Rethinking the ‘Speaker Series’: Indigenising Manchester Museum

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Manchester Museum’s Indigenise Speaker Series launched on July 22nd, 2021 with Dr Paulette Steeves as our opening speaker. This blog post from Alexandra P. Alberda, our Curator of Indigenous Perspectives, shares how we have designed this Speaker Series to empower and inform future programmes and work.

On August 9th, to mark the UN’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we are running two events that seek to Indigenise Manchester Museum through work that focuses on Indigenous peoples for more than just a day. One very important event that is happening is an internal workshop that responds to our inaugural Indigenise Speaker Series talk by Dr Paulette Steeves, titled “Finding Home: Reviving, Reclaiming, and Rewriting the Indigenous Past for the Present“.

Banner promoting Speaker Series with Dr Paulette Steeves

The Indigenise Speaker Series is part of the Indigenising Manchester Museum programme, supported by the John Ellerman Foundation. The Speaker Series aims to bring together Indigenous scholars and projects from around the world in order to learn from and imagine what Indigenous Futures could be for the museum. Dr Steeves shared empowering research on Indigenous archaeology in the Americas, and future speakers in 2021 will look at ethnobotany in museum collections and representations of museums in Indigenous film and literature.

Cover of Paulette Steeves' book
Dr Steeves’ book based on her research on Indigenous archaeology in the Americas

Speaker Series are great programmes for bringing new perspectives, individuals, projects, and ideas into view of organisations and their audiences. Attending a Speaker Series talk is also inspiring and informative for audiences…but what happens next? Where do those contributions go? And, when a Speaker Series aim is to include marginalised peoples and ideas into mainstream narratives how do organisers ensure change and empowerment happens?

Before its launch, I asked myself these questions in relation to the Manchester Museum’s Indigenise Speaker Series, which we were keen to host. You don’t have to look very far into my CV to see that I am a huge fan of behavioural change workshops that try to ‘shift’ narratives and empower participants. So, naturally, I proposed a public Speaker Series that is paired with internal workshops with folks at the museum – workshops that respond to calls to action and expertise provided by the speakers.

Woman archaeologist working on a rock face
Dr Paulette Steeves at work

From July 2021 to December 2022, we will be hosting a free public Speaker Series event every other month and in between those we will be sitting with the knowledge and ideas they inspire in the workshops. In the upcoming August workshop, we will be focusing on our archaeological collections research, schools programmes, and events, as well as building confidence piece-by-piece in what it means to Indigenise a museum. Already I have had colleagues coming up with ideas for applying what we learned, such as the second event on Monday.

The other event we are running is a storytelling and drawing Family programme to consider belonging in nature from a multicultural perspective. Dr Steeves, in her talk at the Manchester Museum, stated that stories are decolonisation, and stressed the importance of listening circularly. The family event introduces different relationships with/in nature through an Indigenous story, which will help us to think about how we draw and understand our own relationship with nature. This is one Family event in a series focusing on belonging and comics which will run over the course of the next year (find out more and book via EventBrite).

Unfinished comic on sketch pad on a lawn full of daisies

We are trying out new ways of knowing and being in the museum, with our collections, amongst nature, and in partnership with peoples and publics. By engaging with a different kind of Speaker Series format that makes time for us to sit with what our speaker’s say and think about how we respond to those calls to action throughout our work, we hope to reciprocate that knowledge and build a practice based on humility and co-creation.

In our commitment to transparency, accountability and learning, we will be sharing what we discuss in the Speaker Series workshops in the future, so please do check back in with us – visit our events page or follow @IndigeniseMcr on twitter – for updates on upcoming events!

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