The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) continues to struggle with issues of racism and diversity, especially when it comes to the museum’s high-ranking staff members, according to a new internal report.
Based on interviews with 35 staff members currently working at the organization, this second part of an external review into systemic racism and oppression at the CMHR serves as a follow-up to a similar review released in August 2020.
While the report praises the museum’s new CEO Isha Khan’s efforts in dismantling systemic racism and oppression, it notes persistent problems stemming from previous and current executive management.
“There is little capacity in executive management to lead cultural change, nor is there yet capacity to recognize in which ways bias and inequities are affecting decisions at the Museum,” reads the report obtained by CTV News.
It also says the oppressive culture at-times “reinforced” by former CEO John Young persists at the museum, partly due to executive management.
“The capacity of the executive management team (excluding the CEO) to lead the Museum’s anti-racism and anti-oppression efforts is not currently well developed,” reads the report.
For example, one supervisor interviewed as part of the report described dismantling systemic racism as a ‘soft skill,’ implying, as the report states, that such a skill would then be considered as less important than other ‘hard’ skills.
BLACK AND INDIGENOUS EMPLOYEES ‘PRIMARY TARGETS’ OF OPPRESSION AT CMHR
A ‘significant’ number of staff members also expressed frustration that there wasn’t more done to hold some executive staff members accountable for contributing to a racist and oppressive work environment.
“There is a degree of reluctance in senior executives to hold white members of management personally accountable for those actions which help sustain systemic and everyday racism,” reads the report.
Black and Indigenous employees are said to be the primary targets of workplace-related oppression, either being put at a disadvantage compared to other employees or forced to endure ‘everyday’ acts of racism.
Sexism is also a prevalent issue, even though women fill roles at levels all throughout the museum’s internal structure, the report states. It goes on to say female employees at times are undervalued and paid lower salaries compared to their male colleagues.
There have been recent, diverse additions to the roster of executive staff members at the museum.
In March, two new managers were hired, both who identify as members of the LGBTQ2S community, one being a person of colour.
But, the report points out, there are no Black or Indigenous people currently at the director or executive management levels of the organization.
“It is our goal to have our workplace be representative of our community and include people from underrepresented groups, including 2SLGBTQ+, Black and Indigenous people,” reads a statement provided to CTV News from current CMHR CEO Isha Khan.
“We are looking for strong leaders with diverse skills, expertise and lived experience, and building this workforce takes time.”
Fifteen new recommendations are included in the Phase Two report, on top of the 44 recommendations made in the Phase One document, which include priority hiring of Black and Indigenous employees and a complete audit of the institution’s human resources department.
Khan said an audit of all human resources practices is currently underway.
NO TWO-SPIRIT RELATED CONTENT AT CMHR, ADVOCATE SAYS THAT NEEDS TO CHANGE
Another prevalent issue presented in the report is heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia at the museum.
“Heterosexism is present in the practices of the institution, including practices which reinforce the gender binary,” states the internal review.
That section of the report, however, takes up less than a full page of the 80-page document with no staff-provided stories or examples included.
The report does not give any new examples of the museum hiding LGBTQ-related content recently – something that has previously occurred at least seven times at the museum.
However, it does point out that there is no Two-Spirit related content currently housed within the CMHR.
That’s a problem Alberta McLeod, president of Two-Spirited People of Manitoba Inc., an education and advocacy organization, has been trying to change.
“I think in terms of the resistance towards the inclusion of Two-Spirit, and LGBTQ people generally,” said McLeod, “Institutions like the museum are very slow in that inclusion.”
“Canada, as a colonial society, is structured on a binary gender identity and that influences our expression in a public area like museums,” McLeod said, adding that there is also no Two-Spirit content in Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization.
That’s set to change at the CMHR.
McLeod said that he, and other members of Two-Spirited People of Manitoba Inc., have been in talks with CMHR staff to help create a Two-Spirit exhibit at the Museum.
Oral history interviews, web stories and social media posts are currently being planned, said McLeod, with the content set to be released by November of this year.
Concrete details are still being hammered out and, even if the digital-focused exhibit is released, McLeod still wants to see a physical representation of the Two-Spirit identity included in the museum’s content.
“Hopefully, there will be more tangible exhibits of the Two-Spirit experience,” said McLeod, “as opposed to it being digital.”