CMHR’s Valient Pursuits Hidden By Controversy
This is an article written for a popular writing workshop held in my Public History class about the forthcoming Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I have edited it a tad (grammar rather than content) after receiving comments in class but wanted to post it more or less as is here.
CHMR’s valiant pursuits hidden by controversy
The forthcoming Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), announced in 2008, has striven to become one of Canada’s most morally aware museums. Though the CMHR’s possibly hierarchical treatment of the Holocaust, in relation to other genocides, has resulted in controversy, there may be practical reasons behind the chosen interpretive design.
Human Rights issues have come to the fore since World War II. Similar atrocities have occurred in various countries, including Soviet Ukraine, however few stir the public as vigorously as the Holocaust. Because the Holocaust holds a central position in society’s collective consciousness it serves as an effective means to discuss Human Rights violations and serves as a draw for visitors. People know something about the Holocaust, but are still curious and can always learn more. If space devoted to the Holocaust exhibit is also used to display information about Human Rights advances since WWII (of which Canada is a leader) and WWII’s stimulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the exhibit will have served a dual purpose, rather than representing a single event.
While at the museum visitors are exposed to information about other atrocities—regardless of if it was the Holocaust exhibit that brought them through the doors. Exposure to these events and other human rights issues can influence visitors to learn more, effectively spreading awareness about the Human Rights violations that have occurred throughout history—and still occur today.
What is perhaps more important is the attempts of the CMHR to gather stories about everyday forms of Human Rights violations as well: dehumanization, criminalization, and the invisibility of hardship; rights issues faced by women, children, youth, persons with disabilities, the LGBT community, and indigenous populations; and economic, environmental, and social justice problems—not just genocides. Through efforts to shed light on a range of Human Rights issues the CMHR feared they would come up against attempts by contemporary governments to dictate content. So efforts have been made to protect the museum’s independence, and safeguard its ability to evolve, think reflexively about, and critique Human Rights violations in Canada and around the world. This is a valiant pursuit for the CMHR, which is aptly being built at The Forks in Winnipeg, where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet—a historic gathering place, which will now serve as a location for Human Rights enlightenment and an examination of Canada’s role in this evolving field.