'We all bleed the same': CBC Asks cultural appropriation discussion spurs raw debate

Reconciliation is about respect for other cultures, but it’s also about changing society’s power structures. Those were two of the messages at an emotional event focused on cultural appropriation hosted by CBC Saskatoon Wednesday evening.

'Reconciliation and white privilege are hard topics, they are divisive,' says powwow singer John Noon

Janelle Pewapsconias and Serhij Koroliuk were two of the featured guests at a CBC Saskatoon event on cultural appropriation at the Broadway Theatre Wednesday. (Don Somers)

Reconciliation is about respect for other cultures, but it's also about changing society's power structures.

Those were two of the messages at an emotional Saskatoon event hosted by CBC as part of the CBC Asks series Wednesday evening. While the topic of the panel discussion was cultural appropriation, the often raw conversation veered into many other areas.

The term "cultural appropriation" has jumped from academia to the mainstream. But what's right and what's wrong when it comes to using the clothing, art, artifacts, spiritual practices or ideas of other cultures? 18:52

"Unless you're willing to share power in this country, there is no reconciliation," Indigenous poet and entrepreneur Janelle Pewapsconias told the audience.

Two of the featured guests — Pewapsconias and Serhij Koroliuk, artistic director of the Pavlychenko Folklorique Ensemble Ukrainian dance company — were at the centre of a cultural appropriation controversy over the summer. Pewapsconias posted a viral video of the Ukrainian troupe's powwow routine — a performance some labeled cultural appropriation.

They were followed by a panel of local artists and academics. Some said the dance was inappropriate and deserved the social media backlash, but others disagreed.

Powwow singer John Noon applauded the Ukrainian dancers, many of whom were in the crowd at Wednesday's discussion. He said they wouldn't have done the dance and wouldn't have shown up Wednesday night if they didn't care about unity.

"Reconciliation and white privilege are hard topics, they are divisive," Noon said. "But we have to be on one side.… In our culture, we build people up."

During questions from the floor, a Ukrainian dancer said he'd received online death threats in the wake of the performance.

Some Indigenous people in the audience talked about their experiences of being followed in malls or profiled. They said the stress and anxiety of these constant "micro-aggressions" takes its toll.

"Skin colour is very real," panelist and Indigenous hip-hop artist Lindsay "Eekwol" Knight said.

Elder Peter Nippi, Ukrainian Canadian Congress Saskatchewan president Maryann Trischuk and elder Nora Cummings represented First Nations, Ukrainian and Mé​tis culture to open the event. They pleaded for everyone to go home and talk to their kids and friends about these difficult but important issues.

"We may have different blood types," Cummings said. "But we all bleed the same."

About the Author

Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.

With files from Radio-Canada's Omayra Issa