Keeping our stories alive through artistic practices

Traditionally, across most Indigenous communities in Canada, cultural teachings have been passed down and codified through Oral Tradition and artistic practices. The reproduction of these teachings and the skills and techniques used are representative of our culture and values and are important to us maintaining control over our stories.

What are “authentic Indigenous” goods?

Indigenous goods are considered “genuine” or “authentic” when they are designed by Indigenous Peoples, and where they are the recipients of royalties for those designs. Some Indigenous goods are also manufactured and distributed by Indigenous Peoples, adding additional layers of economic benefit.

Understanding “cultural appropriation”

Appropriation is when a non-Indigenous person, from Canada or abroad, adopts, repurposes, and mimics Indigenous cultural practices, art or craft for profit without consent, permission, or any cultural relationship to the item or practice. Many “Indigenous” items for sale in non-Indigenous owned tourist shops, art galleries and museums across Canada are knockoffs that have been appropriated. 

However, cultural appropriation is not just about knick-knacks. It also includes the ways in which our stories, history and traditions have been repurposed, told and sold by others — in popular culture, in costumes, and in the media — without our involvement or consent. The saying “nothing about us without us” calls for the inclusion of Indigenous voices in any conversation around Indigenous lives, culture and practices.

Appreciating Indigenous culture, not appropriating it

Truly appreciating Indigenous works honours the person and the culture behind them, and involves taking the time to learn and interact to gain a deeper understanding. To avoid cultural appropriation when shopping for Indigenous arts and crafts, try to ensure that the piece you are purchasing was designed by an Indigenous person. Rest assured that if an Indigenous artist or maker is selling their goods to you, you can wear or use them proudly. However, understand that some items, for example, feather headdresses, are sacred pieces of cultural significance for many Nations, and will not be for sale.

When you purchase authentic Indigenous goods, you are directly contributing to the important process of Indigenous Peoples reclaiming control over how our cultures and stories are represented. It also ensures that our artists and communities receive the economic benefit they deserve.