Indigenous 101: Exploring myths and stereotypes (part three)

March 1, 2019

Indigenous 101: Exploring myths and stereotypes (part three)

Question: Every year at Halloween, we see stereotyped Indigenous costumes for sale. Why is it a mistake for non-Indigenous people to wear a head dress or other Indigenous items of clothing?

Elliott: This really boils down to the dynamics of power and privilege. When one culture or race dominates another, the dominant culture feels as if they can do what they want. So whether it’s non-Indigenous people wearing Indigenous head dresses, or white people putting on blackface, it’s rooted in oppression. It’s disrespectful towards cultures since it becomes entertainment, instead of respecting the actual and spiritual meaning of things. 

Delores: It’s really heartbreaking when you see someone wearing a head dress, since only our chiefs wear those. Nobody else wears them, because head dresses have significance. Sometimes you see non-Indigenous people wearing head dresses – like Canadian prime ministers – but that is usually because it’s gifted. In that case, it’s a show of respect. That’s about the only instance when a non-Indigenous person can wear a head dress. Otherwise, it is always disrespectful.

Question: Why is the offering of tobacco an important part of Indigenous ceremonies or gatherings?

Delores: It was an instruction from our Great Spirit to always offer tobacco when we talk to a spiritual teacher or a knowledge keeper or an Elder. It’s out of respect. A long time ago, tobacco was natural, a gift from Mother Earth. And so to give it as a gift is a sign of respect.

Question: What’s the difference between a treaty card and a status card?

Elliott: This is something I’m particularly passionate about. There is no such thing as a “treaty card”. When you talk about “a card”, it’s a status card. And that’s status under the Indian Act, meaning you are recognized as Indigenous by the federal government. When we talk about “treaty status” that means someone whose ancestors signed treaties, or you are part of a community that has signed a treaty. So just because you are treaty, it doesn’t mean you have status. 

Question: What’s a simple way for non-Indigenous people to connect or be an ally to Indigenous people?

Elliott: It’s all about developing a relationship. And seeing past stereotypes or pre-conceived notions. At NorQuest, our Indigenous strategy is called “we are all related”. If you want to be an ally to someone, you need to understand who they are. Essentially, getting to know someone. Build a relationship first, and then you can understand why certain issues are important. That’s more important than re-Tweeting something, or attending a march, or signing an online petition. 

Delores: Education. I would say it’s important to learn about Indigenous peoples. Get a better understanding of our history, and our views, and our way of life. That way, it’s easier for our First Nations people, because there are so many myths and judgements that aren’t true. It’s always good to share and learn about other people’s cultures. Our culture was almost taken away from us, but we’re bringing it back to life.

Question: If you had to choose one thing about Indigenous peoples that every non-Indigenous person should know, what would it be?

Elliott: That we all really like Tim Hortons. (Everyone laughs)

Delores: Maybe the tax thing (laughs). All non-Indigenous people should know that we pay taxes, so that we’re not stereotyped. 

Elliott: The majority of Indigenous people I know are always willing to have a conversation, as long as it’s genuine. If you want to know more about us, or get some clarifications on a certain issue, a conversation is a good place to start.

Indigenous 101 is an ongoing series of articles that explore Indigenous culture at our college and beyond. Our Indigenous team will be sharing knowledge as we delve into ideas, concepts, myths, stereotypes, and more.