White Appropriation of FN Cultural Symbols and Idiom.

264 posts / 0 new
Last post
oldgoat
White Appropriation of FN Cultural Symbols and Idiom.

 

oldgoat

Something I've always wondered about, and this seems like a good place to ask...

A number of white people people I know fairly well were involved for some years in what they called "sweet medicine". This has been explained to me as a path of understanding and spiritual enlightenment which models itself on FN traditions and beliefs. There are sweat lodges, smudging ceremonies, and other rituals taken from what either are, or they understand to be FN practice and ritual. I am of course in no position to judge authenticity.

One of the more influential leaders in this was some guy in Arizona named Harley 'Swift Deer' Reagan. I googled him out of curiosity. He's all over the internet, and seems like a pretty controversial figure. I've heard conflicting information.

The people who were involved in this I found to be good folk, sincere, and if everyone lived with their environmental ethics it would be a better world. My own feeling was whatever floats your boat. However, I was struck on some level by a sense of artificialty, like they were playing a something. Didn't feel right.

My questions are, is this naked cultural appropriation? Is it offensive as hell? Even destructive? Is it tolerated or even welcome? Would the answers to the preceding depend on whom I asked?

Bacchus

Probably depends on who you ask. Imitation can be flattering or offending, just look at the cotnroversy over Ward Churchill

SavageInTheCity

We've got this spiritual gathering here every summer. It's held by William Commanda, who is very respected by FN across North America.

Only thing is, it turns into a hippie fest, and they dont want to leave. Mr. Commanda and his crew literally have to kick them off the grounds after being patient for a week or so.

The fact that non-natives are interested about native culture is great. That being said, as an outsider, it is your resonsibility to be respectful, and much like this forum, you must know your role and not break decorum intentionally.

NorthernWoman

yes, be respectful and try to understand that First Nations are different from group to group. We had one fellow bring his drum to the Longhouse expecting to be able to drum with everyone which doesn't happen in this particular Coast Salish nation. Yet I understand that bringing your drum is the norm in other FN activities.

I don't like to sound negative but from my experience many of the non aboriginal people who show up at sweats etc here are usually looking for a free meal and a place to stay. Most Aboriginal groups are very inclusive and we get taken advantage of because of that tradition and belief.

UrsaMinor

I hate it when Hippies think Indians are environmentalist - as they define it. My family chases down moose and eats them, sometimes raw. If you don't think I should, don't hang out with me and don't tell me what is 'wrong' for me to do 'cuz Indians love Mother Earth'. If the Creator didn't want me to eat animals... they wouldn't be made out of meat. Granted, I shouldn't kill animals like the buffalo were massacred. But if you've been getting your chicken on a nicely wrapped styro-foam tray all your life... don't tell me I have a warped view of reality; I have, at least, respected my meal enough to look it in the eye before I took its life.

Canadians applying their version of 'collective' to our people is one of the reason we are in the mess we are in.

saga saga's picture

I think traditional Indigenous people are disgusted by pretenders who make a living by selling their traditions to non-Indigenous people.

It is a bit of a dilemma, though: They want the rest of us to understand their traditions and respect them and the earth as they do, but people naturally want to become part of the process too.

However, if it is about 'selling' access to the traditions, I have a problem with that.

Makwa Makwa's picture

quote:


Originally posted by oldgoat:
[b]The people who were involved in this I found to be good folk, sincere, and if everyone lived with their environmental ethics it would be a better world ... My questions are, is this naked cultural appropriation?[/b]

For non traditional healers to perform sweatlodge is more than a vile cultual appropriation, it is a grotesque blasphemy of a very old and spiritual movement. Only a healer/elder with years of spiritual training are allowed to lead a lodge, unless it is a personal or family sweat. It is sickening and base that someone would appropriate one of the most sacred of aboriginal traditions. Anyone who would join in such a ceremony should be ashamed of their theft and debasement of First Nations culture.

SavageInTheCity

In general, Makwa, its not a bad thing.

Mind you, if a woman walked up to the main drum at a pow-wow, id be right there with you, stopping her.

Now, hypothetically:

A man goes to a traditional sweat, and simply observes. Then, does it again. And again, for numerous years. Learns from our elders, gets taught by our people. Hes learned more than I have.....Would you want me running the sweat, or him....

My question is;

With the state of our youth, our society, and our own culture-building activities, at what point might some "white" people know more than us about our own culture. It will get to that point....one day....(Stephen Harper, quit getting all giddy)

Non-native youth/people have more of an interest in our traditions, language and culture than most of our youth. Its sad to say, but look up David Gidmark for the hell of it, and get back to me.

ETA - Gidmark is an old man....but you get the point!

[ 11 July 2007: Message edited by: SavageInTheCity ]

sknguy

It’s not my place to judge other Anishnabek. So let those tribes be his judges.

One thing about traditional knowledge though is that it’s not suppose to be about any one person. It’s not about a particular Elder, or a particular medicine person. The important thing is the knowledge. Because we’re nothing without knowledge.

So, one should always be careful about the treatment of knowledge. Be careful about someone who mystifies the knowledge. That’s harmful and only benefits the mystifier.

Will S

quote:


Originally posted by Makwa:
[b]For non traditional healers to perform sweatlodge is more than a vile cultual appropriation, it is a grotesque blasphemy of a very old and spiritual movement. Only a healer/elder with years of spiritual training are allowed to lead a lodge, unless it is a personal or family sweat. It is sickening and base that someone would appropriate one of the most sacred of aboriginal traditions. Anyone who would join in such a ceremony should be ashamed of their theft and debasement of First Nations culture.[/b]

I have some questions that might reflect a Eurocentric bias, but I figure it's better to ask and be informed than to go on in my ignorance.

Is there a difference between cultural appropriation and appropriating the voice of aboriginals? Or is aboriginal culture part of the aboriginal voice and can it ever be severed?

I personally think that if these people believe their actions are somehow linked to First Nations spirituality and tradition, then it's incredibly problematic that they would go about doing these things without following proper and respectful procedures that Makwa outlined (or if they'd even be allowed to engage in these activities if they weren't fully immersed in aboriginal culture).

But I, again personally, think that appropriating material actions and aspects of culture that are useful for personal growth or other utilities within another culture isn't a bad thing as long as as its clear that the person or people using these symbols aren't claiming a spiritual connection with the other culture.

Part of this has to do with questions of collective ownership of culture and the multiple uses and meanings of symbols in different cultures. Again, maybe this line of thinking is Eurocentric and biased towards Western ideas, but I find it difficult to essentialize collectivities or presume that one collective voice can speak for all individuals all the time. I think there must be a balance between the needs of a collective and the needs of individuals within that collective and that balance is constantly being negotiated through discussion and contested by people who define the collectivity differently.

Similarly the same symbol or ceremony may have different meanings for different cultures (or for that matter, even for different segments of the same general culture).

I draw the line when an element of culture is appropriated and the person or group appropriating it claims an affinity with the originator that is not/cannot be reciprocated. To me, that would be offensive. But if there is no claim of shared usuage or identical understanding, I think it's difficult to limit what can or cannot be done with symbols or rituals. The problem with this argument is that I'm coming at it from a relative perspective and looking more at the material element of cultural activity and not a spiritual element (which is a big factor in the original posting by oldgoat). If I were to consider it from a spiritual perspective, I can begin to comprehend the suggestion this is blasphemous. I'm not sure if the two perspectives can be reconciled.

Any thoughts? [img]confused.gif" border="0[/img]

NorthernWoman

quote:


[b]Mind you, if a woman walked up to the main drum at a pow-wow, id be right there with you, stopping her.[/b]

Wow, I didn't know that.

Hmmm.....then I guess asking immigrants to leave behind their misognistic customs before coming to Canada is hypocrital.

I know I am opening a can of worms here but it is worth discussing.

[ 11 July 2007: Message edited by: NorthernWoman ]

Makwa Makwa's picture

quote:


Originally posted by SavageInTheCity:
[b]A man goes to a traditional sweat, and simply observes. Then, does it again. And again, for numerous years. Learns from our elders, gets taught by our people. Hes learned more than I have.....Would you want me running the sweat, or him....[/b]

I've known many non-FN people who have participated in sweats for years, and have fasted, and have studied enough perhaps to be a pipe carrier. I would smudge with them, and perhaps join a circle that they lead but they could not become a traditional healer without the seven generations of ancestry that are necessary to inform and empower a healer, and I would not participate in a sweat that was not lead by a traditional healer or medicine person. These ceremonies are not trivial, and can be misused.

Sven Sven's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Makwa:
[b]I would smudge with them, and perhaps join a circle that they lead but they could not become a traditional healer without the seven generations of ancestry that are necessary to inform and empower a healer, and I would not participate in a sweat that was not lead by a traditional healer or medicine person.[/b]

Why "seven" and not six or eight? Is that number specific to particular tribe?

SavageInTheCity

7 is big number in most religons, traditions, and societies for that matter.

Ive never heard about the 7, but it makes sense to me.

Sven, since seven is close to your name....dont get too flattered.... [img]tongue.gif" border="0[/img]

[ 11 July 2007: Message edited by: SavageInTheCity ]

Sven Sven's picture

quote:


Originally posted by SavageInTheCity:
[b]Sven, since seven is close to your name....dont get too flattered.... [img]tongue.gif" border="0[/img] [/b]

I won't! [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

It's interesting how beliefs of the many cultures humans have are often viewed by adherents as being concrete and immutable. Catholicism is rife with absolutes like that. Absolutes that, to an outsider, have no basis in logic. "Say X number of Hail Marys and you'll be absolved," or whatever.

Sven Sven's picture

Do non-FN cultures similiarly view the use of cultural practices by those originally outside of that culture as appropriations, as many FNs do about FN cultural practices? I was thinking of Buddhism as an example. Do Asians view non-Asians engaging in Eastern cultural practices as appropriating those cultural practices or is this something that is largely, if not uniquely, a FN phenomenon?

remind remind's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Michael Nenonen:
[b]Daniel Francis argues that non-Native Canadians have never really felt at home here. We (I'm speaking as a non-Indigenous Canadian) know that we took this territory from its original owners, and that the several hundred years of our residency is as nothing compared to the thousands of years they’ve lived upon it.[/b]

Daniel Francis should stop speaking for all white people, as I certainly feel that this is my home, never a moments doubt about it not being.

quote:

[b]We also know that our psychological relationship to the land is infinitely shallower than theirs.[/b]

Absolute nonsensical generalization, and empatically untrue in lots of cases that I have seen and experienced.

quote:

[b]For Native Canadians, the land is layered with mythological connotations, [/b]

For some yes it does.

quote:

[b] We’ve often responded to the psychological dissonance this knowledge creates by trying to incorporate features of First Nations cultures into our own. We erect totem poles in our public spaces and decorate our buildings with Native art.[/b]

Oh nonsense, most people who buy FN art, just like the art for itself and that is why they buy it, other incorpoate other things into because they either want the experience of other people's cultures, or their just joiners, it has nothing to with dissonance.

quote:

[b] We use images depicting Natives of ages past to promote our tourism industry,[/b]

That is greed capitalization and marketing ploys, again nothing to do with dissonance.

quote:

[b]and bastardize First Nations’ religious traditions in New Age spirituality.[/b]

Nonsense hyperbole, the New Age movenment incorporated many different mythologies.

quote:

[b]We mimic First Nations’ ceremonies in both the Boy Scouts and the mythopoetic men’s movement. [/b]

I take it you're only speaking for men here.


quote:

[b]People like Archie “Grey Owl” Belaney have even disguised themselves as First Nations people in order to become spokespersons for supposedly Aboriginal concerns. [/b]

People disguise themselves as spokes people for all sorts of other people they should not, you are trying to build a case that has no substance.


quote:

[b]While such strategies help non-Natives feel more comfortable in this fundamentally alien setting, they further marginalize and silence actual First Nations people.[/b]

How does his actions make non-natives feel more comfortable?

How does it silence actual FN's?

Steppenwolf Allende

quote:


Colonial Canadians have a history of trying to wipe out First Nations cultures...and, in many cases, succeeding. Colonial Canadians are also dominating and exploiting Indigenous people's land. Most importantly, Colonial Canadians control the institutions that allow for the transmission of culture (the media, schools, etc).

Which colonial Canadians are you referring to? I have tried over the years to learn about the history and economics of colonization and the destruction of First Nations economies and cultures, and to work with progressive aboriginal activists toward redress and, as much as possible, reconstruction of those damaged societies (and the resulting oppression and genocide).

But so far, the only colonial Canadians I can find who are responsible for this are the ones who ran the colonial corporate institutions set up to do just that, and their inheritors: Hudson's Bay Company (now HBC), Pan Pacific (CPR), Royal Bank, Cominco, etc. and the colonial government that facilitated the big take-over--just like happened all over the globe and the continuation of their dominance over those economies and the on-going oppression as a result.

If your argument is consistent, then it would seem you might be opposed to non-Asians learning and adopting the philosophies and practices of Taoism or Buddhism, or Islam or Judaism for the same reasons. And in either case, the argument doesn’t seem to hold.

For example, someone who is not of North American aboriginal descent becomes interested in practicing and adopting the cultural or religious practices of a particular First Nation, why is that a problem? I know several people of European heritage who have done just that, and the aboriginal people they associate with don't mind at all. Actually, some have said they are glad there is interest outside the aboriginal community. Why should the rest of us?

There's a big difference between this and actual cultural appropriation, which involves taking various aspects of a conquered culture, divorcing it from its historic values and meaning and exploiting it for profit or some other ulterior gain.

Makwa Makwa's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Michael Nenonen:
[b]If so, then you may have some cultural blinders on that prevent you from easily discerning the psychological functions that the appropriation of First Nations culture performs for colonial Canadians. [/b]

Thank you for the posts and for the reference MN. I think your points are excellent, and the responses to them are par for the course: I have said before that the FN forum should be renamed to something like the "mollifying settler guilt" forum, because eventually most threads end up there. Two points you indicate are particularly significant. One being the importance of the land as a psychological and spiritual locus, and two, the role of aboriginal art as a settler commodity.
For traditional FNs the 'land' is more than simply real estate, or resource, it is expressed as a psychic and social relationship with the self, with all living beings of Turtle Island and with the ancestors and future generations. It is believed that these relationships are more than simply metaphorical, but real if non-visible.

As far as art as commodity, I agree that it is a means of projecting a fake solidarity with FN people out of guilt for stealing the land and forcing FN people into obscurity. In my workplace, there are dozens of large aboriginal art pieces throughout, which is far more than the number of aboriginal persons employed there.

remind remind's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Michael Nenonen:
[b]remind: I was thinking of responding to your post at length, but, based on my experience with you in other threads, I'm really not at all sure that you're interested in genuine dialogue. In the past I've written lengthy responses to comments you've made about my posts, only to have you ignore 80% of what I've written. Since I doubt that you want to discuss these matters in good faith, I'm simply going to say that if you want to understand the author's position in greater detail, you should read his book.[/b]

Don't ignore 80% of what you write, just do not agree with 80% of what you write, and apparently you do not like that.

quote:

[b]I would, however, caution you about your blithe dismissal of his arguments. I assume that you are a non-Indigenous Canadian (if I'm wrong on this count, please correct me). If so, then you may have some cultural blinders on that prevent you from easily discerning the psychological functions that the appropriation of First Nations culture performs for colonial Canadians. Oppression takes many forms, and stereotypes and caricatures of First Nations people, practices, and beliefs, whether negative or superficially positive (as in the case of the Grey Owl fiasco), have a long and unfortunate history in Canada, as do colonial apologetics for their use.[/b]

Not being an apologist for anything, just do not see it the way the author does and apparently you do. And I have been married to a FN person for 28 years, and my daughter is FN.

Farmpunk

UrsaMinor: "I hate it when Hippies think Indians are environmentalist - as they define it. My family chases down moose and eats them, sometimes raw. If you don't think I should, don't hang out with me and don't tell me what is 'wrong' for me to do 'cuz Indians love Mother Earth'."

I can picture this situation in my head very clearly.

Does this happen often?

remind remind's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Michael Nenonen:
[b]remind: The fact that you are married to a FN person and have a FN child does give you greater insight into these matters than someone who doesn't have such intimate contact with FN cultures. [/b]

Like you don't perhaps, eh?

quote:

[b] Non-Inigenous Canadians have a very superficial historical legacy in this land, our spiritual practices and beliefs are largely informed by traditions from distant continents rather than from thousands of years of habitation in the places where we live,[/b]

You can't have it both ways, you are arging that we have no connection and no right to connect with FN's spiritual beliefs, but then deride the fact that we have spiritual connections and traditions from distant continents.

quote:

[b] The more we can appropriate their cultures, the more comfortable we feel on their land, the more we can ignore our own legacy of colonial privilege,[/b]

Again I disagree with the substance of this.

quote:


[b]ns people simply don't have sufficient control over educational and media institutions to respond effectively to this appropriation.[/b]

Again this type of generalization means nothing as the average white person has no control either!

quote:

[b]laim that you ignore 80% of my arguments, I stand by this. What you explicitly disagree with are my conclusions. [/b]

I disagree with your conclusions,as the process you get to them with is based upon broad generalization and misconceptions.


quote:

[b]When it comes to the arguments I use to support these conclusions, you regularly fail to respond to what I've written,[/b]

Won't botherto answer you if you you just rehash more the same to which I have taken exception to already.

quote:

[b]or you attempt to dismiss them through ad hominem attacks, accusing me, for example, of being committed to promoting "white male supremacy" [/b]

Call it as I see it, as for example in this thread you take of expropriating FN's culture through the boy scouts and another male organization, that is not inclusive to women ideology.

[/quote][b]or (my favourite) of being a Catholic apologist. When I provide evidence that your accusations are misguided (by, for example, posting an article I've written that's scathing about Ratzinger), you choose not to apologize to me for your accusation and you go on to look for some other pretext that would allow you to dismiss my arguments (such as by pointing out that Buddhism, which is important to me, is more patriarchal than Catholicism). [/b][/quote]

I did not find your article scathing of Ratzinger at all. I owe you no apologies anymore than you owe me one for your broad generalizations based upon a male centric view point.

Buddism heh, now that is so amusing you are railing against white people utlizing FN's spiritual beliefs, but yet you see no inconsistency in your utilizing Buddism! And it is male centric.

quote:

[b]These are the kind of argumentative strategies that I take issue with, and that lead me to suspect that you aren't interested in genuine dialogue.[/b]

Again, I believe you just perceive this to be so, because I fail to see much accurate wisdom in your words, as you generalize from a male point of view and expect others to applaud your efforts as opposed to having dialogue. If people do not see it your way, then you say they are not interested in real discourse.

quote:

[b]First, with the exception of Shinto, most Asian religions aren't tethered to localities in the way that most First Nations religions are. The land--not the land in the abstract, but rather the actual land upon which First Nations people live--plays an overwhelmingly important role in First Nations religious traditions. [/b]

Well that is a nice justification, but again an inaccurate too broad of generalization.

quote:

[b]First Nations cultures continue to be under violent siege by occupation forces in ways that most Asian religions aren't. If I practice Buddhism in North America, and even if I participate in the transformation of Buddhism for a North American context, I'm not damaging Asian Buddhism or Buddhist communities, which will survive just fine regardless of what I do. The same would not be true if I embraced First Nations religiosity. In these circumstances, respect for First Nations religiosity seems to require a hands-off policy for non-Indigenous people.[/b]

Simply not true.

remind remind's picture

Michael, if you want to discuss this further personal animus towards me, please do pm me.

But for the record, I do not use my marriage to a FN's as a get out jail card for my privileged status of being born a white woman. Try living living in that position for awhile heh?! You speak of things of which you have NO personal experience as if you are an expert on it. And I have admitted here more than just a few times I have enjoyed a privileged status while growing up, because I am white, perhaps because you are rather new here you have not noticed it.

sknguy

quote:


Originally posted by Will S:
[b]

But I, again personally, think that appropriating material actions and aspects of culture that are useful for personal growth or other utilities within another culture isn't a bad thing as long as as its clear that the person or people using these symbols aren't claiming a spiritual connection with the other culture.

[/b]


It's funny that your should mention personal growth. I don’t know if others have a sense of what a sweat is for. Mind you, it may mean different things in different places but, from my experiences, sweats are not intended for personal benefit. A person in the sweat is there on behalf of someone else. Your being there is as a personal sacrifice.

Unfortunately I get the impression that a lot of people think that attending a sweat is for some personal fulfilment. From what I’ve come to understand it isn’t. And I suspect that these newage religious groups could be using the sweat for personal reasons. For my part, that's appropriation. While it’s true that when your there you need to find clarity and pureness of thought, that intent still isn’t for your benefit. It’s ultimately for the purpose of helping others.

Speaking of appropriation; quite a while back I remember being to a couple different sweats where people came out saying “that felt good” or letting out a big satisfying “ahhh”. I had to shake my head and laugh to myself wondering what it is they thought they were there for. Wah hwah

quote:

Originally posted by Saga:
[b]

It is a bit of a dilemma, though: They want the rest of us to understand their traditions and respect them and the earth as they do, but people naturally want to become part of the process too.

[/b]


Your dilemma is a bit unclear to me. It is nice that people want to understand. But if it's for personal benefit then one misses the point of understanding.

Will S

quote:


Originally posted by Michael Nenonen:
[b]sknguy: Brilliantly put. The essence of commodification is the transformation of communal and localized rituals into amoral and abstracted vehicles for self-development. It strips these rituals of their ethical, social, and often political content. [/b]

I take some issue with the notion that the act is amoral. In your opinion and in the opinion of others, perhaps, but obviously the person taking the ritual wouldn't necessarily see the act as immoral. Morality is quite subjective (in my opinion anyway) - which is why I think we have a bit of a spiritual-secular divide at work here.

In my earlier post I wasn't speaking explicitly about the sweat lodge, and I don't know all that much about it, so feel free to call me on something that I say that's false, but I'll run with this anyway.

Earlier I said I didn't see a problem with people from other cultures using material items, acts or symbols that other cultures used so long as they weren't suggesting they shared some sort of spiritual connection with that culture. For instance, the sweat lodge as I understand it is a form of sauna although there are particular differences. Some of my great grand parents were immigrants from Finland and they brought along that land's own sauna culture. So the actual structure, while different, also has similarities. It's possible some aboriginals would be horrified to learn that a similar structure is being used for very different cultural purposes, but it evolved in Finland under different circumstances. So the material element of act of entering the sauna or sweat lodge, and it's symbolic nature may have similarities across cultures, but have very different purposes. If the Finns when they came here adopted some of the structural traits of the sweat lodges they observed, I'm not convinced that in itself is an imoral act. It's part of a culture developing and changing as it comes into contact with other cultures. Are they appropriating something from another culture? Yes, probably, but I'm not sure I'd see anything wrong with that.

I consulted Wikipedia (something that can be fraught with danger) and also noted different tribes or nations use the sweatlodge slightly differently. I have difficulty believing each tribe or nation came up with their own ritual without having observed or participated in it elsewhere, so I assume the differences are part of the normal pattern of culturals diverging, changing and adapting to different circumstances. Were different tribes or nations appropriating the concept for their own use - yes, probably. The big difference is that white settler culture has a substantially different relationship to aboriginals than do groups of aboriginals amongst themselves. Yes, I don't think we can ever firmly know if this aspect culture was appropriated through peaceful means or as a result of inter-tribal conflict, but the white-settler colonial project is on a different plane entirely.

Weaving my way towards a conclusion, I still think that when cultures interact (whether peacefully or through brief or sustained conflicts) there is bound to be some exchange or appropriation. Taking something material from another culture for your own personal use or for use within your culture isn't, in my opinion, amoral in itself. Do I have a cultural connection to Finland? Barely. Do I take saunas? Yup. Do I feel guilt about appropriating a material from that culture for my personal benefit and not using it in 'traditional' Finnish ways? Nope. I take it and make it a part of my own cultural awareness with no pretense that I'm somehow being 'authentically' Finn. I like it because it's great for scrubbing off old skin. Blech.

But if these New Age spirituality types are using something like a sweat to try to establish some aboriginal-like connection to this land when they simply don't have a comparable connection in historic terms (as in that book The Imaginary Indian that was mentioned) or if they think they're somehow in communion with aboriginals as a result, then I could readily see why some people would find it offensive (and I would find it offensive too). Divorcing an object from it's political or social meaning isn't, in my opinion, amoral because we all bring our own cultural assumptions and experiences with us when we use an object or action. Assuming that you share a spiritual connection or spiritual link to that culture is another issue entirely. I think, but I'm not sure, that we're talking about this latter issue here.

But then again, I think much of my line of thought presupposes some Western assumptions - that objects can be divorced from particular meaning and be socially constructed and reconstructed. Also, the idea of appropriating one more thing from a culture that has been so oppressed is pause for thought. I'm still trying to figure out if my Western-influenced view can ever be reconciled with an aboriginal or post-colonial view. Probably not.

Will S

Thanks Michael. I totally missed my amoral/immoral mix up. My bad. I do agree about the problem with white hegemony. It's one thing to borrow, but it's another thing to control cultural and communication networks to such an extent that it effectively obscures a marginalized culture's ability to excerise its own voice and contest the parts of the hegemonic narrative it disputes. There's definitely is a power imbalance in this case that trips up any attempt to talk about cultural apropriation that can occur when one or more cultures are on a relatively even footing.

[ 12 July 2007: Message edited by: Will S ]

NorthernWoman

Culture is learned behaviour.

Yiwah

The only people fooled by non-natives appropriating native cultural symbols, customs or what have you...are non-natives.

I sort of think of it as comparable to 'western Chinese food'. Bears almost no resemblance to the real thing. Empty calories.

NorthernWoman...I see no one took you up on your challenge [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img]

Yiwah

quote:


Originally posted by NorthernWoman:
[b]Culture is learned behaviour.[/b]

And yet, most elders will tell you that our culture is inherent. That even if we know nothing of our culture, it's still there, waiting for us to recognise it.

NorthernWoman

If that was the case then all of the people who were brought up in the residential school systems would be able to fit right back in with their people and culture?

sknguy

Yiwah, I think the Elders may be referring to the Spirituality rather than the culture. Culture's a product of our Spirituality. Actually everyone's culture is a product of their Spirituality.

Yiwah

But without that spirituality, where is our culture? The two are so inextricably linked. If you have the spirituality, is that a gateway into the culture? If you lack it...can you ever be a part of the culture?

Some say yes, some say no. For some it really is about blood...for others, blood is less important.

Makwa Makwa's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Yiwah:
[b]Some say yes, some say no. For some it really is about blood...for others, blood is less important.[/b]

I have also been told that the 'spirituality' is waiting for me as a Cree, although I have been completely seperated from all contact with Aboriginal culture throughout most of my life due to the abduction I underwent as a child. I too find this hard to understand, as it is sooo fucking difficult to reconnect with aboriginal people. The process is soo painful, and there is noone to help you along the way.

NorthernWoman

Having been brought up in a middle class environment, I found it difficult to fit in with my people because with them I was expected to give away to them anything extra that I had. This expectation IMO doesn't come from our culture but from my people being poor and when someone in the community has a windfall they are expected to share. My middle class upbringing taught me to help people but it also taught me to save my money for my old age, save my money to buy a house etc. This kind of thinking is foreign to my people because they are used to surviving. When they get money they pass it around until there is none left and then they are broke again. Is this cultural? No. But many would argue that it is.

Yiwah

Makwa, it takes some doing, that's for sure. I grew up in my community and learned some things just by being around family, but I wasn't interested in tradition when I was a kid. I think most of us aren't [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img] It wasn't until I had my own children that I realised how much my culture means to me, and how much I have to learn if I want to be able to pass it on. You're right...no one is there to guide you along the steps. You need to go out and find your path.

And NorthernWoman, that socioeconomic divide is a harsh one. Yes, there is a traditions of sharing, and looking out for one another, but I agree it gets taken too far sometimes...or has become twisted in a sense. Is someone less native because they grew up, middle class, in the city? There can be a lot of resentment in our communities...if someone is 'too educated' or 'too well off' financially. Some people just want you to fail...and that makes it hard to connect at times.

So the money gets passed around until it's all gone...is it cultural or not...

Well, I think in some ways it actually is. There is a lack of focus on material things, especially in the more traditional communities. That doesn't mean that people don't WANT, but they don't define themselves by their possessions either. So you have someone trashing their skidoo three weeks after buying it...and they don't care. Is that really just idiocy? Immaturity? I used to see this differently until I started visiting the communities that still have extremely strong ties to the land, even among the young people. It's more than just about surviving...it's about living. It's just another way of life. The toys are nice, but they aren't essential. I think for a lot of other people, the toys ARE essential.

That's not to say this is how it is for everyone. I have deadbeat cousins too who I get sick of constantly bailing out of trouble, or passing money to. And yes, sometimes I feel guilty (or let them make me feel guilty) when I say no. But I have educated myself, I have built my life, with the knowledge that what I do will ultimately benefit my people. I'm willing to devote the bulk of my energy to that goal...so if I'm not as willing anymore to let some of my relations constantly leech off me...oh well.

Makwa Makwa's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Yiwah:
[b]I have deadbeat cousins too who I get sick of constantly bailing out of trouble, or passing money to. And yes, sometimes I feel guilty (or let them make me feel guilty) when I say no. But I have educated myself, I have built my life, with the knowledge that what I do will ultimately benefit my people. I'm willing to devote the bulk of my energy to that goal...so if I'm not as willing anymore to let some of my relations constantly leech off me...oh well.[/b]

Thanks Yiwah. I do appreciate your words, so much. Yet, at least you have relations. Family, friends. Someone. For many of us in the abduction diaspora there is nothing. As much as I appreciated my elder whom I met for a couple of years, that doesn't make up for a lifetime of isolation, which the dominant society forced on the adbucted group. I am so fucking bitter.

NorthernWoman

quote:


There can be a lot of resentment in our communities...if someone is 'too educated' or 'too well off' financially. Some people just want you to fail...and that makes it hard to connect at times.


I don't agree with that. I think that among poorer communities, they are not materialistic because they haven't had anything. Also, it is not jealously or envy that is the cause for our people not wanting us to succeed, it is that they are afraid they will lose us. i think that in poorer communities, people are your possessions and so when they begin to move on to better lifestyles, there is plenty of grousing about it only because they know in their hearts that these family members will be gone.

Makwa Makwa's picture

quote:


Originally posted by NorthernWoman:
[b]i think that in poorer communities, people are your possessions and so when they begin to move on to better lifestyles, there is plenty of grousing about it only because they know in their hearts that these family members will be gone.[/b]

Hm. So why is it that when diasporic NDNs try to reconnect there is such disinterest in us?

NorthernWoman

probably a lack of trust? ANd feelings of shame? Is it because they (off reserve FN) really want to know where they come from and to reconnect or is it because they want status for tax purposes or if there is a treaty they want in for the money? These, I think are some of the reasons why. Plus alot of the ones who stayed behind felt abandoned.
The gov't did and excellent job of turning FN against each other.

Makwa Makwa's picture

quote:


Originally posted by NorthernWoman:
[b]The gov't did and excellent job of turning FN against each other.[/b]

Good point NW. But it still sucks knowing you have so many cousins and uncles who couldn't give a shit if you lived or died.

NorthernWoman

Some FN have so much pain from the abuses they suffered that just putting one foot in front of the other to make through another day is difficult. Also for alot of them, I think they have survivor guilt even though they suffered tremendous pain, they still think they are the lucky ones for making it out alive.

There is so much shame that people feel, for not standing up, for not running away, for staying....the list goes on.

When I hear people talk about "drunk indians on the downtow eastside" I always say, "you know, almost all of these people were beaten and sexually abused and that kind of treatment to humans deadens you to the point that you don't care about anyone, not even yourself. That these FNs people choose to drink and drug themselves to cover the pain instead of going out and repeating the cycle on an innocent child is heroic." Changes how people look at the drunken indian.

Makwa Makwa's picture

NW, that is such a thoughful post. It doesn't really address my point of the divide among reserve and what I call the 'diasporic' aboriginal, but I thank you, and I think I shall leave it for more consideration.

Yiwah

quote:


Originally posted by NorthernWoman:
[b]
i think that in poorer communities, people are your possessions and so when they begin to move on to better lifestyles, there is plenty of grousing about it only because they know in their hearts that these family members will be gone.[/b]

I'm sure that in many cases, you're right, and it's about that fear of losing us. But I've seen the envy and the pulling down first hand. It's pretty standard culture-of-poverty stuff. People resent you for having more than they have, and in order to justify these feelings, tell you that you've become an apple, or you're less Mйtis etc.

Yiwah

quote:


Originally posted by Makwa:
[b]Hm. So why is it that when diasporic NDNs try to reconnect there is such disinterest in us?[/b]

A big part of this is scarce resources. Look at how Bill C-31 people have been received. Very mixed reactions. Take an already stressed community, and then say, 'here are some more, go on, spread the money around' and you're bound to have people getting upset. And as NorthernWoman pointed out, many families are just surviving. People on the reserves are struggling to hold onto their culture themselves...trying to help people who have been away so long (yes, through no fault of their own) can seem pretty low on the list of priorities. It shouldn't be...but then again...there shouldn't be a lack of potable water, or housing, or available healthcare either.

There are communities who try to reach out, but it takes resources, and it's a painful journey. A horribly underfunded journey.

sknguy

Bill C-31 is a good example of our social divisions. For many in our communities the Indian Act way of doing things became a part of the culture. Growing up in a community I saw how it became a norm to treat people, or their descendants, who lost their status as outsiders to the community. Keep in mind that prior to the ‘85 amendments it was “normal” for non Indians to gain Indian Status, and for Indians to lose status through marriage.

As people take existing legislation to task, every change alters our expectations for the way things are done. We still have a ways to go in discarding a legacy of cultural expectations. One of those legacies is this treatment of some as outsiders.

When you look back through our history aren’t there times when you feel disgust for some of the past social practices? I’m sure our descendants will look back at us and see some of our norms as injustices. As a culture, we were once forward thinkers. Always mindful of our impacts on future generations. But today our Laws aren't so forward thinking and simply react to our present needs. But anyway, the Indian Act can be cited as just one cause for our divisions.

NorthernWoman

quote:


But anyway, the Indian Act can be cited as just one cause for our divisions.

I think it is the whole cause of our division.

Makwa Makwa's picture

quote:


Originally posted by NorthernWoman:
[b]I think it is the whole cause of our division.[/b]

I think that the conflict within FN society is more fundamental than that. Whatever legislation erected by the white supremacist society is merely an expression of their overall hatred of us as a people. The main force of their legislation is merely the collective desire of the white society to express the will to enact genocide upon us. To date, they haven't the will to express that overtly, therefore they express it in incremental movements designed to divide and weaken us as a people until we disappear in despair and self immolation through substance abuse and familial abuse and division.

Tommy_Paine

A very fascinating discussion.

The kind of interactions being described above are not exclusive to First Nations people. In fact, I think we can see the same phenomena in Black American culture, and in feminism. And in a thread last week, we were treated to a Jewish newspaper columnist looking down upon Hasidic Jews. And poor and working class whites experience the same kind of interactions within thier communities. And Quebecois entertainers who make the big time in America are seen as turning their back on thier culture. They aren't French enough anymore.

Barak Obama isn't Black, or Black enough according to some Black Americans.

I forget who, but someone in the Black American community used the anology of crabs in a bucket. The crabs will never escape, not because the bucket is too high, but because there are other crabs constantly grabbing and pulling the ones at the lip back into the bucket.

If I knew a solution to this problem, I'd offer one. But I don't know how it could be changed without changing the very nature of the human species.

Perseverence, I guess, is the answer.

I have a number of First Nations co-workers, and Saga's post on music a few days ago reminded me of one guy who was into traditional music. At the time, I didn't give it much thought, but it struck me after reading Saga's post that there is a dichotomy between the First Nations co-workers that are my age, around 50, and the younger co-workers who about twenty years junior.

The guys my age want to be invisible, and my attempts to encourage conversation about thier heritage is, while not rejected, quickly dead ended.

Not so with the younger guys.

I'm not sure what this has to do with white appropriation of Native culture, sorry.


quote:

I think that the conflict within FN society is more fundamental than that. Whatever legislation erected by the white supremacist society is merely an expression of their overall hatred of us as a people.

You know, as much as I want to take issue with that statement, I really can't.

I could argue that such legislative attempts to divide First Nations peoples originate with a ruling class that finds it just as amusing and profitable to create divisions amoungst working class whites and poor whites.

But, like crabs in the bucket, working class whites and poor whites seem to, by and large, revel in someone else being kicked around by the polished oxford's of the Family Compact.

So, I will not defend. But I'd like to think that one day, we could all wisen up just a bit.

The bucket is confining.

NorthernWoman

I don't know how you can compare what happened to FN people as being the same or equal to what has happened to other groups. I think that by doing that it causes one to say "oh well" and excuses the actions somewhat.
The Nazis were cruel and did unspeakable acts to the Jews, but they obviously did not succeed in destroying the people as they still have their culture and the world recognizes what happened to them.
What happened to the African Americans is probably the closest to what happened to FN in Canada, however, the world does recognize the era of slavery and it has not been swept under the rug.

There are Canadians today who don't believe and don't know what happened to FN people. Basically the government of this country treats FN people as whiners who are constantly sticking their hands out for more. Half-assed efforts have been made to acknowledge what happened to FN people but never has there been a true all out apology. And there never will be an apology as Canada treats FN people the same way the ENglish treated their commoners....with distain for not being of the upper crust, which is basically how FN are treated by mainstream Canada today with the rest of Canada disregarding FN with a sweep of the hand like they are nothing but annoying flies around the ears. Back in the day, one drop of Indian blood made you an Indian, now Canadians are arguing that most of these Indians are really more white than Indian. The goalposts continually change to suit the government of the day. Canada is in HUGE denial!

Yiwah

I agree NorthernWoman...but I also think that for the reasons you've cited that yes, what has happened to aboriginal people all over the world is comparable to the repression, injustice, genocide and cultural assimilation enacted among other groups....in a general sense. The Kurds living in Turkey are a colonised people, their traditions and language forbidden...living under harsh, assimilationist policies. Etc.

However, getting beyond generalities, you will of course find many difference. I don't think the comparison hurts however, as a starting point.

Canada is in denial about a lot of things.

Pages