Several years ago I picked up a small pair of stones on a beach. They had obviously been together for a long time as one showed wear from the other.
I have to confess to being a bit of a crow or raven that way, always finding some odd item of interest and adding to my collection. I don’t really know why I collected them, yet they have resided in my jacket pocket and accompanied me on my daily travels ever since. I frequently find that I am handling them as I walk the dog or I am contemplating some small aspect of life. They have become my “thinking stones” as their dissimilar shapes, and colours remind me to consider that there is more than one perspective on things; there is always another side to think about.
In the time that I have been the keeper of these objects, I have become much more active in trying to learn more about my Algonquin First Nations culture and in encouraging other Algonquins to learn more and to share our knowledge and history. We are trying to re-generate our decimated culture by finding the few threads that remain, and carefully adding to them to create a new cultural fabric.
Of late there have been a lot of stories in the news about cultural appropriation of First Nations images, icons and artworks. Cue the instant polarization of views on what is a very delicate subject, and one that many Canadians simply don’t take the time to carefully consider and understand; yet opinions abound!
For the record, we do want you to appreciate, admire and acquire Indigenous artwork! But we also want you to help us preserve its authenticity – both for us (so we can reliably use it to teach our culture and history to our next generations), and for you (so that you have truly authentic artwork that presents truly authentic First Nations perspectives). The world is not in danger of losing the history, language or impact of Degas, Picasso, Rembrandt or Warhol, so taking on their subjects, styles and techniques in no way endangers the original artists or their cultures. European and modern cultures are all dominant or at least well documented. They are safe and secure.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the histories, cultures and futures of Native people in Canada, or anywhere else in the world!
Native and colonial cultures are very much like the two stones I found on the beach: the ebb and flow of daily life wears on both, however one culture is eroding far faster than the other. Recognising that erosion, and its eventual effect on Indigenous culture, is the first step in stopping the erosion and eventual erasure that Native people are afraid of. Understanding this potential loss and actually acting in a way to stop it from happening is the second, but most important, step of halting this loss.
Indigenous outcries about cultural appropriation are frantic because we have lost too much already! We need a little breathing space! Having non-natives using our symbols and styles will muddy the waters. We need clarity to pass along our history and culture to our next generations before they get lost. We need to stabilize and then re-grow. We want to represent ourselves to the world! Do not wear our mantle! After 350 years of subjugation and continuous efforts to eliminate native people and our cultures from this land, is that small level of respect and accountability really so much to ask of Canadians? Should it not be freely offered so that we may continue to survive and recover? Appreciate our culture, don’t appropriate it!