New Fire

The New Fire Guide to Confronting Appropriation

What do you do if you run in to cultural appropriation? Whether it's headdress spotting at a music festival, or finding Navajo-printed panties at a department store - the New Fire Guide to Confronting Appropriation gives you three simple tips to fight back.
Earlier this summer, Osheaga banned headdresses at its 2015 festival. (Facebook/Osheaga 2015)

If you and your friends are heading to a music festival or doing a bit of shopping this summer, chances are good you'll come across stuff that is 'indigenous inspired'. But it's likely made overseas, far away from the many talented artists designing beautiful things right here in Canada. 

From t-shirts adorned with skulls and headdresses to headbands in Navajo print fabric, appropriation is alive and well. So what do you do when you run in to it? Listen to our 'confronting appropriation' guide here.

Strategy #1: If you see something, say something

So what happens when you find yourself in a store full of fake mukluks and beaded bandanas? How do you approach that conversation? Roseanne Supernault is Metis-Cree is from the East Prairie Metis Settlement in Alberta, and is best known as one of the stars of the APTN series Blackstone

When Roseanne moved to Vancouver, she felt good about how indigenous people were represented in the city. But that all changed one morning when she was out shopping... and was confronted by a hot-pink display consisting of a tipi and fake mukluks. But when she asked the shop owner to explain the display, things took a turn. 

"He said, verbatim: 'that's none of your damn business, and I'm going to have to ask you to leave the store now'."

After being asked to leave, Roseanne wondered why the conversation became so heated so quickly. 

'Being told you are being racist can be something really difficult to deal with, and I feel for people who experience that'.- Roseanne Supernault

"That doesn't make him a bad person, it means we need to have an educated conversation. It means we have to talk about it." 

Strategy #2: Approach appropriation with a sense of humour

As a young First Nations woman, host Lisa Charleyboy says supporting indigenous-designed clothing is important to her... so seeing department store shelves full of tank tops with tomahawks gets pretty frustrating.

But getting angry doesn't always help: sometimes humour is the way to go. Here's comedian and actress dw Diaz, who released her own take on appropriation, in a satirical YouTube video titled "Genocide Chic."

Strategy #3: You catch more headdresses with honey

A couple summers ago Leon Thompson, from Treaty 6 territory in Saskatchewan, was just another twenty-something headed to Osheaga, one of Canada's biggest music festivals. 'Hipster headdresses' were in the news that season - and were all the rage on runways. So when Leon arrived at the festival, he was on headdress high alert.

"The first guy I saw with a headdress, I walked over to him and said: 'hey man, that's offensive!'," said Thompson.

Unsurprisingly, that strategy didn't work particularly well. So when Leon spotted another group of guys wearing headdresses, he tried a different strategy... being nice.

Politely explaining the cultural importance of the headdress, he managed to convince them to doff their headwear and find different outfits. Parting ways with a handshake, Leon felt pretty good about the conversation.

And the next day, he spotted his new friends across the festival grounds. 

"They saw me, waved as they walked over, and said 'hey man, we checked that stuff out. It was really cool. Did you know Montreal is on Indian land?'."

Click the 'listen' button above to hear stories of appropriation confrontation.