Cultural Appropriation, how to find authentic resources and the fakes.
Recently I have been working with some educators about cultural appropriation and how to select authentic resources for their classrooms. One of the very first questions I always get asked is, can you please give us a list of books that are okay to use within the class. My answer to that is, yes, I can give you a list but know that it would be the list that is okay today and it could and most likely will change over time. As we learn and understand more about what is okay and not okay to use, this book list will change.
This is why it is important to know how to select books for your classroom, rather than depending on a list that could quickly become outdated.
I know that this seems to be a frustrating process. Teachers usually give me a look like, are you kidding me? This work is complicated and always growing and changing, so it is important for us as educators to always be checking the books we have to make sure Indigenous voices and historically silenced voices are heard within the classrooms.
Usually when I open up the conversation about cultural appropriation, I ask these questions to the group:
What is cultural appropriation?
Why does it matter?
Who does it hurt?
What can we do to make sure voices who have been historically silenced have space in our classrooms?
Why is it not a simple conversation?
This is a starting point to the larger conversation about how we do this work in making sure we are using authentic resources and voices in our classrooms.
The conversation then goes to, how can we figure out if the book is okay to use in the class?
My response is, google is your friend! If you find a book that you want to use, google the author. Who is the author? What nation are they from? As Indigenous people, we always tell you who we are and who we are connected to. We will tell you the nation and community we belong to, it is a part of who we are as people. If the author is missing this information on pages you find about them, then most likely it is a non-Indigenous author. Then it is pretty safe to say that if the book is about Indigenous people and culture and the author is non-Indigenous, then it would not be a book you should use in your classroom.
Then the conversation turns to what if the author worked with the community to write the book. My response is, words matter. How the book came to be, matters. If the author worked with and alongside the community to write what the community wanted to share, in collaboration with community. This would be something that I would see as a book that has the community voice in it, because it was a collaboration. If the book was vetted by community, this means the book was written and then given to community. This for me is not okay because the book was written by a non-Indigenous person, from their view point of what they think the community is. The vetting comes after the fact. This would not be a book I would use in my class.
Another question I think is an important question to ask is; Does this book/resource contain Indigenous stories? Is it their story to tell? For me, these questions are important because we know that Indigenous people are not pan-Indigenous. For example, I would not be able to write a book about Anishinaabe culture because I am not Anishinaabe, I am Coast Salish and Stó:lō. This would not be my story to tell. This makes it important when we are vetting resources for our classrooms, that the story and the author are connected.
The last point I will make about this work is that these are just the first steps we need to take as educators. Know that if a book/resource checks all the boxes here, doesn’t always mean it is a good resource for your classroom. I know this is also frustrating about this work. I agree this work is frustrating. As Jesse Wente writes in his book “Unreconciled” page 168-"Cultural appropriation is Canada's tactic, a colonizer's tool. Indigenous people didn't invent it; we just suffer its consequences- so why should we have to endlessly explain it?" I highly recommend everybody read this book or at least the chapter on the power to tell our story.
To recap my thoughts for today, Indigenous voices have been silenced in the Canadian education system for over 150 years. It is critically important that you hear the stories about Indigenous people, from Indigenous people. This way we all learn about the amazing and brilliant people who have been living with and on this land for over twenty thousand years. Their stories are amazing and worth learning about. We are in a moment in time where there is an abundance of amazing Indigenous authors, writing amazing books. Take the time to find and read their stories.
How to look:
1. Who is the author? Google is your friend
2. Are they Indigenous? What nation are they from?
3. Does the book/resource contain Indigenous culture and stories? Is it their story to tell?
4. If the author is non-Indigenous, was it written in collaboration with community?
Knowing that this is just a first step in the process. Just because a book checks all the boxes, doesn’t always mean it is a good resource for your classroom. You have to take the time to read through the resource and make that decision for yourself.
I have a new project in the works where you can purchase my video presentation on how to find authentic resources. It comes with a video and facilitators guide. Send me an email and I can let you know how to use this workshop resource with your team.