and partners and what that could look like for their relationship with DCM. 

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