Ap­pro­pri­a­tion is tak­ing some­one’s story

When these sto­ries are about in­dige­nous peo­ples, it’s a prob­lem

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - JEFF GOODES Jeff Goodes is a pro­ducer and jour­nal­ist with CBC Ra­dio’s White Coat Black Art. He lives in Dun­das.

I am a white male and here is my re­sponse to the “ap­pro­pri­a­tion” controversy.

Ap­pro­pri­a­tion is tak­ing some­one else’s story and putting it through the fil­ter of your life ex­pe­ri­ence, knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing. The word “tak­ing” is key. Ap­pro­pri­a­tion doesn’t im­ply col­lab­o­ra­tion. It means to take pos­ses­sion of. To take some­one else’s story and make it your own.

An ap­pro­pri­ated story is one de­gree of sep­a­ra­tion from the orig­i­nal. The writer may be­lieve it has the ring of truth, or at least is a fair and ac­cu­rate por­trayal. But it’s al­ways through the writer’s own fil­ter, whether they re­al­ize it or not. That doesn’t make it in­valid, but at this point in our coun­try’s his­tory, when these sto­ries are about in­dige­nous peo­ples, it’s a prob­lem.

Last fall, we put out an episode of White Coat Black Art on CBC Ra­dio that be­gan with the sen­tence: “I’m Dr Brian Gold­man and I’m a white set­tler.” In the pro­gram, Brian looked at the chal­lenge to pro­vide cul­tur­ally safe care for in­dige­nous peo­ple. It was im­por­tant to start with that sen­tence be­cause Brian un­der­stood that his words were fil­tered through his ex­pe­ri­ence and po­si­tion in the world.

Lis­ten­ing to the voices of the in­dige­nous women in that show helped me to un­der­stand my place in the world as a white man. The hospi­tal, an in­sti­tu­tion cre­ated by our Euro­pean so­ci­ety, is not a fright­en­ing place to me. It is cre­ated by my cul­ture. But for oth­ers, it bears the echoes of the in­sti­tu­tional op­pres­sion of the res­i­den­tial school. How of­ten do I think about that when I’m get­ting my PSA checked?

At the core of the “ap­pro­pri­a­tion” up­roar, there is a lack of ac­cep­tance of our priv­i­lege that we from Euro­pean back­grounds en­joy, con­sciously or un­con­sciously. And right now that has to stop.

It’s 2017. Look at where we are in the his­tory of this coun­try. Two years af­ter the fi­nal re­port from Canada’s Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion, we still haven’t taken mean­ing­ful ac­tion. We are cel­e­brat­ing our 150th an­niver­sary, and yes there is much to cel­e­brate, but with­out re­dress­ing the in­jus­tices against our in­dige­nous peo­ple, the fan­fare rings hol­low.

As artists, as jour­nal­ists, it’s time to put the voice of the in­dige­nous peo­ple of our coun­try front and cen­tre, away from the noise of those who feel it is their cre­ative right to write on their be­half.

This is more than an in­tel­lec­tual dis­cus­sion of cre­ative free­dom. This is about un­der­stand­ing our coun­try’s his­tory and on whose backs Canada has been built.

This needs to be a time of hard-work and healing, not of late-night tweets of so-called jokes with the tone akin to the priv­i­leged con­ver­sa­tion heard in a wood-pan­elled men’s club. I bris­tle at the im­age of the ur­ban in­tel­lec­tual elite throw­ing money on the ta­ble, be­lit­tling the re­al­ity of in­dige­nous life in our coun­try.

We should be mov­ing past the blus­ter and in­dig­na­tion, to the long ar­du­ous process of dig­ging down into our­selves, to un­der­stand our place in his­tory. We need to ask, who we as white set­tlers re­ally are, what our place is in this world, and how we got here.

Last week, while the ap­pro­pri­a­tion scan­dal erupted, I spent the day at the Wood­land Cul­tural Cen­tre in Brant­ford on Six Na­tions ter­ri­tory. I sat in an au­di­to­rium with a group of about a hun­dred peo­ple, lis­ten­ing to two sur­vivors from the Mo­hawk In­sti­tute, a res­i­den­tial school, tell their sto­ries.

The Wood­land Cul­tural Cen­tre is do­ing some­thing phe­nom­e­nal. They are restor­ing the for­mer res­i­den­tial school to be­come a cen­tre of learn­ing for the Mo­hawk com­mu­nity. It’s called the “Save the Ev­i­dence” cam­paign and as part of it, they in­vite peo­ple to hear tes­ti­monies from for­mer res­i­dents of the res­i­den­tial school.

Blanche Hill who went to the Mo­hawk In­sti­tute back in the 1940s says she wants a new gen­er­a­tion to re­learn “the things they took away from us. They took our lan­guage away from us. They took our way of liv­ing. They took our fam­i­lies away. They took all of that away. Maybe we can get it back ... I’m not go­ing to be silent any­more.”

Bev­erly Bombery Al­brecht was a stu­dent in the six­ties. In re­mem­ber­ing her time there, she says “here we didn’t have no voice. At least now I have a voice and that’s why I share my story.”

I say that now is the time to lis­ten to that voice.


Dr. Brian Gold­man,CBC ra­dio med­i­cal ex­pert, started a re­cent pro­gram with: “I’m Dr Brian Gold­man and I’m a white set­tler.” It was an im­por­tant thing to do, writes Jeff Goodes.

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