Colonialism in Canada has directly impacted Indigenous cultural heritage, with factors such as the Indian Act, the reservation system, residential schools, and the Sixties Scoop all leaving a lasting and negative legacy. Cultural heritage is central to the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of Indigenous peoples, our connections with the land, our identity and social cohesion, and the maintenance of our unique languages. The need to reclaim and protect cultural heritage is urgent for Indigenous people to pass our ways of life from one generation to the next.
There are many challenges facing Indigenous cultural heritage today. For example:
- Indigenous cultural knowledge is disappearing forever with fewer speakers of Indigenous languages.
- Canadians and visitors from other countries are being misinformed about the histories of places and events because Indigenous experts and perspectives have been missing in each step of the way, from research to interpretation.
- Indigenous burial grounds are being destroyed, without allowing Indigenous People to collect the remains, undertake scientific studies, or carry out cultural protocols.
- Objects of cultural significance to Indigenous People are locked away in museum vaults where communities cannot access them or use them for their own teachings and histories.
Although there is growing public awareness about the significance of Indigenous cultural heritage, mainstream organizations often don’t have the cultural competency or relationships with Indigenous peoples to effectively address the issues surrounding our cultural heritage. Colonial definitions and policy frameworks are often unable, or unwilling, to incorporate Indigenous worldviews, so there is an urgent need for Indigenous communities and organizations to have access to the tools, strategies, and the financial resources that are needed to revitalize and protect their own cultural heritage.