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Cultural appropriation and Aboriginal literature.



In Canada, in the 1990's, Aboriginal writers are a growing and vibrant population. But it wasn't always this way. In fact, in order to read about Aboriginal people you had to use books that weren't written by Aboriginal people. Usually written by anthropologists, missionaries or adventurers, these books depicted Aboriginal people with varying levels of accuracy. The major concern was that, no matter how sympathetic these writers may have been, they could not be completely accurate because of the biases they may have developed over the years.

This is commonly known as "cultural appropriation Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It denotes acculturation or assimilation, but often connotes a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture. " or "appropriation of voice" when someone of one culture writers about another. It concerned a lot of Aboriginal people about the mistaken information or lies written about them.

"It is a problem in the Native community," said James Dempsey James Dempsey (February 1917 - 12 May 1982) was a Scottish Labour Party politician.

Dempsey was educated at Holy Family School, Mossend, the Co-operative College in Loughborough, and at the National Council of Labour Colleges.
, director of the School of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. "Native people should be allowed to explain who and what they are (because) we're talking about a group that has been consciously attempted to be assimilated (and) their identity has either been suppressed or ignored."

It's only been in the past 25 years has there been an active revitalization re·vi·tal·ize  
tr.v. re·vi·tal·ized, re·vi·tal·iz·ing, re·vi·tal·iz·es
To impart new life or vigor to: plans to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods; tried to revitalize a flagging economy.
 of Aboriginal writers writing about themselves and expressing themselves in their own voices.

"I think the most important thing for a non-Native writer to do when they write about Native issues is to have respect -- respect means research and talking to Noun 1. talking to - a lengthy rebuke; "a good lecture was my father's idea of discipline"; "the teacher gave him a talking to"
lecture, speech

rebuke, reprehension, reprimand, reproof, reproval - an act or expression of criticism and censure; "he had to
 the people," said Lenore Keeshig-Tobias, an Anishinabe author and storyteller from Wiarton, Ont.

"I can see non-Native writers doing that in the field of journalism, but when it comes to literature it's a dicey dic·ey  
adj. dic·i·er, dic·i·est
Involving or fraught with danger or risk: "an extremely dicey future on a brave new world of liquid nitrogen, tar, and smog" New Yorker.
 situation because we all grow up with certain biases, and if we accept or reject those biases, it always shows up in our writing."

Neither Keeshig-Tobias, nor any other Aboriginal writer, would advocate denying the right of any writer to use Aboriginal themes and characters. If those characters, situations or scenarios were highly inaccurate, then Keeshig-Tobias feels that the writer should be held accountable for that.

"One of the reasons I'm a culture worker is to educate non-Natives about the stereotypes and disinformation dis·in·for·ma·tion  
n.
1. Deliberately misleading information announced publicly or leaked by a government or especially by an intelligence agency in order to influence public opinion or the government in another nation:
 that is put out by non-Aboriginal writers. It's done a great deal of harm," she said. "I get really tired of doing it because we end up doing a lot of that work a very little of our own work."

It then, raises the question of whether or not a non-Aboriginal writer can write about Aboriginal themes accurately or with enough sensitivity. This is a problem that Scott Anderson Scott Anderson is the name of:
  • Scott Anderson (baseball) (1962- ), former MLB pitcher
  • Scott Anderson (Hollyoaks), a character in UK soap opera Hollyoaks
  • Scott Anderson (Journalist), Journalist and Television Presenter on Channel 31, Melbourne, Australia
 faces all the time. As editor of Quill quill: see pen.  & Quire quire 1  
n.
1. Abbr. qr. or q. A set of 24 or sometimes 25 sheets of paper of the same size and stock; one twentieth of a ream.

2.
, a magazine for the writers, librarians, editors, book sellers and publishers in Canada, Anderson is careful when he encounters books written by a writer not of the culture he is writing about. At the same time, he knows that fiction has different rules that make appropriation of voice necessary.

"Writers appropriate voices all the time. You're creating a number a voices in fiction, you're filling someones shoes and if you want to create a character unlike you, whether that person is black, white, Native or Asian, I don't see the problem. It's fiction. That's what fiction is to me, appropriation of a voice other than their own," he said. "I think if a writer can write honestly I don't see that as appropriation of voice. The writer either succeeds at it or doesn't. They should be evaluated on how they do it."

Beth Cut Hand, the acting department head of Indigenous and academic studies at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology Nicola Valley Institute of Technology is an aboriginal run, private institute in Merritt, British Columbia, that was started in 1983. External link
  • Official website
 in Merritt, B.C., agreed with Anderson. She cited two examples of non-Aboriginal writers and their different approaches to their subjects: Tony Hillerman Tony Hillerman (born May 27 1925) is an award-winning American author of detective novels and non-fiction works.

His mystery novels are set in the Four Corners area of New Mexico and Arizona. The protagonists are Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the Navajo tribal police. Lt.
, who writes mystery novels set on the Navajo Nation, that sometimes step into the realm of spirituality, and W.P. Kinsella, whose stories set on the Ermineskin First Nation caused an uproar. Hillerman won an award from the Navajo Nation for his books, whereas Kinsella was critically slammed by Aboriginal critics.

"I don't think we could paint with such a broad brush," said Cut Hand. Ironically, "we actually have Kinsella to thank for an increased awareness and sensitivity to a First Nation voice."

But Dempsey pointed out that just because a writer isn't from that culture doesn't mean their observations and conclusions should be dismissed.

"Sometimes a truth comes from someone who knows nothing about you -- an outsider," said Dempsey.

Keeshig-Tobias, however, feels that it's time It's Time was a successful political campaign run by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) under Gough Whitlam at the 1972 election in Australia. Campaigning on the perceived need for change after 23 years of conservative (Liberal Party of Australia) government, Labor put forward a  for some non-Aboriginal writers to step aside.

"I appreciate the work of Rudy Weibe and M.T. Kelly because they were very, very respectful re·spect·ful  
adj.
Showing or marked by proper respect.



re·spectful·ly adv.
 and they were the only things going. But they must realize there comes a time for them to step back," she said. "I believe that the reason that they're doing this is to foster and promote a greater understanding of Aboriginal people and their histories. They can't do that forever and ever because it (becomes) the same old missionary situation."

Cut Hand remembers that the issue of appropriation arose from a feeling that First Nations writers were being ignored, but now feels this issue is "getting old."

"I don't support that idea of censoring censoring

in epidemiology, a loss of information from a study, whether by subjects dropping out of the study or because of infrequent measurement.
 each others voices. It gets too oppressive," said Cut Hand. "It's got to the point that a lot of good people won't talk to First Nations people. We've got to break down those barriers. The whole movement about appropriation made a lot non-Native writers sensitive about what they were writing about. But I think there's a point if you push it too far, you push them away."
COPYRIGHT 1997 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Williams, Kenneth
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Mar 1, 1997
Words:925
Previous Article:To know where you're going know where you've been.
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