Knowledge is an amazing thing—historical knowledge (says the historian) perhaps even more so. The history of who we are, how we came to be and the contexts in which we live are shaped by historical knowledge. And yet historical knowledge presents questions, too: How is it produced? Who perpetuates it? How does knowledge shape our understanding of each other? Whom does certain knowledge privilege and by consequence exclude?
As cultural icons and institutions, museums in particular play a critical role in the perpetuation of specific forms of knowledge production, particularly in the case of a museum showcasing historical moments. And it would seem that now more than ever we are at a critical juncture for acknowledging the complete lack of diversity and representation in the exhibits and staff within the walls of those museums.
As a co-curator and co-manager of the Sikh Heritage Museum and Gur Sikh Temple (a National Historic Site) and as a PhD candidate in the Department of History at UBC, I see two different worlds constantly converging and diverging—that of academia and that of community cultural knowledge production. What I have come to realize is that the two are not mutually exclusive, and that the more we try to separate them, the more we fall into the perpetual trap of creating exclusivity of knowledge that is controlled by a handful of (mostly white) people.
Being a part of the Punjabi Canadian Legacy Project (PCLP) in partnership with the Royal BC Museum has filled me with a hope that we are collectively working towards the creation of newer and truer knowledge that reflects the diverse histories of British Columbia. This work epitomizes the coming together of academic and cultural knowledge production. Those histories that are diverse and corrective histories have the potential to reshape knowledge and how we perceive and view the world around us. Some of the richest experiences I have had over the course of my three years as a part of the PCLP have involved travelling across British Columbia to revisit sites integral to the Punjabi community’s history here. I have seen the passion and joy in people’s minds and hearts when they hear that their stories are finally being recognized and that their struggles and stories of joy, prosperity and resilience are being acknowledged. There is such a deep thirst in the community for these stories to be shared, and rightly so. For too long, the stories and contributions of peoples other than those of European descent have been ignored, silenced and erased.
Now is our time to share our collective stories and experiences, while simultaneously negotiating the space that reconciliation plays in our lives.
It is my great pleasure to serve as guest editor for this latest edition of Curious, which includes the experiences of our community partners and the community members who have been a part of our consultations and subsequent conversations. Each of them has a vested interest in the work of the PCLP—each wants to see something specific come about as a result. And yet, collectively, all of our goals and dreams form a singular narrative of building a powerful new knowledge base within an iconic institution. We are all very excited, and the articles in this collection showcase that excitement and sense of hope.