Recently someone very dear to me and the grand mother of 2 of my grandchildren, and she is not Christiane, made a very kind remark about me. She is my son’s mother-in-law Shirley Grindey. Shirley is proudly Indigenous and one of the most amazing women I have ever met. Some day I will blog about those important women—my mother, my mother-in-law, and this is hard to admit—my wife Christiane. But that is for another day. Today I want to reply to Shirley.

Shirley is indigenous and said she enjoyed my stories about indigenous people, which pleased me very much, but then she said I knew more about native people than she did. That is nowhere close to the truth and it has forced me to reply at length.

I have learned a little bit about Indigenous people by reading books, but I know I have much more to learn. I am trying to learn more. I have also learned a lot by observing Shirley.  She is an amazing woman. She is filled with abounding love. She has lived the truth; I have just learned a tiny amount and hope to learn more. Watching her relate to her family (including 2 of my grand children) is an inspiration to me. I could never hope to measure up.

Today Shirley woke me up. I have wanted for quite some time to express a fear that Indigenous people would think I was appropriating their culture. I am not sure what it means, but I don’t think it is a good thing. I think “appropriation” means to take something without permission. I do not want to take anything without consent. I want to learn from Indigenous people and want to acknowledge the obvious—that they know a lot more about the subject than I do.

For a few years now I have been reading about Indigenous people and have learned just a little bit from the numerous books I have read. But I want to speak my mind on the subject—with respect. I want to share what I think I have learned and would welcome any criticisms. That way I can learn more.

I think this is very important because many people I know and love don’t understand our ( by that I mean white people) relationship to Indigenous people. Many of them mean well, but are held back by misconceptions. Some of them unconsciously repeat hurtful memes. It is all too easy to wrap ourselves in the protection of layers of privilege, misunderstanding, and bias.  I myself did it for years and hope I can stamp that out in myself. We all need to learn. Recently our Prime Minster, Justin Trudeau had to admit that he was influenced by bias and privilege when he wore black face as a young man. We all have to learn to understand our own biases. That certainly includes me. People like Shirley have helped explode those biases. And she did that without preaching to me. She did that by example.

Only by learning can we begin the vital process of reconciliation. Chris and I have signed up for a 3-session course on reconciliation at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights that starts next week. We want to learn more. I will blog later about what I have learned.

So I hope no one thinks that I am appropriating Indigenous cultures by sharing what I have learned. The purpose of blogging is to share what I have meager knowledge I have gained, and to learn more from others who know much more than I do.

2 thoughts on “Appropriation

  1. This is a tricky thing Hans and one to consider carefully. I often have some of your misgivings when I am giving tours at the art gallery and talking to visitors about indigenous art, history and culture, as it relates to the art. I know only a little bit. It is not my own personal experience or really my story to tell. I try to be respectful and learn as much as I can especially from my fellow guides and the visitors who are from an indigenous background. But it is something I think about a lot.

    1. I think you are exactly right. I think we should be allowed to comment respectfully, always admitting that we don’t really know very much.

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