5. Art & First Nations Representations in Pop Culture

Unit 5 looks at contemporary Indigenous art in BC, Canada & beyond. It also examines representations of Indigenous peoples in pop culture, issues concerning cultural appropriation, moving beyond stereotypes, and some awesome examples of how Indigenous peoples are using pop culture to expose and dismantle stereotypes and systems of oppression.

Cultural Appropriation
What is cultural appropriation? Is it simply one group taking something from another group’s culture? Or is it more complicated? The answer: yes, it’s more complicated.

In order to understand cultural appropriation we have to look power dynamics. Cultural appropriation isn’t simply one cultural group borrowing or taking from another cultural group – it’s the dominant cultural group borrowing or taking from another cultural group, especially if that group has been marginalized or has experienced oppression historically.

So if Indigenous artist Andy Everson uses Star Wars imagery in his paintings, is that cultural appropriation?

Andy Everson - 'Treaty Empire'

In short, no. Star Wars is very much part of the dominant culture. This makes it ‘up for grabs’ in a sense, where artists are (legality aside) free to use it in their work. To take a counter example, if a white artist borrows heavily from traditional Indigenous imagery, designs, or forms – this is an example of cultural appropriation.

Check out this well-written piece by Andray Domise. After reading it, write a 1-2 paragraph response: do you agree with the author’s ideas? Is cultural appropriation an important issue? Should non-Indigenous artists be allowed to use traditional Indigenous art forms, or is that unacceptable?

How Some People Are Missing the Point on Cultural Appropriation