By Karen Kelly
Photos by Bryan Gagnon
After earning a Master’s degree in art history and working for a few years in the field of museums and heritage, Katharine Turvey took a job with UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, at its Paris headquarters. While working for UNESCO, she came to realize that there was a need to better represent Indigenous peoples’ histories and concerns in international cultural policy frameworks.
“A lot of my colleagues were asking me about Indigenous issues,” says Katharine, whose father is Anishinabe. “That got me thinking about improving my own knowledge and ability to communicate about these things.”
In fact, Katharine learned about Indigenous rights, culture and sovereignty as a child. Her father was adopted as part of the “Sixties Scoop”, in which Indigenous children were taken from their homes by government agencies and given to Caucasian families. The practice continued over decades and devastated families and Indigenous communities.
“I grew up very aware of the importance of Indigenous rights and sovereignty, but I didn’t have a framework or tools for understanding those things from a policy perspective,” says Katharine, who was raised in Ottawa. “So I started looking for an online degree that I could complete in Paris while continuing my work with UNESCO. Ironically, the best one was at Carleton.”
Katharine says pursuing the Indigenous Policy and Administration diploma while working full-time was very demanding, but rewarding.
“It’s a great diploma because it is preparing professionals, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to support Indigenous rights and sovereignty,” she says. “Following the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, reconciliation became a priority for federal departments, but a lot of organizations and people don’t know what that means.”
Today, Katharine is a program officer for culture at the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, which links Canadian civil society with the values and priorities of UNESCO. She recently spoke to Indigenous museum professionals at a conference in Saskatoon and was overwhelmed by questions about the role of museums in implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“I think this is the most important thing happening in Canada right now. I’m excited to be back in Canada to take part in this national project.”
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