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.

ACTIVITY 1: Check out this well-written piece by Andray Domise. How Some People Are Missing the Point on Cultural Appropriation
After reading the article, 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?

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Reel Injun is a 2009 Canadian documentary film directed by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond that explores the portrayal of Native Americans in film and popular culture. The film explores the various stereotypes about Natives in film, from the ‘noble savage’ to the ‘drunken indian.’

This documentary illustrates the depiction of North America’s First Peoples since the
beginning of the history of Hollywood, and shows how these portrayals have
entrenched the pop-culture images of the “Injun” as opposed to the lived experience
and reality of First Peoples. The film shows how the film industry is changing
and how First Peoples are confronting the images and values co-opted by the North
American media.

ACTIVITY 2: In a 2-3 paragraph response, provide a critical reaction to the film. Some things to consider: do you agree that the portrayal of Indigenous people in film and/or pop culture is improving? What examples can you give in support of your answer? 

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I’m Not The Indian You Had In Mind

http://www.nsi-canada.ca/2012/03/im-not-the-indian-you-had-in-mind/