Cultural Appropriation & Cultural Appreciation

Smudge bowl
Smudge Bowl

At this point in Skoden you may be convinced you need to make some changes in your courses, or the programs, or work you are responsible for in post-secondary contexts, but you hesitate for not wanting to over-step, offend, or make mistakes. You are right to be conscious of doing things in a good way, but inaction is not an option. The Calls to Action and Calls for Justice clearly implicate post-secondary education in truth and reconciliation work. Yes, non-Indigenous faculty and staff need to make way for Indigenous people to take up positions in post-secondary settings, but equally so, as treaty partners we have a responsibility to hold up our end of the relationship. It is not for Indigenous people to decolonize our minds and those of our students, we need to take up that task for ourselves. There is so much unlearning and new learning to be done.

Sometimes fear of not knowing the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation holds us back from moving towards acting in ways that will bring about renewed relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Here are a few different (but similar) definitions of cultural appropriation from Indigenous people:

On the Reclaim Indigenous Arts website, Jay Soule and Nadine St-Louis define cultural appropriation as the following:

“Cultural appropriation is when one person from one culture takes culturally distinct items, aesthetics or spiritual practices…from another culture and mimics it. They adopt it as their own without consent, permission or any cultural relationship to the object or practice, in order to make money or just because they admire it.”

The Canadian Encyclopedia offers this definition of cultural appropriation:

“Cultural appropriation is the use of a people’s traditional dress, music, cuisine, knowledge and other aspects of their culture, without their approval, by members of a different culture. For Indigenous peoples in Canada, cultural appropriation is rooted in colonization and ongoing oppression.”

In a CBC article about cultural appropriation, journalist Ka’nhehsí:io Deer states that it happens when:

“…elements of a marginalized culture are taken and used by another culture with a huge sense of entitlement attached. That unhealthy sense of entitlement is obvious when an individual cannot even accept criticism from members of the culture they’re appropriating.”

Cultural appreciation on the other hand, is about building relationships of respect and reciprocity where consent and active participation of Indigenous peoples can occur. It is moving beyond stereotypes and towards an engagement with knowledges, taking the time and effort to do so. It is more than teaching about people who are First Nations, Métis, and Inuit but learning from them in our shared history.

Listen to CBC host, Rosanna Deerchild, explain the difference by watching this video: Cultural Appropriation vs. Appreciation.

As you view the video, consider how you might explain the harm of cultural appropriation to someone who expresses the view that Indigenous people need to not be so sensitive or “politically correct.”

Teaching the truth about our history and the ongoing impact of colonization and broken treaties, acknowledging the traditions and teachings that come from this land, and working at building reciprocal relationships with Indigenous people is in no way cultural appropriation, so carry on!


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