The internet has called out several individuals and groups that have taken culturally significant artifacts or practices and portrayed them as their own. There are appropriate ways to honour another culture without stripping it of its meaning.
Indigenous Culture Enriches the World
Every Indigenous culture has a different perception of the world, and each culture carries value enriched by its history, knowledge, traditions, contributions, and ways of being. As the world gradually becomes more global thanks to digital media, it allows us to learn more about other cultures.
However, where we get information and insight into other cultures matters—it's the difference between cultural inclusion and appropriation.
Inclusion Versus Appropriation
Inclusion involves creating a respectful environment to learn, explore, and communicate with an underrepresented community. It's about building and strengthening relationships with Indigenous members and other cultures with a curiosity and willingness to learn from a community member who can share their culture's nuance, history, and other particulars.
Appropriation is taking traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, artifacts, or intellectual property from an Indigenous (or other minority) group without their permission. Cultural appropriation often involves reproducing an aspect of culture—music, art, dance, regalia, artifacts, ceremonies, symbols, and more—without acknowledging the source. Not only is appropriation disrespectful, but it also contributes to a greater power divide between cultures.
Culture has Restricted Access
Learning about other cultures can be interesting, enlightening, and a positive experience. The way in which groups that are outside of the culture engage with aspects of a culture matters. There is a line between respectful inclusion and disrespectful appropriation that may not always be clear. Even with the best intentions, appropriation may happen unconsciously.
Cultural artifacts or objects that tie to a community or member identity are earned by being a member of that culture. The basic rule for non-members: If something is earned, it holds particular significance and value for an Indigenous group; therefore, access is restricted.
A few examples include non-Indigenous people who:
Make dreamcatchers a craft
Use traditional medicines from an Indigenous community
Incorporate Indigenous designs into advertising
Adopt regalia into fashion
How to Practice Respectful Inclusion
Non-Indigenous people are always welcome to learn more about Indigenous culture, but there is a right way to do it—and all it takes is the inclusion of Indigenous voices. Community members are the only true experts on their culture's worldviews, symbolism, history, and more. To learn more about a culture, go to an Indigenous source, and honour the source of your knowledge as you share it.
Unless you are a member of a particular community, check with community members to tell you about practices imbed within the culture. If unsure whether something may be considered appropriation, pause to consider, then connect with a proper Indigenous source.
Sharing culture makes the world richer, and the more we learn about each other, the greater our connections become.
Learn more about respectful inclusion on the Facing History and Ourselves blog.