10.28.2016 07:55 AM

Cultural misappropriation and misplaced indignation

So, this:

This fall, Ottawa greenlit a controversial LNG terminal near the breeding grounds of one of B.C.’s biggest salmon runs. The Haida are among those First Nations opposed to the Petronas LNG terminal slated for Lelu Island, on B.C.’s North Coast. Already, Davidson says he’ll be among those willing to stand at Lelu Island to block heavy machinery from landing on its shores. Many Haida are equally angry with Trudeau’s decision to allow B.C.’s controversial Site C Dam to go ahead before the Federal Court of Appeal can rule on treaty rights. And the Haida, like most British Columbians, are anxiously awaiting Ottawa’s decision on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, expected by Dec. 19.

Today Lantin says the Haida are increasingly angry and offended by Trudeau’s tattoo. Delvina Lawrence, a Haida local, says Trudeau “presents himself as an ally . . . with our ink on his body. We feel he’s stabbed us in the back.”

Look, we have three big totems – three – in our house, and another big one in Daisy’s boardroom. We have more masks and carvings than I can count.  Anybody who knows me will tell you I revere Northwest native art like it is from God (because it is). More broadly, we work with First Nations and indigenous people more than we work with anybody else. Our families include First Nations peoples.

So you will perhaps forgive me for saying that this Maclean’s story made me go meh.

Trudeau has a Raven-and-light tattoo on his shoulder.  When I heard about that, I was pretty surprised, too.  That creation story is really important – we have a huge print depicting the Raven releasing the sun from the giant’s box on our living room wall – and I was impressed, at the time, that (a) Trudeau apparently knew about it and (b) thought it was important enough to put it on his arm.

My next ink will be a Raven, too, The Hands of Creation.  It’s by Beau Dick, and my B.C. buddy David Plewes gave me a limited print of it about thirty years ago, which still hangs in a prominent spot near our door. The Raven is the trickster, and I love all of the many stories about how he is part of us but also sometimes against us.

These Haida artists quoted in the Maclean’s story would have a legitimate beef, I think, were it not for stuff like this: Raven toys.  Raven scarves. Raven candles. Raven rings (I’ve been wearing one of those for years).  And so on.

I guess my point is this: you either sell your culture to people who don’t understand it and/or don’t deserve it – or you don’t.  Share it or don’t.  Let a well-intentioned guy like Trudeau put it on his arm, forever, or don’t.

You don’t get to be “bemused” by it when you like someone, and then call them a knife-wielding traitor when they have an opinion you don’t like.

Either you sell bits of your culture, or you don’t.  

They sold it.




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    Jean A Paterson says:

    I agree with WK here. Having a raven tattoo, and knowledge of this origin story, does not oblige the PM to always agree with Haida politicians and artists.
    Besides, many of the opponents of the Site C dam, Kinder Morgan’s second pipeline, and the location of the Petronas LNG terminal are not Haida or even First Nations.
    Good essay.

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    Steve T says:

    “You don’t get to be “bemused” by it when you like someone, and then call them a knife-wielding traitor when they have an opinion you don’t like.”

    Exactly. Symbols and art do not mean slavish dedication to everything that group promotes. Can’t one appreciate, enjoy, and support an artist without professing unquestioning support for every cause the artist supports? I buy music from rock groups that I don’t necessarily agree with all the time.

    Even if you take this to the extreme of political parties, I might wear a Conservative or Liberal Party t-shirt, but that doesn’t mean I agree with every single policy they have. And it would be ridiculous for the party to call me a “traitor” if I questioned them.

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    jennifer stewart says:

    “all art is propaganda.”
    George Orwell

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    smelter rat says:

    Faux outrage. It’s all the rage.

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