Cultural Appropriation is Applause   Leave a comment

Image result for image of wyandot indianHave you heard about the United Nations decision to discuss a ban on so-called cultural appropriation? It’s been a thing for a while. Apparently it’s wrong for a white chef to cook Mexican food or to wear “insensitive” Halloween costumes. So, at the insistence of indigenous groups, including the Canadian branch of my tribe, the UN is considering expanding intellectual-property regulations to protect Indigenous designs, dances, words and traditional medicines.

So, I felt the need to point out the logical fallacy here. These First Nations groups seek to ban appropriation of their culture, but they don’t want to ban all cultural appropriation. Of course they don’t. They would have to forego every single technological advance imported into the North American continent since Columbus’ first voyage. I can’t speak for every Native person in North America, but I personally don’t want to give up mathematics, writing, metal forging, money, English/Spanish/American Sign Language, modern medicine, melodic music, perspective painting, modern construction, modern transportation, … ah, heck, there’d not be much left if I insisted upon assuaging all cultural appropriation. I’d be living a Stone Age existence if I refused to culturally appropriate everything that is not First Nations’ derived.

Brad would disagree with me on this because he has an invention he’s seeking a patent for, but “intellectual property” is not truly property. It’s the idea that you can create a monopoly for an idea … to keep someone else from thinking. It leads to such morally questionable attempts as trying  to patent genes to keep anyone from researching it for a given period of time.

Culture constitutes “the habits, beliefs, and traditions of a particular people, place, or time.” Outside of the forced assimilation of indigenous peoples by Americans, Canadians and Australians in past centuries, a culture is adopted voluntarily by individuals. The voyageur who was the first white man to join my ancestral tribe apparently liked what he saw and stayed with his Indian wife for 17 years and produced five children … until he died from some sort of infection. He adopted the Wyandot culture because it served his individual self-interest. His great-grandson Joseph assimilated into white culture almost a hundred years later because that choice served his individual self-interest. That’s how cultural assimilation works.  There were more barriers for Joseph to join white culture than for Barasallai to join the Wendat culture, but they both chose that path voluntarily because it served their personal choices. By the way, I used the two forms of designated my tribal culture deliberately because when Barasallai joined our tribe, we were still Wendats, but by the time Joseph assimilated into the larger white culture, we were Wyandots.

And through contacts with other people from other cultures, any given cultural idea or tradition has become better. Think about all the different cuisines that make up “American food.” Think about all the different musical styles. My favorite cuisine is Oriental food. That’s a broad category that includes Chinese, Thai, Korean, and Japanese dishes. Of course, being the daughter of a chef, I have learned how to make my favorites at home. But none of those dishes are native to me. My mother the Indian with Irish blood cooked a mean colcannon, but so did my father whose ancestors come from Sweden. I’m glad our diet wasn’t restricted to corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers, deer, wild turkeys, small game, and fish.

My father, living in the United States, would have found limited work if he’d insisted upon cooking only Swedish dishes.

Keeping “non-Natives” from using traditions not typically associated with them means that only a handful will be exposed to that culture. Fewer people showing an interest means that the products and ideas of Natives will get less exposure and will become a sociological or archaeological artifact rather than a living idea, limited to a few multicultural festivals.

Emilee WillsNatives and people from all over the world should embrace cultural evolution – appropriation has this negative connotation of force. Since humans form a single species, it is pointless to isolate a set of ideas just because “your people” discovered or named it. You should instead dream of seeing your culture emulated by others because it might might lead them to be curious about its origins and eventually come and visit you, bringing their tourist dollars with them.

It may (probably will) enrich your own culture. One could say that cultures which “evolve” and change as they encounter other cultures are the strongest ones. Despite all the complaints about how mixed-up the English language is, its flexibility has allowed it to borrow foreign words to describe what the old Anglo-Saxon language couldn’t. It has grown and adapted and is now the preferred language of commerce all over the world. We all know what traditional British cuisine is like. Would anyone want to eat in England if you removed curry from the landscape? Or just limited its cooking to people of east Indian descent? British wouldn’t even have tea to drink if they hadn’t appropriated it from somewhere else. Bangers and mash would have to be bangers and turnips, because potatoes are assimilated. Americans would literally starve. We’d have clam chowder, anadama bread and a lot of junk food.

And doesn’t Emilee Willis, Wyandot Princess, look more comfortable in her shorts and t-shirt than the woman in traditional dress at the top of the article? Emilee is appropriating. Why is that right when a white chef making Mexican food is wrong? I don’t know, probably because neither is wrong. The sincerest form of compliment is imitation.


Posted July 18, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in culture, Uncategorized

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