Sacred/secret/sensitive

These terms are increasingly being used by institutions to describe items in collections which hold particular resonance for source and descendant communities by virtue of their spiritual significance and/or importance for cultural practice and continuity. These items often also have particular protocols and restrictions associated with who is permitted to view, touch and story them – protocols which museums are increasingly trying to be attentive to. It is important to note that items should be considered according to their source and descendant communities’ own definitions and traditions, rather than allowing for museums and private owners to claim that they view these items outside of their original cultural context and are therefore exempted from following community protocols. 

Finally, the phrase “culturally sensitive” is increasingly heard as museums attempt to diversify their approach and recognise the inequitable colonial context in which many items in their collections were acquired. This broad term is intended to act as an umbrella to encompass items that may not be traditionally thought of as sacred or kept secret, but might carry other sensitivities and consequential requirements for care and community access. In particular, this term can extend to include those items that were collected in the context of Euro-American colonialism and thus, by virtue of their distance from communities and the inequitable context of how they were collected, have the potential to serve as key objects in the reclamation of language, heritage and (post)colonial cultural identity.

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