Hi! I have a friend who has learned beadwork from an elder in our community. She has started selling her own work, and while it’s not all indigenous designs and symbols, she’s making a profit off of it all. She’s 100% white. Should I call her out?

Hi Emma!

By asking this question I can see that you have some concerns. Listen to your gut…and let’s talk it through.

From a design standpoint, Indigenous designs are the bomb. However, what is missing when non-Natives replicate traditional designs is that they are likely to not be taught in the proper ways like the meanings of the sacred elements and teachings of this art.

This in itself could be considered taboo. For example, even if you’ve grown up around or have good Native friends that have taught or shared part of their culture, it is still different than learning them first hand from the correct people. Often times, when Native people share about their tribe, they may leave out the sacred elements, as this is what we have been taught to do.

Another thing to consider when it comes to Native art is cultural appropriation. When I talk to others about this, I often say that a good indicator that cultural appropriation is happening is when someone is using another culture’s ancestral knowledge like religion, cultural traditions, fashion, symbols, language, and music, to their advantage or gain.

Since it sounds like your friend is profiting off Native designs, maybe consider have a conversation with her about why this is harmful. If you want some tips on explaining what cultural appropriation is, check out this post I made about it a while ago.

Hope this helps! Thanks for writing in.

Auntie Manda


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