When I say urban reserve, what do you think of?

When asking people this question expect a multitude of responses. While there may not be right answers, there are certainly wrong ones that are misperceptions and fallacies. I truly do understand the need to rebrand urban reserves as economic development areas (EDAs) and now, as I alluded to in my first post, will look at New Zealand as a shining examples of aboriginal success in implementing EDAs followed by underlying assumptions that inhibit aboriginal economic progress in the Canadian context.

The Base is a great example of how the Maori in New Zealand have built an economic base for their community and brought benefits to the whole surrounding area. The airbase was built on Waikto-Tainui land that was confiscated prior to World War 2 and was returned as part of the Waikato-Tainui Raupatu settlement in 1995.[1] The Base began in 1998 as the Tainui Group Holdings (TGH) took ownership of the decommissioned airbase. Shortly thereafter TGH signed a joint venture with The Warehouse Group, a major shoe retailer in New Zealand. Plans were drawn up and construction began on the massive retail centre which today is valued at around 100 million dollars. There are plans to essentially make The Base a town center out of the development including healthcare, offices, and hotels to serve the entire population. This is what success in a Canadian context can look like.

However, there is an important difference between aboriginal populations and europeans in that business and business development are viewed differently in both communities. Business from a european perspective is an individual endeavour that is built on the right to private property, whereas aboriginal business is viewed as a community project on a belief in collective ownership. Quoted from the TGH website as part of their vision statement “In our view there is immense potential to fully utilise Maaoridom’s asset base by pooling resources and expertise, and as with TGH, what benefits Maaoridom will ultimately benefit the whole community.”[2] Within this statement, and larger narratives of aboriginal vision, is a view that inevitably leads a scrutinizing observer to see as anti-capitalist in that development and wealth are viewed as means to better serve the community than as an ends into themselves. That being said, not all europeans view development and wealth as the end goal and not all aboriginals have an anti-capitalist vison.

For instance Manitobah Mukluks is an aboriginal owned company that has recently outsourced some manufacturing to China. Clearly this doesn’t align with an anti-capitalist vison in the way that I suggested yet the dominant narrative is still community oriented and outsourcing will produce more capital for the community to spend. And while I am highly critical of this decision, I am not limited to criticizing Manitobah for choosing the outsourcing route as many other companies have followed the same route such as Heinz and Kellogg’s to name two. Therefore, as my classmate suggested, why should aboriginal companies be held back from achieving the material success that european companies do?

A second underlying assumption is that aboriginal culture views all things holistically as everything is inter-related.[3] This is contrasted to the european instrumental view that everything can be utilized for a purpose. Europeans fundamentally do not understand the aboriginal spiritual attachment to the land nor do they understand the traditional ways of life which are now in conflict with european values and lifestyles. These two views ultimately manifest themselves and lead to prolonged conflict on such issues as resource development and management.

Needless to say aboriginal EDAs are one way to solve the problem of persistent poverty on reserves. It should come as no surprise that repercussions of colonisation have created a festering wound on Canadian identity that need to be resolved in one way or another. When looking at places such as New Zealand it is easy to find solutions to the broken system that exists in Canada. EDAs are one step in the right direction and will hopefully overcome the barriers mentioned; thus leading to greater self-determination for aboriginal communities.

[1] http://www.te-awa.co.nz/?id=407

[2] http://www.tgh.co.nz/default.asp?sid=4&cid=20&aid=

[3] http://www.ccja-acjp.ca/en/abori1.html


The Art and Science of Being a Winnipeg Fashionista: When to Say ‘No’

Winter is Coming

It’s cold in Winnipeg. Really cold. Cold enough that there are days when we might wonder whether we are in Canada or part of a literally inhospitable and alien landscape. With this merry season fast approaching, talking about clothes seems to be a reasonable conversation to be having. The last time I posted, I was wondering about my use of the Festival ceinture flechée and if this was indicative of me appreciating a component of our province’s foundational history or if I was appropriating a cultural symbol by using it in a disrespectful context. I’ve perused the websites of a few provincial Metis organizations and have yet to definitively answer my question. But this question and the impending weather had me thinking of another article of clothing that I use and, no hyperbole here, completely adore: my mukluks.

From My Cold, Dead… Feet

While it might be somewhat of an overstatement, I fully credit my survival of winter to my mukluks. They are the perfect shoe, and I sincerely believe they should be standard issue to anyone who depends on Winnipeg Transit from December through February. While they are more than aesthetically pleasing and have an adorable rabbit-skin bauble near the top, there is a practical reason why I wear them virtually every day in the wintertime. There is shearling in the foot, and all fifteen inches of the boot is covered in fur and leather. I’m not sure of the science behind it, I am certain that its heat retaining properties are synonymous with magic. Long story short, if cultural respect dictates that it is inappropriate for me to wear my mukluks, there are going to be some real problems. Mostly for me and my desire to get around the city in sub-zero temperatures.


Last time, I talked a bit about authenticity and how that (or more accurately, the lack of) can factor into appropriating behaviours. Fortunately, mostly by luck, I happened to source my mukluks rather authentically and thus my mukluk worship seems to fall more in the category of ‘appreciation’ rather than ‘appropriation.’ This could have not happened in what today would be very embarrassing for me. I am a bit of a mukluk snob (in a totally superficial way). I bought my first pair from Manitobah about five years ago and wore them down to nothing. When it was time for me to replace them, I had a very specific look in my head and set out on the internet to match this image. As it happens, the price and look was right for me to go back to Manitobah. I decided to check out the website for the other company I was considering. It’s changed. I like to think that if these were the images that greeted me when I looked at their website last year, that there would be no question that I would look somewhere else. I’m probably being generous with myself, but it clearly represents all the things wrong with fashion and appropriation. If you let the images cycle through, you’ll see a model in the infamous fashion war-bonnet (I’m not going to touch this one, I don’t have too. It’s essentially the definition of cultural appropriation) as well as some highly impractical moderately sexist representations of mukluk use (I can’t, under any circumstances, fathom why someone would want to sit on an ice-block while not wearing pants. That is not what mukluks are for. You’re doing it wrong). So, it seems I dodged a bullet there. But it made me wonder a bit about the company that I had purchased from and how they were different from the pleather spandex wearing, ice-block straddling, war-bonnet clad company that could have been my choice.

International Production. Local Commitment.

I’d noticed between when I bought my first pair of mukluks and my current replacement that there had been some changes in the company that I purchased them from. Some of their products were being manufactured overseas. One of the keys to avoiding appropriation in my fashion choices seems to be to purchase Aboriginal goods from Aboriginal artisans – usually a safe bet. I wondered what that means for when an Aboriginal company expands to the point that everything isn’t local. I got my answer. What I really appreciate about this article here is how it identifies a double standard that privileged classes are allowed to impose on others. There’s an idea that large companies are allowed to utilize all available resources but, in the name of authenticity, an Aboriginal company don’t deserve that same kind of access. In some of our class discussions it has come up that we, as a nation, haven’t quite wrapped our heads around the idea of economically successful First Nations. I think one of my fellow students will be examining how that relates to commercial developments in more detail, but here we can clearly see how that stereotype feeds into ideas of what Aboriginal business owners can and cannot do where as there are lesser restrictions on what kind of arrangements demonstrably commercially successful agencies can engage in.

Who Can Say ‘No’?

My exploration into the clothing industry and what I can respectfully wear has taught me something about the concept of ‘no.’ Looking into the more defensive comments on blogs and articles that call out cultural appropriation by the fashion industry of First Nations symbols, there is a privileged set that is not used to being told ‘no.’ We don’t often get told we can’t wear or do whatever we want, so when a group says that’s inappropriate and not okay, we fight or ignore it.  What is interesting is that it seems to be this same breed of commentator who is a-ok with telling traditionally marginalized groups the appropriate way to run their business. We’re awfully good at saying ‘no’ but not so great and listening and responding to the word. It’s no wonder that misunderstandings come up with as much frequency as we see when only one group is allowed to object that that same group need not listen to objections.


The Stories We Share: When is it Appropriate and when is it Appropriation?

Welcome to 1812

I’m a huge nerd. I really like wearing costumes and pretending I’m someone else.  On Thanksgiving weekend, I participate in the traditional pilgrimage of Canadians who go to the United States instead of having a family meal at home. Except instead of cross-border shopping, I go to a reenactment event centered around the War of 1812. In addition to the British Military Camp (which includes several Canadians like me and our American friends who prefer to lend their talents to the Empire) and the American Military Camp, there is an ‘Indian Village.’ The name makes me shudder a bit, and it contains a fair bit of non-Indigenous people who take it as an opportunity to paint themselves and dress in a manner that makes me a little uncomfortable. That aside, there is the opportunity to learn something on local Indigenous history. There are some recreated traditional dwellings that have been set up that I am unfamiliar with (being Manitoban I have a bit of familiarity with Cree and Ojibway stuff, anything beyond that is literally and figuratively foreign) and my favourite feature is a Pottawatomie storyteller. I’ve talked with him a few times and I love getting his perspective. I also really enjoy a lot of his non-mythical stories. In my head, I enjoy comparing what I hear him say about his experience with reservations and what I’ve heard people from Manitoba and Saskatchewan say about how they’ve experienced reserve life. As I am taking this course in Comparative Indigenous Politics, I particularly paid attention to what we said about clan structure, responsibilities, and community duties and rights. This year, when I returned to Our Home and Native Land, I decided to do some Googling and see if my favourite storyteller had any websites or any resources that I could follow. I found his work and popularity mentioned in many Indigenous discussion forums. He’s been representing Native Americans for over a decade. He is also completely ethnically European, changes between being Cherokee, Seneca, or Pottawatomie depending on the event he is at, and across all the forums I had discovered is widely lauded as a fraud.

Back to the Future

There’s something unnerving about assuming you are getting an authentic experience and hearing the perspectives from someone from a different community than your own and then discovering that it’s at best, insincere, and at worst, completely fabricated, inappropriate and offensive. I am fortunate since, as a non-Indigenous person, the worst that happened to me is I experience a slight violation of trust. I didn’t have to feel misrepresented, mocked, or anything else that I can only assume comes with running into someone masquerading as someone with your background, wielding symbols and stories in a way that could be totally incorrect yet presented as an expert insider. This made me reflect on a role I may play in this and re-examining how I discuss the histories and practices of a group to which I do not belong. I have been a historic interpreter at Festival du Voyageur. It won’t surprise anyone that as a local winter festival that focuses heavily on the fur trade and Franco-Manitobain culture, the Métis people are featured prominently in many of the stories we tell throughout the festival. Is what I am doing respectful? Do I contribute in a meaningful way to the discussion of our provincial heritage? Am I just a jerk?

Authenticity and not Speaking for Others

The last thing I want people to feel after I have shared some of my knowledge at Festival or other similar interpretive events is that they’ve been duped or offended. One of the interpretive activities I have often explained is the process of making pemmican. I have been fortunate enough to be able to participate in all aspects of its processing, included tearing apart a bison for its meat (which I did badly, but have some great pictures. Pics or it didn’t happen, right?). I have often wondered how appropriate it was for me to be presenting this as a non-Métis individual. I found this great blog that does an excellent job of giving one the tools to think about whether on is participating in cultural appropriation or merely celebrating diversity. It boils down to symbols and using that which you have not earned in an inappropriate way. It seems that since pemmican making is and has been largely utilitarian, I can make it and talk about it as a celebration of our provincial heritage, especially if I’m not trying to make myself sound more authoritative by claiming to have a background that I don’t (which, as I mentioned earlier seems to undermine your knowledge when you’re found out as well as being poor taste). Also wearing my moccasins that I purchased from a local, Aboriginal owned business can be seen as support and celebration rather than theft. Not like those people who use items that have now taken on a symbolism that goes beyond that like a ceinture fléchée or a ‘Métis sash.’ Wait, what? The sashes that I wear every February and is sold en masse in the festival souvenir stand? Oh, crap.

When is a Symbol not a Symbol?

In the above mentioned post, I had a moment of panic. One of my favourite pieces of Festival du Voyageur swag was outed as being something misused by outsiders. Ouch. Once utilitarian, the above mentioned author considers the ceinture fléchée to be cultural and thus subject to appropriation. I can’t say this is incorrect (as we’ve mentioned, I do not belong to a community that can make that call) but it hasn’t been called out as inappropriate in the Winnipeg/Festival context (which might not mean anything. There have been sports teams called the ‘Redskins’ all over North America for way too long with too little backlash). Let’s be generous and assume it’s because the  ceinture fléchée has become a symbol of Manitoba generally rather than exclusively of the Métis. Why might this be? We are literally a Métis province. The Métis nation is the who, what, when, where, why, and how at the heart of our provincial creation. In using this symbol, are we celebrating our provincial heritage, or are we appropriating a symbol that is not ours to take?

Dialogue, Definition, and Making it Right

I finished my quest for authenticity and respect with a question. Questions like this often don’t get answered because people are afraid to discuss, afraid to be wrong, and afraid someone else will be heard and not them. In our last blog post, we’d mentioned that there is a widening rift in Winnipeg between our Aboriginal and non-Indigenous citizens. I hope we get used to having safe dialogue so that these questions can be answered and that everyone in our city can make a commitment to being authentic, respectful, and making things right. It’s something I’ve been striving for personally, and I will listen to see if there are answers for my questions on cultural sensitivity. Even if it means I have to reconsider my small collection of festival sashes.