Toward Decolonization and Centering Native Values


For Museums and Arts Organizations.

We believe museums have the power to change the way people think, feel and operate in the world. Maybe that’s giving them too much credit, but as scholars of museum studies, we have seen endless examples in which museums have facilitated real transformation of thought. For this reason alone, these institutions have immense power. In addition, they hold the cultural treasures of the world and the power and privilege to use sacred and ancestral pieces to tell the stories of descendent communities – mostly, out of the control of those communities. 

Many museums with Native collections seek to engage in meaningful dialogue with descendent communities in an effort to better represent their histories and cultures and are perplexed or daunted by this work. By working closely with local tribal people and educating museum staff and board, we aim to bridge understanding for better representation of Native life and cultures. We conduct in-depth listening sessions and interviews with key Native stakeholders to better tell the stories they choose to tell and to help museums set agendas that meet the goals of those stakeholders.  

For Native people, a ceremonial headdress, a basket, a medicine bag, are not merely objects for research, for learning, for consumption as entertainment. These materials are alive. In many cases objects were stolen or acquired during times of desperation – objects that should never have left tribal lands. Many believe that in order to restore balance in our communities, we must liberate the ancestors and bring them back into contact with their descendants. Where repatriation is untenable, we look for ways to restore connection through education, culturally relevant exhibition and other reciprocal means.

Land Stewardship and Environmental Organizations

The environmental conservation, rewilding, and permaculture movements, while aligned with many Indigenous philosophies and practices, have been historically non-indigenous and therefore unintentionally marginalize Native people. By their very nature, as movements about reconnecting to place, rooting oneself, and returning to pre-industrial solutions, practitioners unknowingly erase/ignore/overlook important local land knowledge and vital histories, and thwart real community and environmental healing. In addition, the history of environmental conservation has been rooted in a non-indigenous worldview of humans as separate from and harmful to nature. We must thoroughly understand and address this history on personal, communal, and institutional levels to rework the fundamental values that shape our work in caring for our home, the earth.

Live Oak’s educational and consulting work provides a container to learn, grow, and reflect on the basic frameworks that shape our assumptions about how we relate to the environment. By grounding all environmental work in a theory of applied decolonization, we can peel away the illusions of the efficacy of the fundamental bedrock of our societies functioning, and implement radical changes to bring us into a process of healing. Decolonization requires honestly facing those cultural conditions which keep us unconsciously in perpetual disconnection and exploitation of our environment.

Other Organizations Interested in True Collaboration 

In addition to our vital work with museums, Live Oak Consulting has developed tools tailored to facilitate dialogue internally and externally to enable work toward sensitive and productive collaborations with tribal partners.