The latest example of cultural appropriation


By Drew Hayden Taylor

Originally published in February 2012

One of the big stories of last year was the occupation of a number of urban parks and public spaces all across North America to protest the fact that the vast majority of wealth and power is limited to the top one per cent of society.

Thus all those chants of “We are the 99 per cent” we heard on the news.

That’s hardly a shocker to most First Nations communities. After the economic collapse of 2008, and slow financial recovery occurring in most developed nations, these people were understandably protesting and trying to shake the establishment up a bit, letting the Powers-That-Be know the vast population of North America were not amused.

Reaganomics back in the 80s taught us about the questionable concept of the ‘trickle down theory’, where wealth supposedly runs downhill like water through the various social levels from the top, benefiting all.

Unfortunately, economic chaos and poverty tends to mostly affect those on the mid and lower levels while those at the top may possibly feel sorry for those on the bottom. Like wealth and poverty, pity seems to run downhill too. You didn’t see too many of the protesters and occupiers concerned about the welfare of those on Wall or Bay Street.

However, I am getting off topic.

There was one unusual practice I noticed that came out of all those park occupations across the country, and in some cases, the world. I think it begs some sort of comment. Therefore, I would like to introduce the concept of the ‘Indigenous habitation trickle down theory” which states, if you have any group of non-Native people protesting another group of primarily non-Native people for a prolonged period of time, there is a good chance one or several of them will attempt to establish occupancy and respectability via the appropriation and use of some form of Indigenous lodging.

I am, of course, referring to the inexplicable appearances of tipis at many of these occupation sites. And with them, of all things, a unique structure known as yurts.

For those not familiar with Turkic nomads from the steppes of Central Asia, that’s where the yurt comes from. It’s often confused with the similar Mongolian ger. What these had to do with the larger issue being challenged is beyond me. The more of these Indigenous erections that I saw, the more I expected to see.

How long would it be until a Navaho hogan suddenly appeared by a subway line or an Aztec temple near the hot dog vendor? If the occupations had lasted into the winter, I am sure it was only a matter of time before igloos would have sprouted up down by the Starbucks.

Why do these people have to drag us, and more importantly, the domiciles we traditionally used to inhabit, into their rumblings?

I should add that we lived in those domiciles until we were told by the ancestors of these same people to grow up and get civilized. And nothing says civilization like a split level duplex with carpeting and a breakfast nook. Unless of course you live in Attawapiskat; then it’s particle board walls, black mold and toilets consisting of a bucket.

Again, I digress.

What I am curious about is why don’t these people recreate their own traditional lodgings instead of appropriating from those cultures they colonized and subsequently called savages? For instance, wouldn’t it have been a little more logical to see a Viking longhouse at that park in downtown Toronto? Or perhaps a Tudor castle in Montreal? A Roman settlement in Calgary?

Instead they pick tipis and yurts. Very puzzling. A little cultural identity crisis perhaps?

Yes, I understand tipis and yurts may be a little easier to put together than say a log house cabin, especially in an urban environment. (Picture that log cabin made from telephone poles.) But just because something is easier doesn’t necessarily make it right. It should be pointed out that I know very few Native people who, when they are pissed off at the Band Office, suddenly start building a coliseum or a Stonehenge. We’re just not that kind of people.

What’s the answer to all this? I’m not sure. If this is some sort of attempt to show solidarity with Native people and include them in their struggles, then bravo. Thanks for thinking of us. But perhaps a better way of showing this support would be to send all these tipis and yurts all the way up to Attawapiskat for some much needed shelter this winter.

Granted, tipis don’t provide a substantial amount of protection against -30 degree weather, but they would be a lot more productive and useful than in a city park.
Think of that as some sort of a trickle-down theory.