Upon reading the article “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses” (Âpihtawikosisân, 2012), it becomes apparent that cultural appropriation is an issue that needs to be addressed. Though before we can reflect and self-analyze for appropriative behaviour, we need to understand what cultural appropriation is. Cultural appropriation is an extension of centuries of racism, genocide and oppression through which a superior culture marginalizes an inferior culture to exploit for their own benefit. This is usually through the means of taking religious, sacred and cultural symbols (GNDS Lecture, March 9, 2015).
The cultural appropriation of the Indigenous peoples of Canada has been an ongoing source of systemic colonialism and oppression that has directly led to the dehumanization of Native peoples and violence towards Aboriginal women.
The main argument for the innocence or nihility of cultural appropriation is rooted in the idea that all races are now equal and that racism no longer exists, which is very untrue. As of right now in Canada, there cannot be equal distribution and taking of cultural symbols and ideas because of the systemic racism still directed towards our Indigenous peoples. The appropriation of the Indigenous peoples is particularly disturbing due to the fact that during the initial colonization of the Native culture, the people were brutalized, ridiculed and persecuted for wearing or participating in the things that are now being appropriated from them (LaRocque, n.d.). When we appropriate the ceremonies, objects and traditions from the Indigenous culture, we remove and twist the original meanings. This twisting and contorting leads to a warped view of the culture with an ignorant interpretation of both the historical and current value placed into these objects. This reinforces and builds upon false stereotypical ideas and behaviours. When this happens, it creates a sort of mould that the culture has to fit into, and when they don’t fit into this shape they’re dehumanized, attacked and marginalized (“Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?”, n.d.).
One of the most pressing concerns in Canada right now for Indigenous peoples also happens to be some of the most evident aftermath of cultural appropriation and colonization. Looking at this with an intersectional point-of-view, Indigenous women are arguably the most affected, with them being 4.6% of the Canadian population and yet they constitute 16% of female homicides and 11.3% of missing women (Powers, 2014). As mentioned previously, the appropriation of a culture leads to a misunderstanding of it, and when humans don’t understand something, we become violent and aggressive. Media portrayal of the Indigenous women of Canada (as we’ve seen in recent fashion trends, Disney films and even logos/labels (“Common Portrayals of Aboriginal Women”, n.d.)) leads to a fetishized view where these women are seen more as objects than as people. They’re seen as wild objects to be taken and civilized like pets. This dehumanization through appropriation manifests itself in all of the aforementioned statistics.
So, how can we appreciate a culture without appropriating? Since appropriation is such a large tool for colonization and the dehumanization of a culture, we can instead show our love in different ways than simply taking what we want; as said by Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public”; or to perhaps apply a derivative of this quote into the context of cultural appropriation: to bring justice to our country in the name of the Indigenous, we need to show our love in a more sensitive fashion. If you love the beauty of Indigenous culture it’s certainly ok to show that love, just educate yourself first. It’s also ok to appreciate their art and fashion by purchasing Indigenous made items, just so long as it isn’t for exploitative purposes (Âpihtawikosisân, 2012). To show your appreciation and admiration for the Indigenous culture in an appropriate manor is to take one step closer to bringing justice to the systemic racism and colonialism that trails behind cultural appropriation.
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.
Âpihtawikosisân (2012). “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses”. âpihtawikosisân: Law, language, life: A Plains Cree speaking Métis woman in Montreal. Retrieved March 6, 2015 from <http://apihtawikosisan.com/hall-of-shame/an-open-letter-to-non-natives-in-headdresses/
“Common Portrays of Aboriginal Women”. (n.d.). Media Smarts. Retrieved March 6, 2015 from <http://mediasmarts.ca/diversity-media/aboriginal-people/common-portrayals-aboriginal-people>
“Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?” (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2015 from <http://zinelibrary.info/files/culturalappropriationread.pdf>
LaRocque, Emma. (n.d.). “Colonization and Racism”. Aboriginal Perspectives. Retrieved March 6, 2015 from <http://www3.nfb.ca/enclasse/doclens/visau/index.php?mode=theme&language=english&theme=30662&film=16933&excerpt=612109&submode=about&expmode=2>
Powers, Elaine. “Health 101 Intro”. Queen’s University. Kingston, ON. September 8, 2014. HLTH101 Lecture.
Tolmie, Jane. “Cultural Appropriation.” Queen’s University. Kingston, ON. 5 March 2015. GNDS125 Lecture.
Tolmie, Jane. “Entertainment.” Queen’s University. Kingston, ON. 12 January 2015. GNDS125 Lecture.