Respect Lost Due to Lack of Cultural Knowledge?

Reviewing “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses”, âpihtawikosisân, a Métis woman from the Plains Cree speaking community of Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta, provides information related to what is the establishment of cultural appropriation, concentrating in depth headdresses in native cultures (âpihtawikosisân, “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses). In the beginning of the article, it discusses which items are restricted symbols such as, those that “represent achievements earned according to specific criteria”. Throughout the article there is an explanation of certain items that are non-restricted, and free for all people to legitimately access such that they do not “mock, denigrate or perpetuate stereotypes” (âpihtawikosisân, “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses). Whether a person believes that they are entitled to be allowed to wear this type of headdress is irrelevant, and unless they “are a native male from a Plains nation who has earned a headdress, or [they] have been given permission to wear one”, it is disrespectful to do so (âpihtawikosisân, “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses). She directs her main focus on the meaning and symbol of the headdress, which are worn and belong to various Plains nations. Illustrated through beaded moccasins, native art, there are other ways that a person can admire and respect this culture appropriately, without being profane, as there are “legitimate and unrestricted items crafted and sold by aboriginal peoples” (âpihtawikosisân, “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses).

Continuing in various forms, certain emblems are restricted to only those who are a part of the heritage they arise from. A person may not belong to this certain heritage, due to the fact that they have not been given the rare entitlement by being born into it, or otherwise considered a part of this specific heritage from other exclusive means by other members on the inside, they should not bear these restricted and special aspects, as they are held exclusively for those who have earned the right to assume them (Culture in Development, “What is Cultural Heritage”). People, who are not part of the culture, fail to participate in the rights to practice it; therefore have no justified reason to appropriate and respect these restricted emblems. For example, a person who is not of South-Asian descent, specifically from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, or Sri Lanka, should not wear the forehead decoration of a bindi. It holds great religious meaning as well as cultural significance, and is more than just an aesthetic seen upon others in these countries who refuse to understand the true entitlement of this forehead piece (Aran, “Take That Dot Off Your Forehead and Stop Trying to Make Bindis Happen”).

It is clear in this article that it is disrespectful to appropriate restricted symbols of any culture if the person doing so is not part of the culture, or has not earned proper permission to bear it. This constitutes cultural appropriation, and it is improper and acts as an obstacle for respecting the culture (âpihtawikosisân, “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses). This article brings forward thought-provoking ideals that go against the common misconception that bearing these sacred items is a form of appreciation for the religion and culture itself. There are other means to do so, without being offensive and disrespectful to the specific culture. The act of appropriating something, is harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other instances, such as the ways, historically, Indigenous peoples and native groups in North America have been, due to settler colonialism (Tolmie, March 9 2015). Therefore, it is important to understand the importance of the symbol of the headdress in the Plains native cultures. An example of this is when European colonizers had located what is now Canada, the inhabitants and indigenous peoples of the land were abused, killed, and stripped of their customs, forcing them into assimilation, through means of the Residential Institution Schools, that had the policy and vision of removing young First Nations children from the influence of their families and culture to assimilate them into the dominant Anglo-Christian and Catholic culture (Indigenous Foundations, “The Residential School System”).

In today’s day and age, these same sacred objects which hold great significance, are treated as mere aesthetics and accessories by not only members of the same dominant culture that once affronted them, but other people whom similarly may not have the proper education on the historical meaning behind these objects. Furthermore, if members who are a part of the culture are sometimes restricted to bear these emblems, such as women in Native Plains culture who rarely earn the right to bear the headdress, or few men in South-Asian culture who can not wear bindis in the decorative fashion, there should be no justification that the limitation goes further than stand against those who are associated with the culture these emblems come from. If otherwise, stereotypes are crated and members of the culture are dehumanized such that these symbols are seen as representative of an image of “authentic” members of those who practice it. Dehumanizing creates the conditions of these people, adding to the negative possibilities leading towards racism, violence, and other harm. As Cornell West famously stated, “Justice is what love looks like in public”, the publicity of these symbols brought by those who do not have the right to bear them is wrongful, and the people have a lack of knowledge. There are clear boundaries that cultures have put forth that should not be crossed by those outside of it nor those who do not seek interest in the culture.

    Works Cited

Aran, Isha. “Take That Dot Off Your Forehead and Quit Trying to Make Bindis Happen.” Jezebel. N.p., 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
“What Is Cultural Heritage.” – Culture in Development. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
âpihtawikosisân. “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses.” âpihtawikosisân. N.p., 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 06 Mar. 2015.
“The Residential School System.” Indigenous Foundations. University of British Columbia, n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.


4 thoughts on “Respect Lost Due to Lack of Cultural Knowledge?

  1. Really good summation of the article! I love that you further expanded the the meaning of cultural appropriation by taking about non-achievement bearing attire like the bindi. It’s important to account for religious symbols, as well as items that are given upon achieving something. Where do you personally draw the line between appreciation and appropriation? Do you agree with what the article said, or do you believe that there should be more or less restrictions? Overall I think you did a really good job of explaining the concept in a clear manner.


  2. Excellent analysis, I found your point about how certain customs in the Native culture have become “accessories” to be particularly accurate, especially with the recent fashion trends of 2015. I also agreed with your point about how if certain customs are forbidden from certain members of the culture (that’s being appropriated), it’s certainly not ok for another culture to partake.

    In response to goldengael18, I personally don’t think there need to be more restrictions on what is appreciation and what is appropriation, but perhaps more precise rules such as “it’s ok to partake in a cultural custom if you are invited by someone of that culture to do so”, or “if the clothing you wish to wear from a culture that could have religious significance, you should purchase the clothing from or with the permission of said culture.”


  3. Goldengael18, I personally do agree with this article. I feel as though there is so much detail and no need for more restrictions between appropriation, and appreciation.

    Thank you @chageill101 I do agree with you and see where your coming from!

    Thanks for the feedback.


  4. The appropriation of the Aboriginal culture in Canada has long been the agent of dehumanization of the culture and its women, feeding colonialism. It perpetuates stereotypes and creates ideas of the culture that are far from the truth, leading to great misunderstanding and violence towards the culture. This aggression and violence has shown itself in very real forms both in the past and the present, and one of the ways we can prevent it from reaching the future is to stop appropriating and start appreciating.


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