I write this blog post from the understanding that I, as a visitor from Northern Ireland am sitting on the occupied and stolen land of the Anishinaabe peoples, Haudenosaunee. This article I will write about was written by Âpihtawikosisân (2012), a Métis from the Plains Cree speaking community of Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. ‘An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses’ looks at the issue of cultural appropriation, specifically looking at the ‘hipster’ trend of headdresses (otherwise known as war bonnets) at festivals such as Coachella and Burning man (Adrienne 2012)
The article looks at cultural appropriation through restricted symbols and unrestricted symbols. Showing that some symbols have an allegorical meaning attached to them, that they represent aspects of culture that have been earned. For example, war bonnets, the impressive feather headdresses commonly seen in western movies, are typically only worn by the Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet , Cheyenne and Plains Cree, from the Great plains region and only worn by chiefs and warriors (Âpihtawikosisân 2012).
Cultural appropriation is when someone or a group takes someone else’s practice without permission and makes it their own without knowing the correct meaning. Instead of appropriating native culture, try to celebrate it instead, in ways that does not add to negative stereotyping and commodification of culture.(Link in references on how to do this) She understands that people make mistakes and may not know that something is not respective (âpihtawikosisân 2012).
A question that often arises in online discussions is often similar or identical to this one “[T]here are plenty of Native-American descended Hispanics that love White people stuff and European stuff, so why can’t White people like Native stuff too?”(Lever 2011)
Firstly one cannot appropriate the dominant, especially if the ‘supposed’ appropriation was non- consensually forced upon a whole culture. There is a power imbalance that involves years of violence and an oppressive colonial history (Mycultureisnotatrend 2014) Cultural appropriation is another negative outcome of imperialism, capitalism, oppression and assimilation. Imperialism is the creation and maintenance of an unequal cultural, economic and territorial relationship, based on domination and subordination, designed to pillage people and lands. Thus under capitalist imperialism, culture is seen as a resource commodity, ready to be stolen and sold on the market (Unsettling America 2011).
Secondly it ignores the forced assimilation practices that colonizers enforced upon indigenous peoples. Claiming indigenous peoples were savage and uncivilized, sanctioning the settlers to rationalize their actions in the name of civilization and Christianity. The theme of assimilation defined a framework for solving “the Indian problem” “the great aim of our civilization has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the inhabitants of the dominion, as speedily as they are fit for the change” (Sir John a McDonald as cited in Flearas Pp196) Cultural appropriation speeds up this process, because it is profitable, a marginalized culture can become lost, cultural identities can be blended into the dominate culture and then exploited for profit.
On top of this cultural appropriation is the extension of racism, genocide and oppression. The headdress and other cultural appropriations could be seen as settlers mocking their victims by mimicking them through tried and practiced cultural production of stereotypes that were used to dehumanize indigenous peoples, making the public support their deaths and turn a blind eye to their continued suffering. Similar to the name of a drink ‘ black and tan’ that is consumed in North America. It is named after the uniform of the Royal Irish Constabulary, which were part of the escalation of violence, civilian attacks, police militarization and brutality in Ireland in 1920 (Northern Ireland is still occupied today and still in conflict) (Lowe.W.J 2015 and Michael 2014)
These comments ignore the colonial history and imperial rule that carved native history into the traumatized cultural genocide of an entire continent to the imposition of residential schools, creation and implication of systemic and institutional racism, stolen generations, and the eradication of entire groups of people and their cultural traditions. Ignoring the interconnectivity of race, class, and gender and their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and domination (Hooks 1984).
They ignore the fact that there are hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women whose cases have never even been looked at. Indigenous women are far more likely than non-Indigenous women to experience violence. In a 2009 a Canadian government survey of the ten provinces, indigenous women were nearly three times more likely than non-indigenous women to report being a victim of a violent crime. A report released in May 2014 states that 1,017 Indigenous women and girls were murdered from 1980-2012. Because of gaps in police and government reporting, the actual numbers may be much higher (Amnesty 2014).
Canada prides its self on being a ‘multicultural mosaic’ however it seems to ignore the fact that a large proportion of the indigenous population are in the substratum of the socioeconomic hierarchy. Canadian society is structurally based on the fundamental inequality between the settler and the indigenous. It is important to analyze the disparities in relation to the patterns of power between privilege and property. As long as these predominantly unequal intragroup relations continue to prevail and provoke the politics of race, ethnicity and indigenous relations will remain a contested subject (Fleras 2012).
Indigenous activists are focused on decolonization, which is as much a process as it is a goal (Walia 2012) which could start with ‘[A] dramatic reimagining of relationships with land, people and the state. Much of this requires study. It requires conversation (for example; with people wearing headdresses). It is a practice; it is an unlearning.” (Hussan cited in Walia 2012)
Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox (2012) from Idle no more suggests that “co-existence through co-resistance” is the responsibility of settlers, following and supporting Indigenous action and direction. For settler allies, having a place to land relationally creates a stronger rationale for unsettling established systems. This kind of relationship creates accountability and responsibility for sustained supportive action.
Âpihtawikosisân.” An open Letter to Non- Natives in Headdresses”. Âpihtawikosisân, Law Language, Life: a plains Cree speaking Metis women in Montreal. , 2012. Web. Sunday 1March 2015. Retrieved from http://apihtawikosisan.com/hall-of-shame/an-open-letter-to-non-natives-in-headdresses/
Fleras, Augie. “Unequal relations: An introduction to Race, Ethnic, and Aboriginal Dynamics in Canada” Don Mills: Person Canada. 2012
Harsha, Walia “Decolonizing Together: Moving Beyond a Politics of Solidarity toward a Practice of Decolonization”. , Briar Patch Magazine: Fiercely Independent. 20. Web March 1, 2015. Retrieved from http://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/decolonizing-together
Hooks, Bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre. Cambridge MA: South End Press, 1984.Print
Irlbacher-Fox. Stephanie. “#IdleNoMore: Settler Responsibility for relationship”. Decolonization indigeneity, education and society. , September 16, 2011. Web. Tuesday 03, 2015. Retrieved from https://decolonization.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/idlenomore-settler responsibility-for-relationship/
K, Adrienne. “The Hipster Headdress Abounds at Coachella”. Native Appropriations. 2012 Available at http://nativeappropriations.com/2010/04/the-hipster-headdress-abounds-`atcoachella.html accessed on 01 March 2015
Lever “Is it disrespectful to get a tattoo of a Native American”. , Yahoo Answers. 2011. Web March 1, 2015. Retrieved from https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110412141428AAwISW2
Lowe. W.J “Who Were the Black and Tans”. , History Ireland.2015. Web. March 12 2015. Retrieved from http://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/who-were-the-black-and-tans/
Michael. “How not to get tossed out of a pub in Ireland”. Changes in Longitude. Web. March 8 2014. Retrieved from http://www.changesinlongitude.com/order-black-and-tan-irish-pub-ireland-dublin/
My Culture is Not a Trend “My Culture is Not a Trend: A Dialogue about Cultural Appropriation”. 2012. Web. March 1 2015 http://mycultureisnotatrend.tumblr.com/
Native Languges. “Native Headdresses: Facts for Kids”. , Native Languages of Americas Website. 1998-2015. March 3 2015. Retreived from http://www.nativelanguages.org/headdresses.htm
Unsettling America. “Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation”. , Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory and Practice. September 16, 2011. Web. Tuesday 3 March 2015. Retrieved from https://unsettlingamerica.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/cultural-appreciation-or-culturalappropriation/