Think Before You Speak: Understanding Culture

It was until after the article “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses” was read that the realization of people not understanding other cultures other than their own came to mind. A serious understanding of cultural appropriation would help put a stop to many racial issues that occur in the native culture. When Êkosi uses the example of the headdress there are various examples of how pop culture portrays the Native culture to be something that it is not. There are many visual examples today that come to mind when discussing the idea of Cultural Appropriation and how uninformed many people are about this issue (Êkosi). For example, there are many models that walk down the runway with a headdress as well as many singers who chose to perform wearing the headdress; this example of cultural appropriation comes extremely offensive to people of the Native culture (Cultural Appropriation 2015). The background of the native culture as Êkosi explains it, has restricted symbols and unrestricted symbols to it (An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses). The headdress, being an example of a restricted symbol would be why there is offense taken to celebrities of pop culture wearing it. Not only is there a problem with the idea that celebrities who have not earned the headdress are wearing it but also females themselves of the Native culture are unable to wear the headdress and if they do they earn it, but it is something that is very rare. By females wearing the headdress in popular culture it not only shows racial discrimination but it is an example of people being uninformed about the culture they are “representing.”

The Native culture in itself is one that over time has gone through various issues in the past that are looked at today as something that should have never happen. It all began with the idea of Colonialism and how there was a sudden want from European colonizers to take over all the land that was predominately populated by indigenous people (Martini 2015). Specifically Settler Colonialism caused the major issues where Europeans took, conquered and dominated land, bodied, environment, natural resources, cultural objects/symbols and traditions of the indigenous population (Cultural Appropriation 2015). This was the beginning to the problems in the future that surround that native culture. Resulting from colonialism was this “super” idea of The Salvage Paradigm, which Europeans thought that there was a sudden need in “saving” indigenous peoples (Cultural Appropriation 2015). This need disallowed natives to explore their own culture, and further express their beliefs upon one another. It was believed that their culture was dying off and they needed to save the people behind it, by doing this, they then allowed native people to keep or lose any aspects that they may not have wanted to keep (Cultural Appropriation 2015). This newly run system of colonialism under Europeans discarded many aspects of the Indian culture as the colonial logics included conquering the native culture. The whole idea of conquering someone else’s culture, is basically taking over their culture thus native people truly don’t have much of a choice to express their beliefs when they are under colonial power.

Those who decided to take over indigenous land were predominately white thus the concept of white supremacy was introduced (Cultural Appropriation 2015). This history of white supremacy is one that began due to Europeans taking advantage of indigenous people (Cultural Appropriation 2015). Their (white people) beliefs that they are superior simply because of their race are what cause many issues in social institutions today (White Supremacy and Terrorism). As noted earlier, this continues to happen today in popular culture as most people who display cultural appropriation through their attire simply feel that there is no need to understand the true meaning behind what they are wearing. The article could not have represented white supremacy any better then when the author noted that when white people get questioned for wearing or representing a restricted symbol they are asked and immediately get offended. By white people taking offense to this, it is the representation of them thinking they are not doing something wrong.

The native culture is one that not many people know or understand their past and unless you are a part of that culture you truly will not know what it is like. Aboriginal people experience a variety of issues. As time went on from the beginning of settler colonialism, Canadians finally started to gain some knowledge of what happened in the past. Bill-C-31- Amendment to the Indian Act was the begging of eliminating discrimination based on race and gender (Matani 2015).

There still is a lot to be learned about the Native culture. By doing this Canadians are able to inform themselves about the past and gain more knowledge about the various different forms of discrimination that other cultures are faced with and why. The story here produced by êkosi provides an in depth look and why people should understand. In the end there are always going to be people who find the need to be offensive towards someone. Unfortunately society is filled with ugly people and small steps can be made towards eliminating this just by providing small bits of information. Popular culture continues to contribute to negative stereotypes and to help put an end to this, it begins with informing celebrities about what is right and wrong so they can have a positive impact on this overall issue.

Works Citied:

Êkosi. “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses.” Pihtawikosisn. 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 14 Feb. 2015 from http://apihtawikosisan.com/hall-of-shame/an-open-letter-to-non-natives-in-headdresses/

“Cultural Appropriation: Settler Colonial Logics and Representations of the “Imaginary Indian” in Popular Culture.” Queen’s University. Biosci Auditorium. 9 March 2015. Guest Lecture.

Matani, Maria-Teresa. “Colonialism.” Queen’s University. Ellis Hall. 12 March 2015. Tutorial Presentation.

“White Supremacy and Terrorism.” Slavery by Another Name. PBS. Web. 14 Mar. 2015 from http://www.pbs.org/tpt/slavery-by-another-name/themes/white-supremacy/

– lazybreakfast95

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3 comments

  1. thelazyriser · March 20, 2015

    This is a very good review on a very interesting and common issue that I feel often goes unnoticed. Even when people dress as aboriginal peoples during halloween, or use headdresses as a costume I agree with your statement that this is very uninformed, ignorant, and disrespectful. Sadly when people chose to wear the headdress or dress like as an aboriginal person of Canada I do not think they even realize what they are doing. Disrespectful, offensive acts such as wearing the headdress are such common part of modern day culture that I don’t think the people who wear it even realize how offensive they are being. I think that awareness must be raised for this issue in order for it to be resolved. Issues such as being raciest against another culture are extremely prevalent and society must be made aware that it is not ok to take things from another culture and wear it as a costume or a fashion statement. I honesty do not thing it is being done with malicious intentions, however that does not make it any less wrong or hurtful. Blogs like this are a very good start to raising awareness for this issue. Great job, this was very well done and I learned a lot!
    -thelazyriser

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  2. curlyfrypoutine · March 22, 2015

    White supremacy first begun due to the notion that Europeans were “more human” than people of colour and that they had a moral and religious responsibility to help people of colour develop and become more like the Europeans – also known as “the white man’s burden.” The painting “American Progress” by John Gast (1872) truly exemplifies the white man’s burden: it portrays a white angel floating through indigenous territory, stringing telephone wires and holding a book, followed by pioneers and a train.

    So what does the white man’s burden have to do with the issue of non-natives in headdresses? It gave white people a sense of entitlement, which continues to have its effect today. Indigenous people in Canada, in particular, sometimes refer to themselves as Canada’s “fourth world” due to the oppression that they face. Their culture is vastly misunderstood due to inaccurate representations in the media (such as Pocahontas and Peter Pan) and a lack of exposure in the public school system. By including the native headdress in fashion shows and concerts, the stereotypes of indigenous people are compounded in the minds of anyone watching – this idea of the “noble savage.”

    This is an issue that can be solved by spreading an accurate education about the history of indigenous culture and modern indigenous culture. It is great that people are attempting to give indigenous culture more attention in the media, however, it needs to be accurate information that is portrayed. Those with power and a large audience in the media need to be more careful with the information they distribute to the world, because it has a much bigger impact than one would think.

    – curlyfrypoutine

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  3. 4pce · March 24, 2015

    I think what was most interesting about your blog post is your analysis of this entitlement to the cultural objects of First Nations by white Europeans settlers and descendants. Throughout the colonial period all objects of First Nations culture were disposed of in the name of civilizing the natives of North America. Since then, many efforts have been made to preserve and restore the traditions and symbols associated with that culture, however the idea of civilizing and maintaining a dominantly white culture has unfortunately not left us. You touched on this in your piece, the idea of choosing what about the First Nations cultures remains, and what does not. The headdress appears to be one item that has remained and has become a symbol of First Nations as a result of misuse and misrepresentation by white peoples. Why is that this headdress has remained to be “celebrated” in western culture while other items such as jingle dresses or hoop dancing are almost obsolete to most who have not studied or spent time in First Nations communities? The headdress is an easily identifiable symbol, one of obvious importance, and I believe there is a connection between that and its attraction to white people.

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