Cultural appropriation or reverence?

nativebracelet2With all the talk in Canada these days fuelled by the new Liberal government in relation to Aboriginal peoples, I opened this blog, my blog, and realized not for the first time (but with deeper consideration) that what people see is a photograph in the header of a bracelet created by an Aboriginal man and I’m a middle- aged white chic.

What’s THAT image got to do with anything relevant to my life?

I wear this bracelet every day, and a silver with gold ring that was given to me by the UBC Department of Computer Science, after I worked there for almost four years doing Communications for them.

It was such a special gift and so amazing to receive because it was something more than I could have imagined any work place would ever give me, and because it represented something that I really revere: Aboriginal art and the culture it emerges from.

After all these years, (I left there in November 2006), I almost never take it off and it has become a part of my identity, a comfort, a symbol of rightness in feeling, when it’s on.

I realize that I have never even acknowledged the artist who created it, and now, unfortunately, I’m having trouble really recalling who that was. It could be Tony Hunt Jr.  The image on the bracelet is representative of the Wolf.

mynativebracelet

I’m thinking about this now because it is so heartening to see that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is at least moving in the right direction in terms of inclusivity and acknowledgement of Aboriginal peoples trying to build on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As a non-aboriginal person, it can feel awkward speaking to aboriginal anything. Are you using the right terminology? What’s the difference between indigenous, aboriginal, and First Nation’s? Here’s an article from UBC about this topic of terminology. I’m hoping it’s as up to date as it should be in terms of understanding.

Where’s the line between appreciation and cultural appropriation? Is it wrong to call in aboriginal dancers and carvers at every major event (think Olympics) while throughout our country our lack of valuing Aboriginal peoples is carved into the landscape in reserves without running water, in missing and murdered aboriginal women whose numbers continue to grow, in the homeless,  in our prisons where the percentage of Aboriginal people is disproportionate.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2013/2014, Aboriginals account for one-quarter of admissions to provincial/territorial correctional services in spite of representing three percent of the Canadian adult population.  They made up 26% of total custodial admissions in 2013/2014.

Recently I was reading a paper written by Amrita Roy from Manitoba about Inter-generational Trauma and the implications for Mental Health in Aboriginal Women during pregnancy.

One of the sentences in this paper that really struck with me was this one: “The explicit patriarchy embedded into Aboriginal societies by missionaries, residential schools and the Indian Act have yielded inequities and oppression based on gender (LaRoque, 1994). It goes on to talk about how “the symptoms of the Intergenerational Trauma experience have been absorbed into the culture and transmitted as learned behaviour from generation to generation”(Sotero, 2006, p. 96).

When I read what now seems like such an obvious statement,  I had this lightning bolt realization that of course there is a connection between  missing and murdered aboriginal women and this history relative to Aboriginals, especially Aboriginal women, in Canada.

Now, you might think to yourself, “Duh, where have you been?” But, to really realize how the history of patriarchy has played out in the individual lives of aboriginal peoples, and focus that lens on how that continues to impact girl children and women, with the most obvious signs being that of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal girls and women, seems pretty key to learning how to overcome the humanitarian crisis in Canada in relation to Aboriginal people in general, and girls and women in particular.

So, that’s a very convoluted thought process to say that I wear this bracelet because it was a beautiful gift, because of what it represents to me in what I have overcome in my own life and how that specific job was a part of that, and for hope that understanding through cultural sharing can create a bridge to emotional recovery and success.