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Cultural Appreciation- A “How-To” Guide for Non-Indigenous People

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

This week, we have been looking at cultural appropriation. Today, we will look at how cultural appreciation can advance goals of reconciliation.

For over a century, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultures were the opposite of appreciated by Canada. The overarching goal of residential schools was to assimilate children into Euro-Canadian culture. While in residential schools, over 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were punished for using their language, expressing cultural beliefs, and wearing traditional clothing.[1] The last residential school closed in 1996- only twenty-six years ago. [2]

While Indigenous children were being punished for expressing their culture, non-Indigenous people were wearing “Native American” costumes, holding powwow parties, and setting up tipis in their backyards.

Cultural appropriation occurs when someone takes a culturally distinct item, practice, or tradition, from a culture that is not theirs, and mimics it without consent or permission. [3]

As discussed earlier this week, Halloween, Indigenous Hobbyism, and museums are all avenues for cultural appropriation.

Image from: Ikea, “HÖVLIG Children's tent”

On the other hand, cultural appreciation is “characterized by a meaningful and informed engagement that includes acknowledgment and permission”. [4] Showing appreciation for Indigenous culture is an important step that everyone can take to advance reconciliation. For too long, Indigenous cultures have been erased. It is time to show appreciation. However, it is important that appreciation is undertaken in a respectful and meaningful way.

I would like to acknowledge that I am writing this from a place of privilege. In preparation for writing this article, several people have graciously shared their knowledge and advice with me. This is not a definitive guide on how to practice cultural appreciation, but a starting point for others like me, who may not know where to begin.

Cultural Appreciation in Practice

The first step in the process of cultural appreciation is educating yourself about the history and significance of whatever you are choosing to incorporate into your life. Some examples include moccasins, totem poles, ribbon skirts, beaded jewelry, or participating in powwows. Remember that there is no “one” Indigenous, Métis, or Inuit culture. Ceremonies, items, histories, and traditions vary.

While the internet and social media can be excellent resources, they must be carefully evaluated based on who is sharing the information.

The next step for cultural appreciation is ensuring that you are supporting the members of the community whose work you are representing. Mass-produced Indigenous art that is not created or attributed to an Indigenous artist harms artists and communities. Buying a “culturally-inspired” piece of art, clothing, or jewelry is disrespectful. [5] Purchasing authentic Indigenous-made products is beneficial to both the artist and to you.

Example- Children’s Tipis

A quick Google search for “children’s tipis” led me to items for sale from Ikea, Walmart, Amazon, and Etsy, to name a few.

The Ikea “HÖVLIG Children's tent”, sells for £35. [6] Although it is called a “Children’s tent”, it is unmistakably modeled after a tipi, with a cut-out medicine wheel window.

The description does not make reference to the history or significance of the “tent”. This is cultural appropriation on Ikea’s behalf, and purchasing it for your children would be cultural appropriation on your behalf.

Tipis are historically significant to many cultures. Reducing them to a children’s play tent is disrespectful. Instead of purchasing a mass-produced tipi from Ikea or Amazon, think first about why you want it. If you are looking for a place for your children to play, a tipi is probably not the best option.

If, after researching, you find that the significance of tipis is something that you would like to incorporate into your life, purchase from an Indigenous creator. A tipi should not cost £35, or less than $100 CAD. Recognize that there are different styles with different histories. Recognize that the history, knowledge, and artistry that goes into creating a tipi is worth the investment.

Cree Star Gifts, Cree Style 6' Tipi:

The bottom line is that the celebration of Indigenous cultures by non-Indigenous people can be an act towards reconciliation. Cultural appropriation does not further reconciliation, but cultural appreciation can.

Seeing the celebration of more Indigenous art and cultural items in daily life will help reduce the “otherness” felt by Indigenous people. [7] Showing support and respect is important, but be informed.

Understanding the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation takes work. If someone is gracious enough to correct you on something you have done wrong, thank them. Then take the time to research further, and ensure that you share accurate information in the future.

Until next time,

Team ReconciliACTION

[1] Union of Ontario Indians, “An Overview of the Indian Residential School System” (2013) at 5, online (pdf): Anishinabek <>.

[2] Ibid at 2.

[3] Reclaim Indigenous Arts, “Reclaim Indigenous Arts” (last visited 2 November 2022), online: Reclaim Indigenous Arts <>.

[4] The Canadian Encyclopedia, “Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada” (last updated 20 July 2020), online: The Canadian Encyclopedia <>.

[5] Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., “Why Cultural Appropriation is Disrespectful” (4 October 2022), online: Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. <>.

[6] Ikea, “HÖVLIG Children's tent” (last visited 2 November 2022), online: Ikea Glasgow <>.

[7] CBC, “‘Catalyst for a movement’: People around the world don ribbon skirts after Sask. girl shamed for wearing hers”, CBC (5 January 2021), online: <>.

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