Cultural Appropriation: Aboriginals

After reading “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses” what becomes clear is that cultural appropriation is a real issue (Âpihtawikosisân, An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses). A large portion of this issue is that cultural appropriation is sparsely understood resulting in individuals acting offensively without the ability to recognize that their actions are offensive. To combat this we must define cultural appropriation to understand what is offensive and what is not. Cultural Appropriation is the act of “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission” (GNDS Lecture, March 9 2015). This usually occurs after a long period of time where a dominant culture’s actions are greatly oppressive towards a non-dominant culture inhibiting that culture to act as it normally would. This provides an environment for dominant cultures to feel entitled to the cultural appropriation of what would be a non-dominant culture.

When looking to the culture of Canada and the United States, we can see many examples of cultural appropriation towards native Canadians and Americans. One of the most notable examples are some professional sports teams’ names and logos. In the National Football League there is a team by the name of the “Washington Redskins” (Care, Washington Redskins controversy: 3 things you need to know). The logo of this team presents a profile view of a Native American man with red tinted skin wearing a cultural feather head piece. What is obvious from this logo is that the term “Redskins” is in reference to the colonialist belief that Native Americans have red skin. The cultural appropriation of this is that the founder of this team, George Preston Marshall, took the image of a Native American wearing a cultural head piece for his own financial gain.

 Some may say that the cultural appropriation of team names such as the “Redskins” is fine and causes no issue. However this argument stems from the belief that in our culture all races are viewed as equal by one another and that colonialism is no longer present; this sadly is not true. The systemic colonialism in Canada results in the dehumanization of the Native Canadian population. According to the paper “Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview”, as published by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in 2011 Native Canadian women made up 4.3% of the total number of women in Canada (“Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women” 7). Of the total number of women murdered in 2011, aboriginal women make up 16% of all female murders in Canada (“Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women” 9). Aboriginal females also suffer in regards to the rate in which these crimes are solved. Murdered aboriginal women who work in the sex trade have a homicide solve rate of 60%, however the non-aboriginal solve rate for women in the sex trade is 65% (“Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women” 16). The average homicide case solve time for aboriginal women is 224 days and for non-aboriginal women the homicide case solve time is 205 days (“Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women” 16). From an intersectional perspective it is greatly apparent that the aboriginal women of Canada are being far more affected than the rest of the female population. This also speaks to the systemic colonialism that is still occurring in the Canadian legal system. There are more aboriginal women being murdered than non-aboriginal. The Canadian legal system is also statistically less likely to solve certain murders as well as have a slower murder solve time if the individual is an aboriginal female (“Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women” 16). As it stands now, what is obvious about the Canadian legal structure is that is does not favour aboriginal women. There is a lack of structural features in the Canadian police system to help prevent these violent crimes.

The cultural appropriation of Native Canadians is very disturbing due to the history of settler colonialism. The colonialism of the settlers coming to Canada seeking to conquer and dominate Native Canadians is stapled into our country’s history. With the past and present oppression that Native Canadians have experienced, what ultimately becomes deeply disturbing is the cultural appropriation that Native Canadians now face. It is odd that the same culture who once tried to abolish the aboriginal’s culture is now exploiting it for their own benefit (Hunter, Fashion Exploiting Native Wear Is Racist Read).

There is nothing wrong with appreciating aboriginal culture, in fact appreciating it is a very positive thing to do. What is not alright to do is appropriate it, take from the culture and use it in a manner that is not respectful to the aboriginal culture.  Just as Âpihtawikosisân states, if you choose to pull from aboriginal culture then you should educate yourself about the culture first (Âpihtawikosisân, An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses).  Cornell West states “justice is what love looks like in public”. If we can provide an end to the cultural appropriation of Native Canadians and bring in the appreciation of their culture, then the love for their culture will be publicly seen.

Works Cited

“An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses.” Pihtawikosisn. 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Care, Tony. “Washington Redskins Controversy: 3 Things You Need to Know – CBC Sports – Football – NFL.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Hunter, Karlene. “Fashion Exploiting Native Wear Is Racist.” Indian Country Today Media Indian Country Today Media Network, 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

“Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview.” RCMP National Operational Overview. Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.


5 thoughts on “Cultural Appropriation: Aboriginals

  1. You made some really strong points and had especially good definitions for important key terms. Do you think that cultural appropriation as a whole will end once a proper definition is given to everyone? And if not, how would you propose informing people more thoroughly? I think it is also important to make a strong distinction about the difference between appreciation and appropriation, which you mentioned but wasn’t fully elaborated on. And finally, in regards to the Washington Redskins, would you advocate for the team name to be changed? What would your arguments be as to why or why not? Great job analyzing not only the article, but also bringing in your own thoughts and concepts!


    1. I believe that a proper definition is a great place to begin. While this I do not believe will end cultural appropriation, what I do believe is that it will stop the individuals who unknowingly appropriate culture. I think that a proper definition has to be taught in schools at an age where children do not already have preconceived biases regarding certain cultures. As for the redskins I do believe a name change is in order as well as a more appropriate logo change. Labeling Native Americans and Canadians as redskins is very offensive as well as something that no person or organization should allow.


  2. Great analysis, I agree with your deduction that aboriginal women tend to be disadvantaged in the eyes of law enforcement more than another race of women! What are everyones thoughts on the statistics of missing and murdered Indigenous women in relation to the disallowance of Canadian police forces on reservations? I could be mistaken but I believe there could be a correlation.

    To add to goldengael18’s post, I personally would advocate for the team name to be changed. The continuous use of of the name “Redskins” perpetuates stereotypes of the Native peoples and is thus again a tool for colonialism and racism. What does everyone else think?


  3. I agree with chagheill101, the name is offensive and outdated and the continued use of it as a popular culture icon is ignorant. It just further perpetuates a stereotype as well as indicates a lack of empathy towards the native american people. By allowing the team to keep such an offensive name, it says that they do not care about the language they use and how they offend and oppress others. Especially since this is the team that represents Washington, the capitol of the United States.


  4. Wow! This is very interesting topic and you seem very intrigued by this to have your key terms in great detail. “The continuous use of of the name “Redskins” perpetuates stereotypes of the Native peoples and is thus again a tool for colonialism and racism.” said by goldengael18, I see where she is coming form and I strongly agree with her, although I do see where you were trying to go with this.
    Continuing the discussion between chagheill101 and goldengael18 I agree with the both of them. The team name needs to be up to date or revised.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your representation of what these mean to you.


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