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Native Cultural Appropriation

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Cultural appropriation is when someone from the dominant culture (i.e. the most visible and accepted culture in a society) takes aspects of an oppressed culture (one experiencing any form of repeated or prolonged discrimination) without permission.

Cultural appropriation can be seen in everything from hair styles, to music, movies, TV, and sports mascots. Sometimes these stolen aspects of culture are so commonplace that you may not even realize that they were appropriated.

How does cultural appropriation affect Native people?

Take a trip down any U.S. highway, and it is plain to see examples of Native cultural appropriation. You’ll find gift shops that look like teepees, Native caricatures advertising products or sports teams, Halloween costumes with plastic headdresses, and “dreamcatcher” air fresheners sold at the gas station. In most cases, these products do not profit or serve Native people.

What isn’t cultural appropriation?

A lot of aspects of culture have been freely exchanged in our society. It’s not cultural appropriation for you to cook lasagna even though you don’t have Italian ancestors because those food traditions were exchanged fairly by immigrants in generations past. If you’re considering posting your recipe on a blog, however, you may want to give credit where credit is due.

Similarly, Native people and many immigrants have assimilated into American society as a means of survival. It isn’t appropriation if you wear blue jeans or listen to country music, even if those things aren’t part of your ancestors’ traditions.

What can we do about Native cultural appropriation?

Call it out. If you’ve a friend that shows up to a party in an Indian costume, it might be time to have a talk. Read up on some strategies to approach that conversation.

Support Native creators. There are plenty of Native musicians, athletes, writers and creators hoping to be seen. Find them, support them, and tell your friends too.

Be an ally. Not just for other Native people, but any BIPOC. Learn why representation matters for everyone and how to be an ally.

Learn more. Below are a few items we’ve gathered so you can continue to learn about the topic.

Additional Resources

Portions of this article were adapted from ReachOut.

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