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Culture Appropriation

According to the Canada Council for the Arts’ Indigenous Program Creating, Knowing and Sharing, a significant percentage of art that is sold through the tourism market as belonging to the indigenous is fake. The lost revenue has an adverse effect on the cultural maintenance of communities and families and also the self-determination of individual people.  Sadly, the stereotyping and blatant theft of the indigenous culture happens in so many ways. 

Cultural appropriation is the use of people’s music, art, knowledge, and other aspects without their approval. Early forms of appropriation include the stereotypical depiction of Indian people in novels, movies and literature. Unfortunately, most of these depictions albeit being stereotypical have survived to date. For centuries the indigenous people have been depicted on an imaginary image that does not tell us of their culture or history. An early depiction of indigenous people was conformed to the first settler’s stereotype of indigenous people as being anti-modern and exotic. 

Currently, some example of cultural appropriation includes the use of the indigenous language colloquial, appropriating the tattoo designs, style, and hairdo. The exploitation of culture and heritage is also rife. Appropriation has become common that it is even infiltrated into pop culture. For example, copying the indigenous art style and design and producing artifacts and materials is rampant. There is also the sale of ceremonial objects and craftwork, the use of healthy practices, and traditional medicine by those outside the community as well as the use of indigenous designs in art, fashion, advertisement, film, and literature.

For whatever reason, cultural appropriation creates a disconnection from one’s culture and identity. It disregards the scared stories and meaning that is attached to the items or practices. Plausibly, one may feel that they identify with the community, or know so much about the community, well that is not enough. Having proximity to the community does not mean that you get acceptance into the community. It’s even more unfortunate that the government uses indigenous symbols in nationalism only to commodify the culture, yet they refuse to engage in practices and policies that encourage but instead implement policies that threaten the existence of the culture such as the Indian Act.

Cultural appropriation is theft, it taking elements of a culture that you are not part of and deciding to represent the culture to others without fully understanding the context of others. While culture is meant to be shared and enjoyed, in the spirit of reconciliation, I would advise that it would be good if someone is willing to do some research and incorporate some research on the appropriate use of cultural symbols.

If you admire certain items that belong to the indigenous community, then it would be good if you would directly purchase the item from someone from that culture or indigenous-owned stores. That is cultural respect. When talking or in a discussion, do not refer to people belonging to the indigenous community as being exotic or belonging to the other culture. It is also inappropriate to modernize aspects of another culture because this suggests that the modernized rendition is much better than the original one. It is also not right to assume that borrowing some elements of another culture is okay. For most communities, the culture is embedded in ancient and strict protocols that dictate what certain features mean and also how things should be done.

All said, as the country embraces reconciliation, it would be appropriate that we not only learn about the indigenous people, including their culture, their lives, and the impact that colonialization has had on them. I have been regrettably oblivious to the sensitivity of using other people’s cultures. Like most other people, I did not see anything wrong with using racists comments, singing along racists songs, dressing in a certain way to mimic others’ culture as being wrong until I enrolled for this class. Education has been paramount to understand not only the struggles that the Aboriginals have gone through but also their determination to preserve their culture. Education is, therefore, essential to understanding what cultural appropriation is, and that way, we can celebrate and protect the culture of the indigenous community.

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