An Open Letter To My Local Hipsters


Today in the neighborhood coffee shop, I spotted a poster made by a local designer for an upcoming music festival. Hence the sigh.

A tomahawk and feathers had somehow made their way onto the poster for a West Coast band consisting of three bearded white guys. As I stood in front of the poster, noting the word ‘primitive’ in the write-up below the piece, I looked over and saw a blond girl with a Pendleton-style bag and a guy wearing a knitted Cowichan sweater… or maybe a look-alike he bought at The Bay. Another sigh.

[ Editor’s note: the poster in question does not appear anywhere in the body of this blog entry (though it was later shared by someone else, in the comments that follow); what images do appear here were taken from other sources as a way to illustrate the author’s general arguments. We’re sorry for any confusion this has caused. ]

Headdress a la hipster

Non-native hipsters, I know that native imagery is trendy right now, that your friends are wearing it and the blogs and magazines you read are telling you to join in the fun. But when you and I look at those dreamcatcher earrings at the mall, I’m pretty sure we see different things. So I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to share my perspective, as a real live native person. Maybe in exchange for wearing my culture on your chest, you could allow me to suggest a slight re-jigging of your fashion trend.

I come from a family of artists, so I appreciate the aesthetic value of our artwork. My family is full of carvers, weavers, dancers, and singers. I’m lucky that way. But it isn’t just luck that allowed these artforms to be practiced today, it is years of political struggle and resistance.

For close to 100 years, in an effort to get rid of “the Indian problem” in Canada, the Indian Act made it illegal for us to practice our traditions. You see, non-native hipsters, your ancestors wanted to obliterate us in order to clear up the land for colonial expansion, and getting rid of our artforms and cultural practices was at the heart of those efforts. It was only the mid-1950s that this was written out of Canadian law, so that my relatives were no longer imprisoned for using our masks, blankets and other regalia in ceremonies.

I know you probably didn’t learn this in school, but it is a part of the local history that accompanies native culture. Each Indigenous culture around the world has its own history of suppression, its own story of resisting attempts to obliterate them so that industrial capitalism could flourish. Hey, you in the sweater — do you know what it took to maintain Cowichan knitting practices in the face of residential schools, intense poverty and assimilative policies?

Separating native people from our culture, and the politics and history from the images, serves to erase us. It makes it easier for native people like me, and the woman who knitted that sweater, to remain marginalized and silent while our imagery becomes a consumer object as part of mainstream culture. This is an old tactic, part of broader political efforts to forget the history of colonialism upon which this country is founded. Sports teams, band names and brand names which use Indigenous words and icons contribute to turning a marginalized people into a commodity.

This separation of imagery from politics doesn’t just happen here at a local level, but internationally as well. My ancestor’s ceremonial masks are in museums in Germany, England and New York. Mini totem poles are being manufactured in China and then sold in tourist shops in Seattle, Honolulu and Toronto. In the 1800s, they used to put real, live native people on display as well, remnants of a supposedly dying race. But now it is only our hard-won cultural icons and practices, like dreamcatchers and sweatlodges, that are of interest.

So a tomahawk is not just a tomahawk. It is a symbol of my silence. It is a history of resistance turned into a symbol of cool, devoid of any meaning or political significance. As the write-up below the poster notes, images like tomahawks are seen as ‘primitive,’ as are the ceremonies, laws and ways of life native people still practice.

It is no coincidence that when I go to indie music festivals, I see a whole lot of Cowichan sweaters and not a lot of Cowichan people. Yet it is with great surprise whenever I see a native artist or native musicians – actual Indigenous people – included in such mainstream cultural events. It is not the norm.

Likely, many of you won’t care about all this: apathy has had a long-term love affair with consumerism. It’s a classic co-dependent relationship. But a few of you might ask why you should care, what’s in it for you?  Well, for starters, I am trying to save you some energy. Maintaining your hipster culture requires a significant amount of effort in order to deny or forget the history I’m talking about. And in fact, it is far from ‘history.’ On the West Coast, we are constantly reminded about the unfinished business of land claims in this province. The current struggle over the Juan de Fuca Trail is a prime example, where elders from local First Nations are speaking out against development.

Consumer culture depends on you divorcing the politics behind native imagery from the history of struggle it has taken for it, and us, to be here. This is an active forgetting, requiring you to spend energy keeping current issues separate and apart from the images you emblazon on your t-shirts, the ‘tribal’ designs you get tattooed on your shoulder or the native names you use for your bands (Geronimo being a good example).

It isn’t necessarily that there is a problem with wearing Indigenous art or symbols – in fact, my family’s success as artists depends on people like yourself buying their jewelry, t-shirts or masks. The challenge is maintaining a connection between the imagery and the practice of our cultural wealth (including artwork, language, ceremonies, and law) and the history and politics that have ensured their survival. So here’s what I suggest.

Why not take another trend and put it to use here – I’m thinking here about the local food craze. ‘Eating local’ involves creating connections on a small scale, lessening the distance between the ground where your food was grown, and your plate. It involves meeting your local farmer at the market, buying a potato they grew themselves and picked that morning, and eating it for dinner that night. Why not take these same principles and put them to work with native imagery and artwork? Rather than buying a Pendleton-style bag mass-produced overseas and sold at Urban Outfitters around the world, why not buy a t-shirt, sweater or earrings from your local Indigenous craftsperson. Meet them, find out where they’re from, and the history behind their particular craft. In the process, you will be educating yourself about local Indigenous history and political struggles, and putting food on the tables of local artisans.

I know this isn’t a complete solution to cultural appropriation, but it’s a start. And with this local approach, you’ll be better informed and can still look cool while doing it.

97 thoughts on “An Open Letter To My Local Hipsters

  1. THANK YOU!!!! About two years ago I stood in front of an Astoria window display that had skinny and very pretty non-native models wearing headdresses – my reaction was pretty much face/palm. This encourages me to maintain my stance on the culture and I really like your suggestion I to will be passing it on!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this, very well articulated. thank you.

    I am also working with a few local womyn I am friends with to put together a zine exploring the intersections of (green) anarchist theory/praxis with anti-colonialism and feminism, in hopes to refocus the discourse so that it includes a more explicitly anti-colonial and anti-sexist ideas. I wonder if this would be something you would be open to contributing an article to?
    if you are interested please email me. thanks.
    Comrade Black

  3. Every year at the pow wows I buy some new jewellery from Indigenous artists, and even coffee (!) roasted by a Mohawk-owned and operated roastery that engages in nation to nation trade with FN coffee growers. Awesome. And if folks would go to the pow wows and craft stores, they would learn so much, and maybe even forge some relationships that break down barriers. 

  4. Wonderful article.  I have always been interested in Indigenous cultures, but have had little to no exposure to them, sadly.  I have been wanting a pair of moccasins since I can remember, but refuse to buy them without knowing who made them.  I would love to learn more about these wonderful cultures and people….. do you have any suggestions on who to contact, where to go, where pow-wows occur (as a commenter below talks about), good books to read on the subject?
    I would love to educate myself (and anyone who is interested) but don’t know the best place to look.  Please help! 🙂

  5. True, right, yes! But also it’s hard to know – maybe impossible – what steps a person has taken in coming to wear whatever item you’re noticing. The Cowichan sweater, for example: I’m not sure how to tell whether a person is wearing it ironically or joyfully, or whether the wearer has bought it on a humble visit to the Cowichan peoples’ traditional lands near where I live, or has bought a Cowichan-look sweater for $11 at Wal-Mart somewhere far away. (Not that Wal-Mart offers those, I hope!)

    So I’m almost totally supportive of your aims and recommendations, but I’m a little anxious about the habits of perception you start with. On the personal side, I’m a white guy who wears a Cowichan toque around, and I can’t explain to everyone walking by where and from whom I bought it. On the political side, evidence of allegiances are hard to identify and read from external signs – there’s a difference between a sweater and a headdress, for example, the second of which is inexcusable.

  6. Hey Sarah.  This is a great and powerful article, but you made the focus a visual artist expressing themselves through a piece of art – not Rifflandia or any other cultural practice – which I think is poorly thought out.  You don’t know the artist, their motivations or even their background, personal or ethnic, which you should take some time to look into before judging them and their work so harshly or making them out to be a mechanism of gentrification.  Making the case that it is a colonial mindset that allows us to freely adopt the art of other cultures into our own (whatever culture that is) would have been one thing, though again you haven’t explored the artist’s background or motivations.

    Being that you didn’t post a link to the artwork itself, but rather opted for a tasteless, unrelated photo, here is the link to the image itself, in case a proper discussion about this piece of art and it’s larger implications was what you were after (which would be great):

    You were spot on with many things, though not with your take on the artist.  He is an incredible visual artist, and the work is not the thoughtless cultural appropriation you’ve labelled it as.  I don’t feel the constant “scenester” label against the artist has any foundation, especially in an article that makes great points against unnecessary and damaging labels and appropriations. I am glad you felt that way though, as the article is genuine in it’s feeling and ultimately if it was a piece of visual art that evoked this thorough a thought, then that is exactly what art is supposed to do (yes, good or bad).

  7. Hi there. In the interest of complete transparency, I will introduce myself. I am the wife of the artist who inspired this article. I am also of Cree descent and wrote my thesis on cultural hybridity and decolonisation in Indigenous Canadian literature. And I am very impressed with the clarity and eloquence with which you have identified and iterated your feelings about cultural appropriation in mainstream and “hipster” culture.

    Regardless of how it got there, powerful indigenous imagery has been indelibly etched into the collective consciousness of our nation. Although the history of colonisation is violent and painful, it is a history that belongs to everyone in this country. Asking an artist to prove his connection to our community before he can be allowed express himself is unreasonable and short sighted. Art is subjective and exists to incite thought, to allow artists and art enthusiasts to re-situate themselves for a time. The use of indigenous imagery by non-indigenous artists may feel like salt on a wound, but comparing the appearance of a tomahawk on a piece of art to the mass-production of plastic totem poles in China is simply not fair.

    Evidently, the poster in question is provocative–it made you write this article. In fact, this article would not exist to educate others to the very real injustice of cultural appropriation if you did not see that poster in that coffee shop. So how can sharing our art be a bad thing?

  8. Thanks for your comments, Joey. I did not, in fact, jump to conclusions about the artist. I emailed him to inquire about his background and motivations before writing the piece. So you may be jumping to your own conclusions there. I was originally inspired by that poster, but purposefully did not name the festival, the artists or the band, so that the larger issue of widespread use of native imagery could be addressed. But now that you have connected the dots to the festival, I suppose others can see more clearly what inspired my original “sigh”.

    Whether or not the artist is “skilled” is not the point. The lack of connection between native imagery and our history and politics is the issue I was hoping to raise. I wasn’t calling out this artist specifically (again, since I didn’t name him), nor the festival. I was hoping to invite people to think twice when they use these types of images in their artwork or choose to wear native designs. Hopefully I’ve accomplished that. I don’t think I have all the answers, but want to suggest some things to consider, seeing as Indigenous perspectives are not heard very often in the local cultural scene.

  9.  Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Ryann. I know there are a diversity of perspectives on this, and am happy to hear other Indigenous people raising their concerns and views. I was not trying to call out your husband (as I noted above, I didn’t name him, the festival, or the band) but wanted to talk about the broader issues that the poster raised for me.

    I think ‘sharing’ our culture is very complicated because of the imbalance of power surrounding the production of cultural meaning and imagery. We haven’t had much choice as to whether or not to share it, and under what terms. In my view, images which could be very powerful symbols of resistance and strength are taken up in ways which detract from their historical meaning.  Sure, your husband can use a tomahawk all he wants. But for the artists in my family, our symbols are not to be taken lightly – we cannot, in fact, use whatever images we want. There are rights and ceremony associated with our artforms. Many non-native artists feel free to use whatever Indigenous images they want…that is part of the legacy of colonialism, and one which I feel compelled to question.

  10. Hey everybody, it’s me Matt.  The artist in question.  As interesting as this whole thing has been Sarah, and it has been interesting, I do take issue with the fact that you claim you have not named myself or the band directly in relation to this post. Did this not appear on your Twitter page (@thesarahmundy) at around 10 am this morning?

    “@mattsalik @cavesingers Did you see this response to your poster? Ideas for more relevant uses of native imagery.”

    I’m cool with being directly involved in a relevant discussion showcasing opposing and controversial views which this clearly is, I do however take offense to irresponsible reporting.

  11. I completely understand  and respect all of the points you have made above. However, when I said sharing “our” art, I meant people in general, not a specific culture or group. Again, I respect the historical meanings, rites and ceremony that are inextricably tied to traditional indigenous artforms, but I also respect the rights of an individual artist (regardless of culture). Putting restrictions on artistic expression is dangerous because it also limits the growth of culture and history going forward.

  12. I could not have said this better!  I feel as though this type of mass-cultural appropriation could be significantly dampered by the resistance of mass-consumerism or conceptions of re-appropriation. Albeit, this would not solve the appropriation of Indigenous cultures in its entirety, but it would be a start. As a Annishinabekque, these types of envious-driven encounters with non-Indigenous peoples caught me off guard for the longest time
    “Hey, sick moccasins, where did you get those?” “My Grandma made them..back home on the Rez” haha

    As the article indicates, it is less than uncommon to see non-Indigenous people in our universities, offices, coffee shops, fashion magazines and clothing stores suscribing to latest hipster, trendster, scenster (.. or whatever you want to call it) pan-Indigenous trends. I for one, wear my mocs in pride, not because they are “cool” (which, they most certainly are), but because they are a part of my history as an eastern woodlander. I have non-Indigenous friends who have come with me to ceremonies, powwows for example, who are more sympathetic to Aboriginal challenges in Canada and have purchased various artifacts. They wear our histories with pride.

  13. “THANK YOU!!!! About two years ago I stood in front of a Sears window display that had skinny and very handsome non-white models wearing lederhosen – my reaction was pretty much face/palm. This encourages me to maintain my stance on the culture and I really like your suggestion I to will be passing it on!”

    See how racist this would be?

  14. Phenomenal piece, thank you for writing out exactly what needed to be said. A lot of Natives can get very violent on this issue very fast without taking the time to explain -why- this is wrong. As it is, it should be understood it’s wrong just from a cultural stereotyping/racial standpoint and be left at that.. people wouldn’t ask why blackface and lawn jockeys are wrong, why probe further about this? Because they want it to be the last acceptable racism. We shouldn’t -have- to explain why it’s wrong, but I’m very happy that you took the time to. Not many people realize the struggles we Natives have gone through to be able to maintain our cultural identity and our sacred ceremonies and ways. The issue comes because we’re dealing with a culture where NOTHING is sacred anymore, where there is no spiritual connection and no respect for the sacredness of craft and everything can be bought with a dollar from china. And that’s when things get hairy. How do you explain to people who don’t understand what sacred means?

    I think you did it beautifully.

  15. Hey Sarah.  Fair enough – I’m glad you talked to Matt.  And I’m glad to see the kind of discussion this has caused! It’s lovely.

    One thing – Matt’s writeup does not use the word “primitive” anywhere, especially not in the manner you’ve suggested it does.  The writeup refers to a “primal colour palette”.  If you could correct that, it would be much appreciated.  Thanks again for stirring the pot.

  16. Thanks for the correction, Joey. I made some notes when I was looking at the poster, and wrongly read my scrawling of “primal” for “primitive”. My apologies.

  17. No no, thank YOU for writing this up. We, as the next generation, really need to come together, start caring, and start speaking up.

  18. I don’t think that Non-whites have much in the way of a heritage of invading Germany, outlawing all of their cultural practices and clothing, systemically stealing German children from their families to torture, brainwash and rape them, etc… So I don’t see why it would be disgusting for them to wear lederhosen. 

  19. Commercialization and commodification of Indigenous imagery seems to almost by definition detach it from its original context. Yet, you could also argue that unexpected juxtapositions of symbols, removed from their original and more familiar surroundings, can fuel interesting and fruitful artistic explorations.

    Still, we mustn’t necessarily equate intentions with outcomes, perhaps one of the stickiest aspects of art: the aim behind its production versus the forms of its perception by its audience. Glad to see the artists take part in this debate and be open to criticism. Not every artist would.

  20. Like I said before, I agree with everything you (both of you!) have said. It has never been more important to embrace cultural history and pass on traditions to future generations. The problem lies in expecting that something you hold sacred should be held sacred by somebody—anybody—else. It sets you up for disappointment/disgust time and time again and it creates a system of absolutes: you are either with us or against us. I appreciate that you took care not to name the artist or the festival in your letter–but the problem is, when starting a discourse with the artist, you only gave two options: “are you Indigenous or are you hipster”? When the answer was “neither/nor,” the artist automatically became “the other.” In reality, there are many histories and many shades of support and acceptance. Creating avenues for productive discourse (like what is happening here!) should be embraced, in my opinion.

  21. What a great article, thanks for writing this – lots to think about. The user
    comments are also really insightful. As one person pointed
    out, it was borderline irresponsible for the author to use a tasteless
    image of a woman in a headdress at the top of the article (even without
    explicitly saying this image was from the poster, the author would have
    been aware that many readers would just assume that’s from the poster).

    My fav. comment:

    “Although the history of colonisation is violent and painful, it is a
    history that belongs to everyone in this country. Asking an artist to
    prove his connection to our community before he can be allowed express
    himself is unreasonable and short sighted.”

    I feel really
    strongly that the First Nations will always be one of the strongest
    factors shaping what Canadian culture is, and it’s absolutely true that
    many non-aboriginal people wearing Cowichan sweaters do so out of true pride (in being
    from Cowichan, or Vancouver Island, or Canada), and without a trace of
    the ‘hipster irony’ the author derides. To my mind,
    Cowichan sweaters, as a garment adapted from knitting techniques taught
    to the Cowichan people by Scottish immigrants and merged with indigenous
    weaving methods/designs, represents the best aspect of Canadian culture – that
    which is developed from co-operation between First Nations and settler
    cultures. Colonialism is real and horrible, yes – but let’s not pretend that’s the
    whole story.

    I found the last three paragraphs of the article really exciting. The future of our shared Canadian culture lies in co-operation. So let’s lay off cartoon-ish depictions of First Nations imagery (seriously, what is with all the sports teams?), but let’s also not assume that every tomahawk or Cowichan sweater we see is ironic (what does that even mean anymore?)

    “Meet them, find out where they’re from, and the history behind their
    particular craft. In the process, you will be educating yourself about
    local Indigenous history and political struggles, and putting food on
    the tables of local artisans.” Yes!

  22. It is straight appropriation.  Sorry to say.  And  I am actually sorry and I feel bad that our society has become so disconnected from our creativity that this kind of thing is the norm.  And it is not just “native imagery”, to use the specific instance of the poster for example, that is being used.  Follow the creek: the poster is made for a band, that is on a label, that is distributed by a company, that is owned by a much larger company, that is owned by an industrial group who also own oil and chemical companies.  This isn’t some extreme leftist conjecture it is right there on the internet.  It took me like 15 minutes to find this stuff out.  And maybe you don’t care about that… but to say this is anything else but appropriation is incorrect.   I think there are many good reasons why you drew a tomahawk but, to be frank, you’re aiding in lining a billionaire oil tycoon’s pockets.  Try graffiti… or maybe you do, stick to it.   

  23. Really loving the suggestion, as I myself am trying to balance my love for moccassins, for example, without feeling like I’m ripping off a culture that has a long history of oppression (which I am not ignorant of) by my ancestors.
    The only problem is, as a non-native who bought my shoes from a local First Nation’s artisan shop, how do I avoid the criticisms you have just communicated from someone who doesn’t know where I got them? There is a delicate balance between not exploiting First Nations culture but enjoying all the beautiful things it has to offer(material, spiritual, and otherwise), without receiving the “ignorant white girl/boy” label.

    Love the article, though. Keep it up!

  24. Speaking of trends in cultural appropriation – how many Inuksuit have popped up in your neighbourhood lately?  In gardens and in the park… along the highway… pendants & trinkets… Even the Olympics Mascot!  They are spread all over the country.  Why has Canada stolen the Inuksuk?  (Inukshuk if you prefer.) 

  25. thanks… my friends often wonder why i get so freaked about them wearing hudson bay blankets or dreamcatcher necklaces. im not an aboriginal person but I understand the significance of cross-cultural exchange vs. blatant misappropriation. if there was an attitude of respect, learning and earnest acceptance of aboriginal culture and history, maybe the use of such potent symbols would be acceptable. then again, how can 100+ years of colonial oppression ever be rectified?  the native symbols white so-called hipsters wear with complete ignorance or worse- glib sarcasm, is absolutely sickening

  26. Thank you Sarah.  Over in New Zealand I teach a course on ‘Race, Indigeneity and Media’.  Next week I teach about appropriation.  We will read your article.

    Sue Abel

  27. What a great chat.  It is so good to read a tense but respectful discussion like this.  I was awfully upset about the ridiculous sweatshop factory Che Guevara t-shirts that got mass-marketed to the mob in the 90s, back when I was young and thought humanity could do better.  Now I have doubts about us as a species, after studying anthropology for many years.  Still just primates, sadly.  But, primates who make art!  And sell it!  And wear it!  And think about it. 

    I think discussions like this one are very important.  Once an artist creates something, she/he loses control of it, it enters the world and becomes what people make of it.  It is fascinating to read what the artist’s intentions are, but they are not definitive, they’re just a bit of the dialogue.  The most an artist can hope for is thoughtful dialogue (and a paycheque…).

    I love the author’s suggestion that we should think about where art comes from, who makes it, and how we can support real live First Nations artists in town.  But if we are angry about the misappropriation and mass-marketing of cultural imagery, I don’t think it is productive to direct our frustration at the individuals involved.  It only creates tiny ripples of unhappiness among a very few people to bicker with each other about what we ought to be doing as individuals.  When we see a big problem, like Aboriginal poverty as a result of hundreds of years of cultural genocide and systematic racism, we should take the time to educate ourselves and go to the source and raise our voices in politics, local and global.  We should foster dialogues like this one, that serve to raise awareness and provoke thought, without degrading into name- and blame-calling.  I think this applies in every aspect of activism: just forget about who wears Cowichan sweaters and who shaves their legs and wears a bra and who still eats at McDonalds and focus on reconfiguring the big, corrupt social machinery that is perpetuating all our grief. 

  28. Oh wow! Did you actually read any of the other (productive) comments on this awesome post? What exactly did  you Google? 

    As I did earlier, I will, in the interest of transparency, identify myself: I am the wife of the artist.  I am also of Cree descent and wrote my graduating thesis on cultural hybridity and the process of decolonisation in Indigenous Canadian Literature. 

    I urge you to seek out my other comments on this forum in regards to cultural appropriation and the progression of art, but for now, to clear up some of your gross misconceptions, I want you to know how this particular piece came to be: a friend asked my husband to choose a band that he liked who would be performing in the Rifflandia Music Festival this year and produce a poster for the show. He did one last year too, and, to be completely honest, compensation was definitely not the motivating factor to participate in Livestock again this year. Supporting Olio and our local arts community and, as a man who works 2 full time jobs, to actually have the chance to create some art for art’s sake, was why my husband chose to participate this year.

    We saw the Cave Singers open for Fleet Foxes this April. When my husband saw they were an option, he jumped at the chance and proceeded to listen to their music over and over again until he got a picture in his head and let it out to be screen printed (just so everyone knows: he drew the entire piece by hand using a tablet and Photoshop).

    It would be super cool if those oil companies you mentioned were lining this local artist’s pockets, but that is simply not the case. Making rash, unfounded assumptions is never a good idea and never a positive avenue for the change you claim to seek.

  29. Really? Truly? Balancing your “love for moccassins [sic]… without feeling like (you’re) ripping off a culture that has a long history of oppression…” ?!!?

    I have some moccasins from LL Bean (or some such; they were a gift, I am not fancy). I am mostly white, too fat and old to be a hipster and mean no disrespect to indigenous cultures but these things keep my feet warm in the winter. I love them. Is this not how culture revolves, to assimilate ideas from various places?

    I am aware of and absolutely repulsed by the wrongdoings of the past but should I not buy (or receive) moccasins except those made by my nearest certified indigenous artisan? Should I only celebrate St. Patrick’s day with green-blooded Irishmen or only eat hummus made by a Levantine Arab? If you’re a Christian, aren’t you appalled by the widespread commercial bonanza that Christmas has become? Well, probably not because that’s just what happens and you have to find your meaning in it and let others do as they will. (Incidentally, I got my fancy moccasins for Christmas.)

    In the 2011 world, most everything is inauthentic and will be appropriated and commodified if it can be sold. It’s crass capitalism but it’s also the sponge of culture to absorb anything it contacts. That includes religious symbols and other ceremonial and culturally important imagery. Yeah, usually it’s bogus.

    I don’t think the locality solution solves much. I think a centrality of “hipsters” and people-who-call-out-hipsters (a.k.a. “hipsters”) is to pass judgement without knowing someone’s intent, background or values.

    Peace y’all.

  30. The idea of “the other” arises in the mind naturally as the mind distinguishes between two, the subject and object of perception. If I take responsibility by noticing this process is occuring in real time, all of the time, I havent found it possible to be enlightened, but it does seem possible to develop compassion for others in these moments. This compassion for others based on seeing our own basic humaness as it occurs,

    in which we are affected by gravity, the food they eat, the memories of our past, and a mind which constantly involved in discrimination (whether on a gross level, between the Republicans and Democrats, or on a more subtle level distinguishing “me” from “a world”.) By touching our own basic humaness, not abstractly, but actually as a living, breathing, and quite real thing I feel we can hold others views of the sacred, as being sacred, because we have reflected and can see that indeed we have things which we take personally, such as ideas regarding “individual” freedom, science, art, or whatever else; it actually affects us the comments of others.

    Thank you for listening while you did

    I am glad this converstaion is happening, over the internet, who would have thought!


  31. In reading some of the comments posted here, I think it’s
    important to note (again) that the author spoke not only to the poster
    but about cultural appropriation in general. While general mention of this
    image started off the article, the author goes on to speak about many forms of
    cultural appropriation, all connected in the given context that we live in. Also, I don’t feel that the images used were out of context  – they are examples of cultural appropriation, which is the topic of the article.

    While an earlier comment mentioned people’s ancestors and
    their (lack of) responsibility regarding this, I personally do feel that I have
    a great deal of responsibility in regards to the past and present of
    colonialism and systemic racism and its impacts. The ways in which colonialism
    and systemic racism privileged my ancestors (i.e. stolen land was “given” to my
    ancestors to live on after they immigrated from Western Europe, colonial
    policies benefited them economically, etc.) is not all that different from now
    in some ways – I still have many unearned privileges relating to colonialism
    and systemic racism now, including living on the unceded territories of local
    nations and taking part in a society based very much on violent colonialism and
    exploitation. So to me, this is the context in which these discussions and
    cultural appropriation are happening.

    Often there is much said about “appreciating”
    culture or cultural items or iconography, but all that is happening in the
    above-mentioned context, and often the “appreciating” does not include
    knowledge of the history or meaning of the item, image, idea, etc. in question.
    Instead of appropriating, I feel it’s critical to challenge the systemic
    oppression that makes way for rampant appropriation and continues legacies of stealing
    from Indigenous nations. 

    As a white person, I feel that it is my responsibility to
    learn more about why I have and may still be taking part in appropriation and
    instead how I can take part in challenging systemic racism and colonialism. As
    artists, writers, scholars, friends, family members, coworkers, etc. we each
    have influence and an ability to take part in challenging injustices. Educating myself more and speaking out about what I learn is a big part of this for me. Below is
    a link to a zine called “Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?” that
    I have found useful:

    I think this discussion is clearly critical and I sincerely
    appreciate the time and effort it took to write this article – one that clearly
    has sparked an important and meaningful conversation. Thank you very much again

  32. Thank you for writing so well and without stridency – that tone puts off the initially unsympathetic.
    This article brings the issue to those who are not already aware of it in a measured and accessible way.

    I will, however take one tiny note w/r/t the “energy required” to keep the truth at bay. I think the machineries of the culture industry make it entirely too easy to forget that there is a history (an a quite painful one at that) behind Indigenous icons and images. My parents were quite ignorant of what they were buying when they bought my son a pair of pajamas (George Brand, from Walmart (heavy sigh)) with faux-“Indian” fringe, sash & knife printed on the top. (An image of them is, blessedly, unavailable on Google at the moment. Perhaps they’ve gone out of production.)
    My working class parents, both in their mid-6os now, have no clue how ignorant and embarrassing such clothing is.

    On the flipside, I don’t know how we non-Indigenous people could comfortably go about acquiring Cowichan sweaters, for instance, to support these artists, even if we go to the source and buy them from actual Cowichan people. If I were to wear a legitimate Cowichan sweater, how would an obsever know that I was an aware consumer, supporting the culture from which this artifact came? How would I avoid being stigmatized as a mere hipster?

  33. Oops, hi it is Sarah from Twitter. Looks like it was me making assumptions about the relevance of the poster art here. Glad that got cleared up, at least. Sorry for that, folks. Uncool.

  34. Thank you for writing this wonderful article! After reading it and the comments I am left wondering, why can’t we, as consumers of mass culture, admit cultural appropriation is wrong? Why is the “calling out” of a groups superficial and consumer driven consumption of Native culture always met with, “it not as bad as you think” attitude? Comments like, “In fact this article would not exist to educate others to the very real injustice of cultural appropriation if you did not see that poster in that coffee shop. So how can sharing be a bad thing?” leave me feeling flat. It’s like saying “without us you’d have nothing to complain about so stop complaining.” The real issue goes beyond this article and hits a nerve that few people are willing to discuss. Hipster “culture” is based on consumerism and nothing more and the reason you don’t think it’s so bad to wear dreamcatcher earrings you bought from Forever 21 is because you’re not Native. Think about how superficial it is to wear a feather headdress that was made in China (by slave labor) and sold at Urban Outfitters or a use a Tomahawk on a poster when you are not Native and have no connection to that culture.

  35. There were no assumptions. 

    Sorry.  I don’t want to alienate by saying “lining a billionaire oil tycoon’s pockets”.   It’s exactly my point though that your husband didn’t make very much doing this.  Ask yourself: who is making the money here?  Not that it’s about money.  Why would we give our creativity away for almost nothing? Own it and share it! 

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