Jas­mine Kabatay

Metro Canada (Halifax) - - VIEWS -

Art is a pow­er­ful thing. And with great power, comes great re­spon­si­bil­ity.

So when the Canada Coun­cil for the Arts an­nounced last week it was safe­guard­ing against cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion of In­dige­nous art, I was in­spired.

In­dige­nous cul­ture has been ap­pro­pri­ated count­less times, in many di er­ent artis­tic dis­ci­plines — not just visual arts.

Non-in­dige­nous artist Amanda PL was at the cen­tre of one such con­tro­versy back in the spring when a Toronto gallery had planned to show­case her work, which was in­spired by the Wood­lands style made fa­mous by Anishin­abe artist Nor­val Mor­ris­seau. The out­rage prompted the gallery to can­cel its plans.

Ear­lier this year, Cana­dian lit­er­ary mag­a­zine Write caused a na­tional stir when it pub­lished an opin­ion piece call­ing on peo­ple to em­brace cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion — in an is­sue ded­i­cated to the work of In­dige­nous writ­ers. (The mag­a­zine apol­o­gized and the writer re­signed.)

What’s in­ter­est­ing about the arts coun­cil’s strat­egy is the onus on artists to avoid cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­at­ing In­dige­nous artists or mak­ing art from a colo­nial­ist per­spec­tive.

As CEO and di­rec­tor Si­mon Brault and Steven Loft, di­rec­tor of its In­dige­nous pro­gram, wrote in a Globe and Mail oped an­nounc­ing the change, the coun­cil will “ex­pect some in­di­ca­tion that au­then­tic and re­spect­ful e orts have been made to en­gage with the artists or other mem­bers of the In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties whose cul­ture or pro­to­cols are in­cor­po­rated in any project” seek­ing fund­ing.

Forc­ing non-in­dige­nous artists to think about whether or not their work is ap­pro­pri­at­ing In­dige­nous cul­ture is an im­por­tant ex­er­cise. It not only helps push for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and re­spects In­dige­nous Peo­ples, but it’s a way to make artists think through and chal­lenge pre­con­ceived no­tions.

Of course some peo­ple won’t be happy. It could pose a chal­lenge for artists, es­pe­cially if they aren’t aware of the so­cial, cul­tural, and his­tor­i­cal forces that have shaped re­la­tion­ships with Canada’s In­dige­nous Peo­ples. At the same time, this is could be an op­por­tu­nity for them to learn more about In­dige­nous cul­ture and his­tory.

As Loft told CBC News, “I don’t think artists should be scared. I think they should be Sandy Macleod ex­cited, per­haps wary of what they’re do­ing, and that’s not a bad thing.”

The arts are im­por­tant, in a gen­eral sense, not just for In­dige­nous Peo­ples.

Look­ing back, art has al­ways been a way for peo­ple to get in­for­ma­tion, sep­a­rate from in­sti­tu­tional knowl­edge, like the me­dia, and has the power to unite peo­ple in dif­fer­ent ways.

When Barack Obama irst ran for pres­i­dent, his mes­sage of hope rang loud and clear across the world. So did Shep­ard Fairey’s blue and beige poster of Obama em­bla­zoned with the word.

Artists play an im­por­tant role in so­ci­ety. Do­ing a bit of ex­tra home­work for the sake of their art and In­dige­nous cul­ture will only make it bet­ter.

is an Ojib­way jour­nal­ist from Seine River First Na­tion. Cathrin Bradbury


In­dige­nous artist Nor­val Mor­ris­seau’s paint­ing An­drog­yny in the ballroom at Rideau Hall.

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