bailey macabre

“why, though?” how appropriation and entitlement antagonize indigenous people

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As an Indigenous person who is Very Online, I am constantly bombarded with images of cultural appropriation and people being utterly entitled and ignorant. I felt inspired to write this post outlining how appropriation and entitlement antagonize Indigenous people. Here’s a brief example.

I was on Facebook this morning looking at an event put on by the Pacific Association of First Nations Women (PAFNW). It was an event where Indigenous women attend a sweat together on the Capilano reserve. I was reading through the comments, and was not surprised by what I saw:

“Hello, can you please tell me if this event is for non-Indigenous women as well, or if there is a day for non-Indigenous women to attend?”, followed by a stream of white women saying “me too!” and “I was wondering the same thing!”

I felt the anger rise in my stomach and couldn’t help but respond with a simple: ‘Think about what you’re asking’.

I just have one question for people like this.

Why, though?

Why do you want to participate in our rituals and ceremonies? Why do you feel entitled to join us?

With the uprise in white “shamanism”, also known as “plastic shamanism”, more and more white people are beginning to feel like they have a right to join in our ceremonies and rituals.

This becomes a catch-22. On one hand, we *want* to share our culture with inquisitive allies; we are proud of our ancestry and proud that these rituals have survived throughout centuries of attempted, and actual, genocide. On the other hand, we want to *invite* you to join us. If you’ve demonstrated that you are an actual ally that wants to learn about and understand our culture, we would love to invite you to join in and experience the transformative and healing nature of our practices. There is a stark difference between being an ally and appropriating our culture.

And when I ask,

Why, though?

Your answer shouldn’t be any of the following:

  • Because “white culture” is boring
  • Because I know / am friends with / my cousin-in-laws little sisters husband is / a native person
  • I’ve been to another [insert random spiritual practice here] put on by “many people” [See: Whites] and want to see an “authentic” experience
  • Because I’ve always “felt” Native / I’ve always been connected to “Mother Earth” / I’ve always [insert any other example of subtly admitting jealousy or trying to say “at the heart of it all I’m one of you” despite never having faced any of the struggles our people have]

So, what should an answer to ‘Why, though?’ be?

Because I understand and acknowledge that my settler ancestors and every generation thereafter have actively sought to eradicate and destroy your culture.

Because I understand the importance of cultural diversity and the importance of protecting it.

Because I understand your practices are sacred, and I would be honoured to be able to witness them.

Because I want to learn about and understand the culture my ancestors sought to destroy.

Because I want to understand.

Because I want to learn.

Because I want to be an ally.

Because I understand it is not my culture to appropriate, yet would love the opportunity to experience it.

Because I am actively helping indigenous people in my community and I want to learn more about their history.

Because I understand the need to preserve these practices, and that by understanding them, and experiencing them, I can use my privilege to fight back against those that seek to appropriate your culture and speak up against it as an educated ally.

If none of those thoughts cross your mind when wanting to join in our spiritual practices, you are not an ally. Using our culture as a selfish means to an end is wrong. You are not entitled to that. It can be hard to hear, “No”, especially if you’re entire life has been based on entitlement and privilege.

If you find yourself in a position where you have to ask to attend a cultural practice, think about why. If your reasoning is incongruent with being an ally, don’t even ask.

So, what does allyship look like, in regards to indigenous folks?

First of all, it requires acknowledging your own privilege and all the ways you take it for granted. It requires a desire to learn our history – our true history – and face it knowing full well your ancestors were involved. It requires social action. “Armchair” allyship is detrimental and ineffective. If you want to be a true ally, fight for us in the streets. Protest. Vote for social change. Keep up to date on current events that directly affect First Nations people. Volunteer your time and resources to help those of us in need.

If none of the aforementioned list sounds appealing to you, and you’re just looking for a quick “authentic” experience, move on. Our spiritual practices will mean nothing to you if you don’t understand the significance of them.

Suggested Reading:

10 Ways to Be an Ally to Indigenous People

How to be an Informed Aboriginal Ally

Indigenous Canada – A Coursera Course

originally published on, 2019, written by bailey macabre

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