28 July 2016

Indigenous cultural appropriation?

In June we posted an article from The Atlantic on The do's and don'ts of Cultural Appropriation. In that post I suggested that the article, with its focus on fashion and written from the perspective of a white woman in North America, might be useful for provoking or starting a discussion with students about the issue of cultural appropriation.

In the context of contemporary Indigenous rights and cultural activism, this interview from Fader (a music and lifestyle magazine) with an Indigenous clothing-designer and artist provides an interesting twist and greater nuance to discussions of cultural appropriation in fashion.

In "This Is What Happens When Indigenous Artists Do Their Own Appropriating" (2016), Sage Paul discusses her work as an Indigenous artist (Dene) in the fashion industry, and the connections of her work to indigenous culture, cultural identity and activism, as well as the wider world of fashion.
 Jeneen Frei Njootli with Rodrigo HGz / Photo by Krissy Ballanger (Fader Magazine)
Paul is based in Toronto and runs the Setsuné Fashion Incubator with Erika Iserhoff. In this interview, Paul addresses the complexities of her intersectional identity, work, and the power dynamics of cultural appropriation.
"... the idea of cultural appropriation isn’t new to me. I really feel that in the last few years it’s been trendy again to be native. What upsets me about cultural appropriation is the sense of entitlement that comes along with it. The dominant society really feels, like, It’s just beautiful, you know? I think you're overly sensitive about us using this thing. We want to celebrate beautiful Indigenous women. Well actually, Indigenous women are the lowest class of people in this country right now and to use them as an object just keeps us as this objectified, exotic, fantasy image as opposed to beautiful, strong women who are doing work and have a voice, words, and ideas to share. Now, I want to talk about the people who are actually that culture, rather than people who are stealing. So: talk about Indigenous artists, and celebrate and support Indigenous-made work."
Instructors might wish to couple this article with our previous post to add nuance and an alternative perspective to a discussion about cultural appropriation in the context of fashion. This interview would also be interesting to think about in a discussion of representation, authenticity, or reviving traditional knowledge and practices.

Quick links & additional reading: