Admiration or Appropriation?

To those of you who wear native headdresses/feathers to look edgy or cool, I am here to say that what you are doing is offensive act called cultural appropriation. In the article written by Apihtawikosisân, a Metis woman, she notes that celebrating and supporting a culture is perfectly fine but it’s when you start using a culture’s restricted symbols that you cross into the realm of appropriation (apihtawikosisan.com). Cultural appropriation is when a group of powerful people exploits the culture of a less privileged or minority group. It is often done with little understanding of the latter’s history, experience, and traditions. Many groups are victims of cultural appropriation, but none have been more exploited than the Indigenous Peoples.

Subsequently, to understand cultural appropriation you have to understand where it came from: colonialism. When European explorers came to North America, they colonized the land, claimed the resources for their own, exposed the Native peoples to disease and racism, and forced them to submit to the demands of the white man. The effects of colonialism can be seen throughout history as the Canadian government has created Acts and laws in the attempt to make the Indigenous race civilized, and integrate them into white society. The government attempted to “fix the Indian problem” by sending Indigenous children to residential schools run by the white churches (Fleras 2010). The main goal of the schools were to assimilate the children into white society and “kill the Indian” inside, thus thousands of young children were subjected to physical, psychological, sexual, verbal, and spiritual abuse (Fleras 2010). Assimilation is when a minority group is integrated (by choice or by force) into the dominant group culture; the assimilated group loses aspects of their own culture and heritage as a result (Fleras 2010). The Indigenous people went through centuries of trauma and suffering, but unfortunately the media and popular culture fails to mention that in any statement about Indigenous people.

Going back to Apihtawikosisân’s article, she states that “headdresses are restricted items in the Plains Nation and are further restricted within the cultures to men who have done certain things to earn them” (apihtawikosisan.com). These restricted items are a staple of the media’s outdated image of Indigenous People. The Cleveland Indians, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Washington Redskins, Pocahontas, Tiger Lily from Peter Pan are all examples of the Imaginary Indian created by the media. The Imaginary Indian is the image projected on the Indigenous people by non-native cultures, containing very little truth and being mostly about that with which the non-native population wants the word ‘Indian’ to be associated (Crosby 2002). Unsurprisingly, pop culture uses ceremonial headdresses in most interpretations of Indigenous people without the understanding of its history and importance. As Apihtawikosisân says later in the article, “individual choices do not trump our collective rights as peoples to define our symbols” (apihtawikosisan.com).

A recent example of individual choices leading to cultural appropriation is at the 2015 Milan fashion week. Canadian brothers, Dan and Dean Caten, showed off their women’s line titled ‘Dsquaw’ and offended a lot of Indigenous peoples in so doing. Squaw is a racial slur used by colonists to insult Indigenous women, and using it in such a commercial way glosses over the fact that it’s an incredibly derogatory term.

Another comment about the line is that the brothers stated that they were “inspired by the enchantment of Canadian Indian Tribes” (www.ctvnews.ca). While it’s wonderful to admire Indigenous culture and want to showcase it, the brothers combine all Indigenous peoples into one group; this line is saying that all Indigenous people dress this way. Apihtawikosisân’s comment on this kind of appropriation was: “I think it is reasonable to ask that if you admire a culture, you learn more about it. Particularly when the details are so much more fascinating than say, outdated stereotypes of Pan-Indian culture” (apihtawikosisan.com). They use their own white privilege to decide what defines native clothes and then take credit. This outlines my main problem in the fashion line, which is that the brothers knew nothing of Indigenous culture and history, and they were simply using parts of the culture they liked to further their own fashion careers. I personally found it quite appalling when I first saw the line name, a racial slur in an international fashion event. Unbelievable! This type of coverage is why many people believe dressing up as ‘Indians’ or wearing headdresses is cool or part of a trend. As posted on the website My Culture is Not a Trend (2013) being seen as “trendy” makes an entire culture not only a commodity, but also something that people will tire of; therefore being viewed as disposable. Culture appropriation makes light of the troubles that Indigenous peoples have faced and creates an unrealistic image of them that the public can throw away when they get bored.

While cultural appropriation is an ever-constant problem in today’s society, you as a consumer and as a member of society can reject these appropriations of Indigenous culture. The easiest way is by supporting legitimate and unrestricted items crafted and sold by indigenous peoples, these items include moccasin, mukluks and native art.

Finally, if you have appropriated someone’s culture, the best thing is to admit that you didn’t know and apologize if necessary. This acknowledgement is a step on the path to mutual respect and understanding.

Apihtawikosisan.com,. “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses’’. N.p 2015. Web. 7.Mar. 2015

Crosby, Marcia. “Construction of the Imaginary Indian.” Academic Reading: Reading and Writing in the Disciplines. Peterborough: Broadview, 2002. Print.

Ctvnews.ca. “Dsquared2 Slammed Online For ‘Dsquaw’ Fashion Line”. N.p 2015. Web. 9. Mar. 2015.

Fleras, Augie. “Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: Repairing the Relationship” Unequal Relations. 6th ed. Toronto: Pearson Canada, 2010. Print.

Mycutlureisnotatrend.com. “A Dialogue About Cultural Appropriation”. N.p 2013. Web. 8. Mar. 2015.

-Secretlybatman

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8 thoughts on “Admiration or Appropriation?

  1. Great review! I really appreciated the use of several different examples of cultural appropriation to support your argument of the prevalence of appropriation in our culture. I think noting that media and pop culture/media do not admit the assimilation that was attempted by the residential schools allows the problem to continue without a fix because how can something be fixed, if people won’t first admit what was done wrong? Furthermore, I really enjoyed your personal solution of buying things such as moccasins created by natives rather then buying them from large retail stores that sell knock-offs of the real thing. The only thing I would be cautious about doing is making statements such as “none have been more exploitd than the indigenous peoples” unless you are going to and can support that with true facts and/or sources. This kind of statement is, arguably, difficult to measure and difficult to prove it’s validity. Otherwise, great argument.
    -rayofsunshine

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    1. Thanks for the wonderful comment. As for the statement of indigenous peoples being the most exploited, what I have learned/seen through examples is indigenous people are at the bottom of the list when it comes to importance as humans. An example would be the article we discussed in an earlier tutorial how when they protested for missing and murdered aboriginal women people called it a nuance for delaying the VIA train. It seems all other races are put ahead of Indigenous peoples and their rights as human beings. I understand that is still a difficult statement to say of course but personally I believe it to be true. I would like to know what you think is the most exploited group.
      -Secretlybatman

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      1. I think that it is very difficult to say what is the most exploited group. I truly agree that the indigenous people are up there, but I think looking at many different kinds of exploitation, and many different situations may help shine light on other peoples being exploited. However, I don’t think you can label one group as ‘most’ exploited, in my opinion anyways. 🙂
        -rayofsunshine

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  2. Your post was great because it touched on a variety of things and made a fabulous connection to what we were learning in class last week displaying that this was an ongoing issue. I enjoyed reading this and your take on Indigenous peoples being the most dehumanized groups of people, I can definitely see this being the case here in Canada especially when looking at the missing and murdered Indigenous women and how the government has done little, to nothing, in eradicating the issue or even saying that it is a systemic issue.
    The relation that you made to the Canadian designer duo was perfect and really nailed your point in about cultural appropriation at the hands of white people and their privilege making such possible. Overall, solid post!

    – MasalaCHICKen

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I so glad that you were able to see the connection between missing and murder aboriginal women and the dehumanization of the aboriginal people, that is what I was hoping to get across. I completely agree that this is a huge problem in Canada (hence why I used the Canadian designers as examples) but unfortunately not surprising that government fails to see it as a systemic problem since the government is made up of mainly white, heteroseuxal, older males who are too blinded by their privilege to see the people they put down. Thanks once again for the great comment.
      -Secretlybatman

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  3. I liked how your post touched on the history of colonialism. I think it is a part in history that Canadians tend to forget about. The mass genocide of indigenous people by the European settlers was a horrible thing but we seem to forget that it just recently ended with the closing of the last residential school in the late 90s. and the fact that white people continue to have power over indigenous people is ridiculous. they cannot go and use sacred images and use them for their own entertainment. I also cannot believe that the brothers claim to have been inspired by sacred clothing but went on to change the meaning of the clothing for a means to sell clothes. I just don’t think it’s was a good move on their part. overall, excellent review!
    -mejicanluis

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I completely agree that Canada tends to hid their treatment of indigenous people from the public eye, unless you take a course on Canadian history your not really going to be taught about the genocide of indigenous peoples and residential schools because it’s conveniently left out of the basic school curriculum. The government doesn’t want to admit to their faults so they try to erase the evidence that it even happened. As for the brothers, I feel that are using the excuse of inspiration to cover-up the fact that it was obviously appropriation and I agree it wasn’t a smart move either.
      -Secretlybatman

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  4. Hey, great post! I like how you connected this to the Dquaw fashion styling. Identifying their white privilege was a great connection! Cultural appropriation seems to be a though thing to avoid, you mention at the end of your post that sometimes its best if you accept that you were committing the act and apologize. I wonder, have you ever culturally appropriated? I can definitely think of times where I wore tribal print clothing and wonder, does this count as cultural appropriation?
    Great work! 🙂

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