Edmonton Journal – D.W. Langford
As a card-carrying “Indian” and proud “Half-Breed,” I am truly amazed at the silly, contrived debate on cultural appropriation now making the rounds — and the pretentious, sanctimonious stampede toward indigenous political correctness.
Out of a genuine sense of curiosity, I did read Hal Niedzviecki’s much-maligned “Winning The Appropriation Prize,” and while I did find it a little ham-handed and paternalistic towards indigenous writers, it also struck me as being highly supportive and sincere.
That Niedzviecki chose to promote the idea of white, middle-class authors writing about different cultures and possibly winning “The Appropriation Prize” — in a magazine issue devoted to showcasing new, emerging indigenous writers — was both unfortunate and truly dumb. But hardly racist or malicious — unlike past columns from from some mainstream media writers demonizing aboriginal people with what can only be described as an ugly, hate-mongering zeal.
These other past columns were truly nasty — and were left unchallenged at the time by those now making the loudest and most self-righteous condemnations of two well-meaning white editors, who must have surely spilled their lattes as they raced to resign in the wake of this silly, contrived, faux controversy.
And while most people would agree that aboriginal people should write about their own cultures, histories and communities, it is ludicrous, racist and absurd to demand that white people now refrain from writing about these cultures, histories and communities as well.
The world and Canadian literature would be a much poorer place had Rudy Wiebe chosen not to write The Temptations of Big Bear. Had Wiebe, a Saskatchewan Mennonite, chosen to refrain from writing about someone else’s culture for fear of offending the new, self-appointed arbiters of indigenous political correctness, one of the greatest stories about the Plains Cree people might never have been written — and that would have been a true, terrible tragedy.
Another ugly manifestation of this new indigenous political correctness are the past public attacks on writer Joseph Boyden, who has written several novels on indigenous people, while also claiming to have indigenous roots as well. And he probably does — and yet he has been consistently deemed a cultural fraud by some very loud, outspoken native commentators, who also fall well short of the implied ideal that indigenous writers should have a 100-per-cent blood quantum of pure, unadulterated indigenous blood.
And like Wiebe, Boyden’s novels about aboriginal people are an important and invaluable contribution to Canadian literature–and the world is also a much better place with his stories in it. But had Boyden chosen not to pen stories about indigenous people because he did not have an indigenous blood quantum of 100 per cent, these stories again might never have been written — and that, too, would have been a true, terrible tragedy.
Under the past political age of former prime minister Stephen Harper, mainstream media was more than happy to roll with the dark, hateful political times and gleefully bash aboriginal people. And the public comments on their websites about aboriginal stories were a truly ugly study of the racism still prevalent in Canadian society.
But now, under our new “feminist” prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who has also publicly declared his strong support for aboriginal people, mainstream media has suddenly decided to like Indians again, and has chosen to tolerate and promote a very ugly form of indigenous political correctness — and throw well-meaning white people under the bus instead of going after the real racists still within their midst. Racists such as the smug, arrogant, white-establishment media pundits who took to Twitter last week to raise money for “The Cultural Appropriation Prize.”
And that, too, is a true, terrible tragedy. But such are the fickle, ever-changing political times we now live in, which see the fortunes of aboriginal people both rise and fall at the capricious whim of Canadian political and media elites.
D.W. Langford is a member of the Kahkewistahaw First Nation of Saskatchewan and former director of communications for the First Nations Resource Council (FNRC) in Edmonton, who has also worked as both a mainstream and Native media journalist, as well as a communications consultant for First Nations and Metis groups across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.