Renaming Langevin Block isn’t rewriting history – it’s unearthing it: Tabatha Southey

I tend to be more in the third camp that maintaining historic names and monuments may be better than erasing them as we can’t (nor should we) erase history (with appropriate interpretative plaques). But I understand the views of the Indigenous MPs and related factors that led the government to make the name change:

The building, constructed in 1889, was named after Hector-Louis Langevin. Mr. Langevin, a member of Sir John A. Macdonald’s cabinet and one of the Fathers of Confederation, was also one of the fathers of the Canadian residential school system, which he saw as the best way of ensuring that Indigenous children didn’t “remain savages.”

Of the resulting residential school system, I can only say this: If you haven’t yet, read the report, especially if you’re in a panic about us misremembering our past. Residential schools are part of Canada’s history, and in removing Mr. Langevin’s name from a building – one from which we are partly governed, no less – at a time when Canada must attempt reconciliation, we’re not burying our past. We’re unearthing it.

There has been an incredible level of hand-wringing about the name change, as there is about many name changes these days, and there seem to be three schools of lack-of-thought around monuments, statues, tributes, and the renaming and removing thereof.

The first is that change is simply impossible, or at least immoral. “Don’t trust that lying song, it’s still Constantinople,” this argument goes. “Or are you denying that Constantine the Great ever existed?”

The second argument is that we mustn’t apply modern standards to old heroes, and that everyone objecting to the perpetual celebration of people who tormented or enslaved their ancestors or their living relatives, like their auntie over there knitting them a scarf, is being far too sensitive.

Generally, this “don’t be such a snowflake” argument somehow manages to come around to not wanting to hurt the ghostly feelings of whatever dead hero’s statue or honorifically-named school is under discussion. Often, there’s a codicil that the once-celebrated figure meant well, or at least only meant as badly as everyone else did at the time, so don’t be such a meanie, snowflake.

The third line of defence takes one look at Defence Number Two, standing there boasting, “Look how bizarre I am, I am a complete freak of logic,” and simply says, “Hold my rhetorical beer.”

“Yes,” says Defence Number Three, “the old dead person in question was in fact horrible, you’re right. He was not at all the sort of person who deserves a great big statue or a major street named after him, and clearly the only the way to ensure future generations remember how horrible he was is to keep a lot of statues of him around and name an assortment of streets, schools, bridges and other miscellaneous public property after him. Not that I like the guy or admire his politics or anything, but lest we forget and all …”

Close observers may note that Defence Number Three and its devotees generally draw a line at which specific historical figures we must keep around under the guise of not repeating them.

…Some have pointed out that, given the issues still to be resolved, if we are to achieve reconciliation with Indigenous people, renaming a building is merely a distraction. But it is a gesture asked for by Indigenous MPs. In February 2016, Liberal backbenchers Don Rusnak and Robert-Falcon Ouellette and NDP MP Romeo Saganash, as well as Independent Hunter Tootoo, called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take Mr. Langevin’s name off the building. Do it, it was argued, in deference to survivors of the residential schools who shouldn’t be subjected to constant reminders of a man who “devastated their lives.”

It’s hardly a gesture that could be said to drain resources from other initiatives. Be wary of anyone who claims that the potable water budget was all spent on new PMO stationery, and perhaps not negotiating from a building basically called “In Your Face!” will help in some small way.

Some delicate flowers are seriously claiming that renaming a building in Ottawa is a grave insult that will cause irreparable damage to their culture. These highly selective stalwart defenders of culture and community ought to consider the fact that the man for whom that building was named insisted in a speech to Parliament that while Indigenous children left with their families could learn how to “read and write”, they must be separated from them if they are to “acquire the habits and tastes … of civilized people” – and pipe right down.

Anxiety about preserving our culture might be better spent on renaming something. Nothing threatens our culture more than refusing change; toppling statues is one of our traditions, and history is renaming. If you’ve spent any of the past week whining about the renaming of Langevin Block, you better have done so as a proud citizen of Turtle Island.

Source: Renaming Langevin Block isn’t rewriting history – it’s unearthing it – The Globe and Mail

The other related debate was regarding the appropriateness of the former US Embassy as an Indigenous “space.” The symbolism of the location, across the street from Parliament, contrasts with the symbolism of the architecture.

My take is that a creative architecture should be able to “repurpose” the space in a manner than includes Indigenous identity, much as the Global Centre of Pluralism’s renovation of the former war museum on Sussex Ave did with its Islamic screen motifs and choice of materials, colours and finishes.

Andrew Cohen’s critique is one of the better ones even if I don’t agree:

Beyond the venue, the building itself is unsuitable. It was designed by an American architect and finished in limestone, mimicking Beaux Arts. John Ralston Saul, the provocative writer and philosopher, calls it “an imitation of an imitation,” inconsistent in tone with the parliamentary precinct.

If it is questionable artistically, symbolically it’s awful. Do we want to offer Indigenous organizations an outpost of the American Empire, which deceived, displaced and murdered native Americans? Do we want Indigenous Canada to bury its heart on Wellington Street?

Let us recognize, as well, that this centre is not conceived in yesterday’s Ottawa, which was deaf to the aboriginal story. It comes amid a spirited effort to reverse a history of sorrow. Last week, for example, the National Gallery of Canada opened its new galleries of Canadian and Indigenous art. Next week, the Museum of Canadian History will open its new Canadian History Hall. Its president, Mark O’Neill, says that “Indigenous history is incorporated into every part of the most comprehensive exhibition of the Canadian story ever presented.” The National Arts Centre has announced its first artistic director of Indigenous theatre. The other day the Governor-General gave awards to 29 Canadians showing “outstanding Indigenous leadership.”

No, all this does not put things right. But institutional Canada, in its earnest way, is starting to embrace the Indigenous reality. Indeed, the elevation of the relationship between the government and first peoples may become the proudest legacy of the Trudeau government. But this repurposed Indigenous space is a bad idea. On the 150th anniversary of Confederation, why not think more boldly? Mr. Saul suggests razing the old embassy. He proposes a larger, elegant building, flowing from a rigorous international design competition. It would echo the motif of Parliament, draw on its materials and produce something modern and arresting.

It might hold two museums of political and aboriginal history, and offices for parliamentarians. Or serve as a repository of our founding documents, like the Quebec Act and the BNA Act. This would be the right building in the right place at the right time for Canada. It would make, in itself, a dazzling moral statement about this country and the people we are.

Turning an embassy into ‘Indigenous space’ is a classic government misjudgment

As homelands devastated, Indonesian tribe turns to Islam – The Jakarta Post

Parallels with Canadian Indigenous peoples and Christianity?

Indonesian tribesman Muhammad Yusuf believes his conversion from animism to Islam in a government-supported program will eventually make his life easier.

“Thank God, the government now pays attention to us; before our conversion they didn’t care,” says Yusuf, the Islamic name he has adopted.

Yusuf is a member of the “Orang Rimba” tribe. His small community now gathers around a stilt-mounted wooden hut, while children inside wearing Islamic skullcaps and hijabs enthusiastically recite the Koran.

Not far away, other members of the tribe who remain faithful to the old ways stalk through palm oil trees in a desperate hunt for prey in an area that was once lush Sumatran rainforest.

Stick-thin and wearing only loincloths over their weather-beaten skin, they brandish homemade rifles as they search for their next meal.

Yusuf’s group converted to Islam, the predominant faith in Indonesia, and gave up their nomadic ways in January in a bid to improve livelihoods that have been devastated by the expansion of palm oil plantations and coal mines into their forest homelands.

Authorities insist the move is positive but critics say it amounts to a last throw of the dice for indigenous groups driven to desperation by the government’s failure to properly defend their rights against rapid commercial expansion.

Indonesia is home to an estimated 70 million tribespeople, more than a quarter of the total 255-million population, from the heavily tattooed Dayaks of Borneo island to the Mentawai who are famed for sharpening their teeth as they believe it makes them more beautiful.

But as a nomadic group, the Orang Rimba — whose name translates as “jungle people” — are a rarity.

Source: As homelands devastated, Indonesian tribe turns to Islam – National – The Jakarta Post

In Defense of Cultural Appropriation: Malik – The New York Times

Good piece by Kenan Malik, particularly this point:

“The accusation of cultural appropriation is a secular version of the charge of blasphemy. It’s the insistence that certain beliefs and images are so important to particular cultures that they may not appropriated by others.”:

Critics of cultural appropriation insist that they are opposed not to cultural engagement, but to racism. They want to protect marginalized cultures and ensure that such cultures speak for themselves, not simply be seen through the eyes of more privileged groups.

Certainly, cultural engagement does not take place on a level playing field. Racism and inequality shape the ways in which people imagine others. Yet it is difficult to see how creating gated cultures helps promote social justice.

There are few figures more important to the development of rock ’n’ roll than Chuck Berry (who died in March). In the 1950s, white radio stations refused to play his songs, categorizing them as “race music.” Then came Elvis Presley. A white boy playing the same tunes was cool. Elvis was feted, Mr. Berry and other black pioneers largely ignored. Racism defined who became the cultural icon.

But imagine that Elvis had been prevented from appropriating so-called black music. Would that have challenged racism, or eradicated Jim Crow laws? Clearly not. It took a social struggle — the civil rights movement — to bring about change. That struggle was built not on cultural separation, but on the demand for equal rights and universal values.

Campaigns against cultural appropriation reveal the changing meaning of what it is to challenge racism. Once, it was a demand for equal treatment for all. Now it calls for cultures to be walled off and boundaries to be policed.

But who does the policing? Every society has its gatekeepers, whose role is to protect certain institutions, maintain the privileges of particular groups and cordon off some beliefs from challenge. Such gatekeepers protect not the marginalized but the powerful. Racism itself is a form of gatekeeping, a means of denying racialized groups equal rights, access and opportunities.

In minority communities, the gatekeepers are usually self-appointed guardians whose power rests on their ability to define what is acceptable and what is beyond the bounds. They appropriate for themselves the authority to license certain forms of cultural engagement, and in doing so, entrench their power.

The most potent form of gatekeeping is religion. When certain beliefs are deemed sacred, they are put beyond questioning. To challenge such beliefs is to commit blasphemy.

The accusation of cultural appropriation is a secular version of the charge of blasphemy. It’s the insistence that certain beliefs and images are so important to particular cultures that they may not appropriated by others. This is most clearly seen in the debate about Ms. Schutz’s painting “Open Casket.”

In 1955, Emmett Till’s mother urged the publication of photographs of her son’s mutilated body as it lay in its coffin. Till’s murder, and the photographs, played a major role in shaping the civil rights movement and have acquired an almost sacred quality. It was from those photos that Ms. Schutz began her painting.

To suggest that she, as a white painter, should not depict images of black suffering is as troubling as the demand by some Muslims that Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” should be censored because of supposed blasphemies in its depiction of Islam. In fact, it’s more troubling because, as the critic Adam Shatz has observed, the campaign against Ms. Schutz’s work contains an “implicit disavowal that acts of radical sympathy, and imaginative identification, are possible across racial lines.”

Seventy years ago, racist radio stations refused to play “race music” for a white audience. Today, antiracist activists insist that white painters should not portray black subjects. To appropriate a phrase from a culture not my own: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Cultural appropriation: Make it illegal worldwide, Indigenous advocates say

The pace of global negotiations is always slow but surprised that Canadian Indigenous peoples do not appear to have been consulted and are not in attendance:

Indigenous advocates from around the world are calling on a UN committee to ban the appropriation of Indigenous cultures — and to do it quickly.

Delegates from 189 countries, including Canada, are in Geneva this week as part of a specialized international committee within the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a United Nations agency.

Since it began in 2001, the committee has been working on creating and finishing three pieces of international law that would expand intellectual-property regulations to protect things like Indigenous designs, dances, words and traditional medicines.

The meeting takes place as concern grows worldwide about the rights of cultures to control their own materials. In the U.S. this week, designer Tory Burch agreed to change the description of one of her coats for women after Romanians protested that it had been described as African-inspired when it actually appropriated a traditional Romanian garment.

Speaking to the committee Monday, James Anaya, dean of law at the University of Colorado, said the UN’s negotiated document should “obligate states to create effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures to recognize and prevent the non-consensual taking and illegitimate possession, sale and export of traditional cultural expressions.”

Anaya said the document should also look at products that are falsely advertised as Indigenous-made or endorsed by Indigenous groups.

That would mean products like those in U.S.-based retailer Urban Outfitters “Navajo” line, Anaya said, including “Navajo hipster panties,” a “peace treaty feather necklace” and a “Navajo print flask.”

The Navajo Nation launched a legal battle against the company for trademark infringement in 2012. The case was settled out of court late last year.

Anaya is one of several Indigenous leaders at this round of negotiations who are questioning just how seriously some member states are taking the negotiations.

The committee has been working on three draft documents for 16 years, and member states are now going through them line by line.

It is a painstaking, slow process, and some Indigenous leaders say they are frustrated and disenchanted about the committee’s future.

“We are only halfway through 2017 and yet the number of occurrences of misappropriation happening to Indigenous Peoples in all regions of the world seems relentless with no relief in sight,” said Aroha Te Pareake Mead, a member of the Ngati Awa and Ngati Porou tribes in Wellington, New Zealand.

“We asked the international community to help deal with a problem that traverses international boundaries and are still waiting.”

Low participation

Mead said part of the problem is that Indigenous groups around the world have no idea about the committee’s work and often aren’t being consulted by member states.

“People at a national level don’t know what’s going on, and there aren’t many processes where you can get information about this or contribute to the positions that are being taken here.”

Mead also noted that WIPO has what she called “one of the lowest” rates of Indigenous participation.

“The issues being discussed at the [Intergovernmental Committee] are also being discussed in Indigenous organizations and communities all around the world on a regular basis. So why are there not more Indigenous representatives here?”

Indigenous participation ‘crucial’

There are Indigenous groups from around the world taking part in this round of negotiations, including groups from New Zealand, Kenya, Mexico, Colombia and the United States.

There is no Indigenous representation in the Canadian delegation.

Officials with Global Affairs Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and Canadian Heritage are taking part in this round of negotiations, but the lack of Canadian Indigenous representatives is drawing criticism from the Assembly of First Nations.

“The elders and knowledge keepers are the authorities who should oversee the creation of guidelines and a process for utilizing Indigenous knowledge in any activities,” Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde told CBC in a written statement.

“We welcome the investigation of such topics on an international stage like the United Nations, but it’s crucial that Indigenous knowledge keepers are part of the dialogue.”

Source: Cultural appropriation: Make it illegal worldwide, Indigenous advocates say – North – CBC News

When history comes back and bites you: Salutin | Toronto Star

Rick Salutin, looking back on his play 1837, with a new Indigenous peoples awareness and perspective. I particularly like his line: “The point isn’t that we were wrong and “they” are right: they too will be found wrong in due time, it’s how history works. In fact, everyone gets a chance to be both wrong and right.”:

I’m having an odd experience: having once used history as material to make writing points, I now find my use of it being judged as I had judged.

When I was a kid studying Canadian history, we were taught that the rebellion of 1837 in Toronto was a “comic opera” event, a farce put down by British imperial authorities that came to nothing.

Then, in university in the U.S., I learned that history was often lied about, to manipulate citizens. So naturally when I returned to Canada and became a writer in the 1970s, I looked around for pieces of Canadian history to set right and seized on that one. Along with a theatre company, using the “collective” process, we made a play, 1837, which became a staple of the Canadian repertoire, even becoming a kind of rite of passage for young actors.

Now it’s been “revived,” decades later, at the Shaw Festival, with a mature, accomplished cast and production.

First irony: at the time of the original show, we considered the Shaw and Stratford festivals the enemy — villains who disparaged Canadian artistic sources in order to foist foreign cultural material on us. We aimed to bring them down. We even included a mocking scene of a haughty Brit travelling to (Shawfest site) Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Now, it appears, everyone from that original production is delighted with the revival and plans to trek down to see it.

But more bitingly, we were certain we represented the good guys — the noble Canadian farmers of the time — versus their imperial overlords and local sycophants, the “Family Compact.” But hey, time moves on, and our show is (relatively gently) charged with overlooking truer victims: the First Nations.

Our play opened with squatting farmers being evicted from “their” land by an arrogant official on behalf of an absentee landlord. They vow to stay and fight on. It never occurred to us to ask who that land came from. People knew in fact but the issue hadn’t, as it were, occupied the main stage, the way it has since. The Shaw version copes with this by having its main set concealed by a native-inflected drop, which is then pulled off to reveal a corduroy road.

But the whole sense of place remains contentious. We set scenes boldly in locations like “Bay and Adelaide, southeast corner,” to show history happened here, as much as at Waterloo. If audiences snickered, actors took it as a challenge to make them respond solemnly to our own reality.

Yet today, events from hockey games to school announcements to political assemblies often open with an acknowledgment that “we” are meeting on the traditional territory of First Nations, based on an Indigenous protocol — great word — as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was even employed at Shaw this season.

It’s one of the redemptive qualities of Canada that this ritual has taken root with relative ease, even been embraced enthusiastically, like asking fans at hockey games to rise for, “O Canada,” “if you are able.”

It may come easier if you’re younger. My friend, musician Simone Schmidt, who does much historical research herself (like her recent release, Audible Songs from Rockwood), suggests, if you have a hard time with this, repeating the phrase, “settler-colonial” 20 times a day till it starts coming naturally.

The point isn’t that we were wrong and “they” are right: they too will be found wrong in due time, it’s how history works. In fact, everyone gets a chance to be both wrong and right. The only sure thing is, said Hegel — a history buff himself around the time our play is set — “The truth is everything!”

Overall it makes me feel, in light of the ugly phase that nationalism is passing through worldwide, that we may have been fortunate not to have had more success than we did with our nationalist projects back then.

And how’s the revival? First rule regarding your own past work: manage to avoid embarrassment. Alan Jay Lerner — My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, Camelot — said when his last play opened on Broadway, that he used to hope for success, now he just wanted to escape humiliation. No problem there. Once past that, I enjoyed the show a lot, especially since I saw the opening with my 18-year-old son — though I’ve never known whether family counts as history or something … other.

Source: When history comes back and bites you: Salutin | Toronto Star

Mixed race isn’t black and white: Paradkar

Paradkar on mixed race/unions:

Mixed-race couples account for only 4.6 per cent of all unions in Canada, according to a Statistics Canada report last updated in 2013.

The offspring of such a couple are often described as being “exotic” or “post-racial.” These positive stereotypes often apply to those who look closer to white or have elitism on their side. Think Keanu Reeves, think Drake.

As the children born of mixed heritages get further from whiteness, problems of racism or colourism crop up, even from within families. White parents who deny their own privilege can also be blind to the racializing experiences of their children, Chang found after interviewing 68 families for her book Raising Mixed Race.

The idea that “by their birth they bridge the divide between races is a myth,” Chang says. “Birthing mixed kids does not fix racial issues.”

Zainab Amadahy, 62, knows this only too well. She is mixed race of African-American, Cherokee, Seminole, Portuguese and Amish descent. Her mother was white, her father Black and in the Jim Crow era that normalized segregation, her mother’s parents disowned her. Internalized racism meant it wasn’t smooth sailing on the racial front on her father’s side, either.

“My father’s people were very shade-ist,” she told the conference audience. “Upward mobility meant being lighter, marrying into light skin.”

Amadahy identified as Black and as an activist, was easily accepted as one. “In those days, to talk about being mixed race was to claim light-skin privilege,” she says.

One of her earliest memories involves waking up to New York City cops rousing her father out of bed one night in the ’60s and then punching and kicking him down the stairs. He came back beaten and bruised the next day. There were no charges against him. Turned out the police had mistaken him for someone else. No apologies either. “That was my introduction to the idea that cops were not safe.”

School? As the only Black in school with her siblings, she remembers being assaulted, beaten up. “It was my white mother, of all people, who taught me how to defend myself, sent us all to karate school.

“She was a follower of MLK and didn’t believe in violence, but I guess that was theoretical when it came to her own kids being beaten up.”

In the days when “mixed” in America meant white mixed with black, her Indigenous roots stayed in the background. It was only when she came to Toronto as a 19-year-old that she got involved with the pan-Indigenous community and felt freer to explore that side of her heritage.

Indigeneity is anything but in the background for Dani Kwan-Lafond, who is Chinese, Indigenous and French-Canadian. She and her partner, who is Jewish, have a little girl.

Mixedness comes with challenges for a parent, not the least of which is, “Do I put her in native school in Toronto? Or do I put into a French school?”

“Certainly, she sees a lot of Asian faces, both Chinese and Filipino,” Kwan-Lafond said.

“But being Indigenous is something different. We have these mixed identities . . . and one of those identities is a really politicized one in Canada . . . we do a lot more in our house around Indigeneity than we do around Asianness.”

Kwan-Lafond wonders: “As a parent, how do I bring her up in a good way with a community of elders and listen to my teachings? How do I also acknowledge those other parts of identity?”

So, they end up celebrating a number of traditions. “We do Chinese New Year, Passover. We do Pow Wows.

“It’s a complicated situation, but it’s our normal.”

Intermingling may not have the inherent ability to solve racial inequalities, but with considered parenting, it can offer a genuine shot at moving past tribalism.

Amadahy considers her background a blessing. “It has allowed me to move in and out of communities, have passion for many, many stories and to question our socially constructed ideas of identity.”

Source: Mixed race isn’t black and white: Paradkar | Toronto Star

Celine Cooper: The future role of indigenous languages

The challenges are real given the diversity of languages and the population sizes:

At a speech to the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly back in December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government would be proposing a Canadian Indigenous Languages Act. While  they announced an allocation of around $90 million over the next three years to support communities seeking to revitalize indigenous languages in the 2017 budget, no actual legislation has been introduced as of yet.

Of course, there’s no denying that such legislation would be a logistical challenge. In Canada, there are more than 60 aboriginal languages, grouped into 12 distinct language families. About 20 per cent of those in Canada who report having an aboriginal mother tongue live in Quebec.

Would this mean Canada having 60 (or more) official languages? And if so, how would that mesh with existing policies and practices around French and English as Canada’s official languages? The reality is that different First Nations groups have been thinking about this for decades. One example can be found in a 2005 report titled Towards a New Beginning delivered to the minister of Canadian Heritage by the Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures. The authors concluded that while recognition of indigenous languages would be national, implementation could be regional.

Marc Miller’s Kanyen’kéha language speech to the House of Commons was a powerful symbolic gesture on behalf of the Liberal government. But keeping its promises to Canada’s indigenous peoples is going to take much more than words.

Source: Celine Cooper: The future role of indigenous languages

To Honor Canadian Natives, a Lawmaker Speaks in Mohawk – The New York Times


Cultural appropriation is a touchy topic in Canada these days, with the recent controversy in Canadian media over whether it is appropriate for nonindigenous writers to take on a native voice for artistic expression. But Marc Miller, a member of Canada’s Parliament, decided he was on solid ground in giving a speech in Kanyen’kéha, the language of the Mohawks, in the House of Commons on Thursday.

“Language is one of those things that, if you apply the appropriation rule, would die faster,” Mr. Miller said in a telephone interview. He said he was inspired to learn the language because the district he represents in Quebec covers traditional Mohawk land.

“I stand here to honor the Mohawk language, and I pay my respects to their people,” Mr. Miller said in Kanyen’kéha to mark the beginning of Canada’s National Aboriginal History Month. He said in the short speech that he hoped to hear the language more often in Parliament, and that more Canadians would “be proud to use it to speak to one another.”

Marc Miller delivers a statement in Kanyen’kéha, the language of the Mohawks. Video by CBC News

Indigenous languages are dying in Canada, as they are in much of the industrialized world, largely as a consequence of past government efforts to stamp out their use and force assimilation into the larger population. In Canada, that was accomplished through residential boarding schools where indigenous students were forbidden to speak their native tongues.

The government has tried to make amends for this history in recent years, after a wrenching Truth and Reconciliation Commission laid bare the amount of abuse some 150,000 indigenous students experienced at the government-financed schools over more than a century. The former prime minister, Stephen Harper, apologized on behalf of the government. His successor, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, followed up with a vow to adopt all 94 recommendations from the commission, known in Canada as calls to action.

The government has promised to spend about $90 million Canadian (in United States currency, about $67 million) over the next three years to support indigenous languages and culture, including $69 million Canadian for such things as classes to keep alive native languages.

It has also committed to work with the indigenous population to codevelop an Indigenous Languages Act that will help ensure the preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages.

Fewer than 600 people in Canada cited Kanyen’kéha as their mother tongue in the country’s 2011 census. All but a few of the 60 indigenous languages that still exist in the country are expected to disappear within the next generation.

Indigenous culture not protected in Canadian law, lawyers and academics say

Interesting article about intellectual property and indigenous culture, from both a domestic and international perspective:

“The problem is that Indigenous heritage is often seen as a public domain, free for the taking,” said George Nicholas, a professor at Simon Fraser University who led an eight-year international research project on cultural appropriation.

“That’s not the case. [For] many First Nations, many Inuit and other Indigenous peoples, their heritage is still vibrant…. When it is threatened, when it is used by others in ways that are inappropriate or unwelcome, this can cause a variety of harms, not just economic but spiritual.”

There are a host of barriers Indigenous groups face when trying to use intellectual-property laws to protect their cultural heritage.

Intellectual-property law began to take form in the 19th century in western Europe to protect individual ideas and creations, mainly for economic reasons.

“It wasn’t really designed for Indigenous innovation, which is marked by collective processes, collective custodianship and a very strong spiritual dimension,” said Wend Wendland, director of the Traditional Knowledge Division at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva.

“Some refer to it as a square peg in a round hole.”

Ava the shaman

An illustration featured in the book Northern Voices: Inuit Writing in English depicts a traditional design similar to that used by a fashion designer in 2015. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

The main problem facing Indigenous groups looking to use intellectual-property law is that in order for something like a traditional parka design or carving style to be patented, it has to be unique or original, Wendland said.

But many Indigenous customs and designs have been passed down from generation to generation since time immemorial. They have been replicated hundreds if not thousands of times, often making them unable to be patented.

Wendland also says the current system generally requires some sort of hard copy of what the copyright or patent is supposed to protect. But many forms of Indigenous knowledge or stories are often passed down orally.

Exceptions exist, but model may be fundamentally flawed

Some Canadian Indigenous groups have had success using trademarks. The Cowichan Band Council in British Columbia registered the certification “Genuine Cowichan Approved”. It was created to help differentiate between the traditional Indigenous hand-knitted sweaters crafted by Coast Salish people and non-Indigenous designers selling counterfeits.


Dianne Hinkley shows off a genuine Cowichan Tribes sweater. ((CBC))

There is work being done to help create a broader system to protect Indigenous intellectual property. One hundred and eighty-nine states have joined a special committee within the World Intellectual Property Organization. The organization is working toward an international treaty that would expand intellectual-property laws to protect Indigenous culture. It will meet in Geneva next month to continue negotiations.

Whitehorse lawyer Claire Anderson says using the Canadian legal system is counterintuitive when protecting Indigenous culture.

“If we choose that forum, essentially we would be going to the colonial forum that has taken away Indigenous rights, and we would be asking the non-Indigenous judges to make determinations about Indigenous law,” Anderson said.

Indigenous law has its own remedies

Anderson said groups should look to their own form of Indigenous law to protect their history and knowledge.

“Listening to our First Nation elders or listening to people that understand Indigenous laws and seeking redress through those Indigenous legal forums is a very good starting point because it provides legitimacy to those Indigenous legal forums.”

Anderson says that in Tlingit culture, if someone exploits someone else’s design or steals property, they must apologize in front of the community at a public forum, like a potlatch. She says some sort of compensation is given — whether it’s monetary or the gifting of a song.

Source: Indigenous culture not protected in Canadian law, lawyers and academics say – North – CBC News


‘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.


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