Cultural appropriation is something we do almost everyday of our lives as the world around us become more global and different cultures interact with each other. As stated in The Open Letter to Non-Native Wearing Headdress, by âpihtawikosisân, admiration for other cultures isn’t the true issue at hand, but rather the taking, copying, and appropriation of sacred cultural symbols from another culture for personal use and it can be very harmful especially when that culture has been oppressed. For someone to take a sacred symbol from another culture and using it outside of it’s cultural context and ascribe new meanings to the sacred object and perpetuate harmful stereotypes that not all people within that culture do not subscribe to. Cultural appropriation although having been used almost everyday, the mis-use of sacred cultural materials and symbols are detrimental to the oppressed culture, that the appropriator so wishes to emulate and it happens more often that one would believe.
A common example of cultural appropriation happens around Halloween when those who choose to dress up, decide to dress up and represent an entire culture. There are even many costumes available for sale such as, the Terrorist, a Geisha, Native American, Mexican and the list goes on, but all of these costumes have something in common. The take an aspect or a stereotypical fact about a culture and when that costume is worn the mis-representation, and lack of cultural context begins to take it’s toll, and this is especially true for Native American peoples. Their culture and it’s symbols are constantly being appropriated from insensitive Coachella goers, to halloween costumes, and even Caribanna costumes the miss use of the headdress is a symbol that is typically earned, and only for men. Yet, that symbol has been taken and mis-used constantly, and from the mis-use of this headdress, the feathers, the Native traditional dress in general we then generate stereotypes and generalized beliefs about that culture. Once again those symbols are part of traditional dress and especially today those pieces of clothing aren’t worn all the time, and it would be very easy for anyone to assume that those traditional pieces and those traditional pieces alone create the “Imaginary Indian” who is never truly authentic or indian enough, because the indigenous peoples today are in reality not any of these stereotypes.
These outdated views of indigenous peoples seem to lie within Canada’s roots in colonialism. As much of Europe sought to conquer the Americas for their own personal gain it is quite obvious that these views have carried over and aspects of colonialism still exist today. Even today Canada doesn’t treat their indigenous peoples with the respect that they deserve, as Canada and all it’s immigrants are the biggest squatters in history. Canada has taken away the control of their land, natural resources and even dictate the way in which indigenous communities live. Many Indigenous peoples do live in very poor conditions and often still feel a disconnect between themselves and their indigenous culture as the residential schools have taken so much away. Indigenous populations are dwindling and many are ending up in jail especially females and because of this they are being treated as a dying culture. Canada often denies the fact that we’ve had any racist or colonialist history by painting ourselves as a multicultural melting pot based in tolerance and less radical than our neighbours in the United States. Canada also paints itself as the saviours of a dying culture. When in fact Canada should be looking to not suppress and oppress our indigenous people but help them grow and give them the respect for their land upon which we’ve been using.
Through cultural appropriation reenforcing these stereotypes and micro/ macro aggressions against that culture/race one cannot deny the presence of systemic racism. It’s these harmful stereotypes that have put down the cultures outside of the white dominant group for many many years. An example of racism for the indigenous people of Canada are residential schools which sought eradicate indigenous cultures and languages until the last one closed in 1996. Much of the indigenous peoples who’ve attended these schools lost everything from their connection to their people and their culture to their own language. A census of the aboriginal population in 2006, found that only 22% percent of the Aboriginal populations have knowledge about their native language (Stats Canada) and knowledge according to stats Canada refers to, “ the ability to conduct a conversation in an Aboriginal language. The ‘on reserve’ population includes all people living in any of eight census subdivision (CSD) types legally affiliated with First Nations or Indian bands, as well as selected CSDs of various other types which have large concentrations of registered Indians. The ‘on reserve’ population is defined according to criteria established by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.” (Stats Canada, 2006) This is a painful reminder of the detriment that residential schools have put on the generations of indigenous peoples and whilst there has been much focus on reviving the languages of the first nations, there is still much to recover.
By culturally appropriating you are reenforcing the stereotypes that are harmful to a culture and it’s people, if ever there was an opportunity in which you are afraid your culturally appropriating in a harmful way ask yourself: Are the symbols/ object you are using sacred items? Are those sacred items being used for their cultural/ original purpose? Are you using those symbols to represent an entire culture? Were you invited to participate in the culture by member of that culture? If the answer to these questions were No or Maybe perhaps you should re-think your costume/ the use of the cultural symbol. Or You can use the bingo chart above that is also linked int he open letter.