The Heiltsuk case : museums, collectors, inventories




Black, Martha

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The art of the Heiltsuk of the central coast of British Columbia is not well known to non-aboriginal people and has been frequently misrepresented in the literature on the Northwest Coast. Because the majority of historical art from Bella Bella and other Heiltsuk communities is now in museums, ideas about Heiltsuk art and culture have been shaped largely by the museum collections from this region. While it is recognized that museums impose new organizations and narratives on the objects they display and store, how this happens is often less clear. To elucidate the process, the current methodological study analyses in detail the Heiltsuk collections of four major museums: the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution), the American Museum of Natural History, the Royal British Columbia Museum, and the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and makes reference to Heiltsuk art and artifacts in other collections. Close examination of the composition and documentation of, and motivations for, these collections reveals both the diverse inventories used to create the museum-structured representation of Heiltsuk culture and the processes of their accumulation. The dissimilar agendas, knowledge, and opportunities of the artifact collectors influence museums' portrayals of Heiltsuk culture. The study deals only with Heiltsuk collections but its findings and methodologies are applicable to other Northwest Coast collections.



Heiltsuk art, Heiltsuk Indians