‘We’re asking for change’: Emerging indigenous generation flexes muscle over cultural appropriation

Thoughtful exploration of cultural appropriation issues with respect to Indigenous peoples.

The graphic is particularly helpful in that it provides greater clarity to what can be considered cultural appropriation and what not, particularly the left and right columns. The middle column is where much of the current debate occurs:

George Nicholas, an archeology professor at Simon Fraser University and director of the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage research project, argues that borrowing between cultures has shaped societies around the world, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Handout

HandoutOjibwa broadcaster Jesse Wente: “We’re asking now for change, and we’re not going to stop asking.”

But just as trademarks, patents and copyrights protect intellectual property, he said, there should be protection for elements of indigenous heritage. The historical power imbalance between mainstream society and indigenous peoples has meant that little thought was given to the impact of appropriation, whether it is mass-produced gift-shop totem poles or high-end fashion copied from an Inuit parka.

“If I am taking something that is important to someone’s heritage, whether it’s a particular design or a particular set of stories or songs, my using those, my sharing those, my including those in some sort of commercial product, can result in cultural, or spiritual, or economic harm to the people whose heritage it is,” he said.

Kulchyski’s idea of “loving Indians to death” reflects the fact that often appropriation stems from good intentions. But he said it turns heritage into a commodity.

“By simply saying, ‘Oh we love your culture. We’ll have you dance during our Olympic ceremony. We’ll have you say a prayer before our meetings, but we haven’t actually substantively changed the fact that the economy is based on extraction from your lands, and we’re going to continue doing that,’ basically it becomes, at best, a hollow gesture and, at worst … your culture becomes something for sale.”

Keeshig-Tobias has watched the resurgence of the cultural appropriation debate with interest. The abuse she took for her stand in 1990 still stings.

“I was vilified, by just about everybody … big names in the Canadian writing community,” she said in an interview. “The complaint was that I was shackling the imagination.”

Her response then and today: “Your imagination comes right up to my nose, and if it goes any further, then I push back.”

She said it is discouraging to hear the “same old arguments” resurfacing but heartening to see a new generation pushing back.

“Hopefully they’ll listen now. Like I said, we’re in a new era,” she said. “So many things have happened between then and now, and there are so many more wonderfully articulate indigenous people.”

Source: ‘We’re asking for change’: Emerging indigenous generation flexes muscle over cultural appropriation | National Post

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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