The B.C. government has created a new website to seek public input on a proposed new South Asian Canadian museum. Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Minister Lana Popham says that this “will provide a platform for everyone to be heard”, according to a news release.
Moreover, the minister expressed confidence that “the engagement will help bring together a shared vision that reflects the needs and aspirations of South Asian communities in B.C.”
The consultation will not focus on curatorial content at the museum. Rather, it will address the purpose or purposes of the museum, what it should be called, and where it should be located.
In addition, the engagement process asks if it should be a museum and archive, a community gathering place, an interactive space, or something more.
“Inclusion, diversity, accessibility, equity, anti-racism, and anti-casteism are guiding principles for this engagement process,” the government states on its website.
The term “South Asian” has raised concerns in some circles. In an open letter sent earlier this year to MLAs and MPs, individuals involved with Wanjara Nomad Collections described it as “demeaning as it fails to recognize our individuality and richness as Canadians”.
“It is a distressing reality that minorities are frequently compelled to demonstrate solidarity with those who oppress them under the guise of ‘South Asian’ unity,” the open letter states. “This insidious practice perpetuates a cycle of systemic subjugation whereby marginalized communities are forced to conform to the dominant narrative, even at the expense of their identities and well-being. The deleterious effects of this oppressive tactic are immeasurable and require immediate redressal.”
Last month, Sikh News Express broadcast a call for a separate exhibit for Sikhs.
Museum engagement concludes before B.C. election
Furthermore, the open letter claimed that calling the institution a “South Asian” museum “would be a grave historical blunder, perpetuating the systemic erasure of distinct cultural identities”.
“Additionally, the museum must ensure the inclusion of unrepresented nations from that region, who are fighting for their survival and sovereignty and have been living in Canada as Canadians.”
After this letter appeared on the Baaz website, Vancouver mental-health advocate Kulpreet Singh wrote an informative Twitter thread explaining the roots of the “South Asian” term. While it can be helpful to escape Indian state hegemony, he noted that it can also come at a cost.
Meanwhile, the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue at SFU will provide strategic advice to the B.C. government. This will ensure that the engagement “is designed with the principles of equity, inclusivity, accessibility, anti-racism and anti-casteism”.
The process itself will be “co-designed and co-led by and for the communities whose histories, achievements, and contributions to B.C. and Canada are at the heart of the new museum”.
This engagement will conclude in June 2024. That’s less than four months before a scheduled provincial election on October 19, 2024.
During the 2020 election campaign, the B.C. NDP promised to build a South Asian museum. In 2021, then minister Melanie Mark suggested that the museum would open by 2024 or 2025.
Popham, on the other hand, said in the legislature last May that she must hear from the community before discussing timelines.
Advisory committee members identified
The following month, Rungh publisher Zool Suleman wrote an article questioning the government’s commitment to open and transparent public consultations about the museum. Suleman noted that the ministry initially did not respond to Rungh’s question in May about whether there was a “steering committee” or “advisory committee”.
On June 8, the ministry’s communications manager, Jill Nessel, acknowledged to Rungh that there wasn’t a steering committee at that time.
Now, however, there is a ministerial advisory committee on the museum, according to today’s news release. It has 13 members: Am Johal, Balbir Gurm, Haiqa Cheema, Harjit Dhillon, Haroon Khan, Harpo Mander, Jeevan Sangha, Jinder Oujla-Chalmers, Karimah Es Sabar, Parminder Virk, Renisa Mawani, Sahil Mroke, and Upkar Tatlay.
“The committee is made up of appointed members who identify as South Asian selected for their experience in community engagement, lived experience and cultural knowledge,” the news release states. “Their role is to inform the development of the engagement plan, share opportunities within their communities and support community-based conversations.”