GLAMR Professional Profile – Nathan Sentance

by | Jan 28, 2019 | ALIA, GLAMR Professional Profile, NSW, People

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Nathan Sentance is a librarian working at the Australian Museum as a First Nations project officer and periodically posts his thoughts on his blog Archival Decolonist.

How did you initially get into the GLAMR industry?  Was it easy to switch between the library and the museum?

It was easy not just because I believe my skills were transferable (which they very much are) but because my personal goals remained the same. I wrote a mission statement for myself in 2014 which I wrote my goals are:

  • To empower communities to manage their heritage, history and cultural information based on the principles of United Nations The Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • To enable First Nations communities and researchers to enrich the cultural value of existing collections by contributing history, context, perspectives and opinions;
  • To facilitate connection and collaboration between community members, other communities, researchers and institutions, local and distant from each other.

I have never had a plan of what role I will have in or what institution I will work in to guide me or anything similar, I have been guided by these ambitions in this vision statement and this has directed me to what I do, which has made alternating between galleries, libraries, archives and museums easier because where I work was not the point, the point for me is to ensure First Nations agency over the history and culture collected, conveyed and preserved in memory institutions and not to ensure First Nations people control the narrative that surrounds them.

When did you first become aware of the “colonist” mentality in institutions such as libraries and museums?

Early in my library days, when working with mission records and an Aunty was looking at records about herself that were inaccurate and thinking this collection is what people use write history and it is inaccurate and is missing Aunt’s voice and many voices like hers.

What makes you so passionate about “decolonising” these institutions?

GLAMR has more power than we assume. People have used the power of archives and museums to proliferate colonial narratives which lead to First Nations people being seen as savages and subhumans which justified our mass displacement, forced assimilation, and the stolen generations and continues today with narratives of us as criminals or drunks which in turn justifies our over incarceration.

What can other GLAMR professionals, especially those who do not come from minority groups, do to assist in “decolonisation”?

Beware of paternalism or white saviour-hood; listen to community desires and needs; elevate First Nations voices within and outside the sector; listen and support your First Nations colleagues and if you don’t have any, ask why you don’t have any; understand positionality of your work and yourself; be prepared and don’t get defensive when in engaging in uncomfortable subjects regarding colonisation (ethics should not be conditional upon feeling good) ;   relinquish power; make yourself unimportant in your antiracism/decolonial work;

Finally, is there any advice you would like to give library students and new professionals?

Not really. Just know that I am rooting for you and hope you all the best. Girra girra (be well).


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