Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Co-opting indigenous culture—Canada vs. Hawaii

by Larry Geller

Ok, what I was looking for was this article, posted on the Sociological Images blog, on the use of indigenous iconography by the Vancouver Olympics (in the article below I describe how I was derailed in my Google search).

It seems to be common in Canada to co-opt imagery related to the indigenous people who were displaced. The Olympic logo itself, according to the article, is an altered traditional Arctic Inuit sculpture.

We can identify with that in Hawaii, of course: lei, hula, luau, love in Waikiki, and so forth, all stolen or co-opted imagery of a culture that was brutally suppressed except when colonizers could profit from it.

Some people who encounter this Olympics branding are bound to come away with the impression that natives (that is, individuals with a significant enough amount of native ancestry or culture) are respected, empowered, and well-integrated here in Canada. In other words, some viewers will view this marketing as a sign of harmonious bonds between natives and mainstream Canadian society.

Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, conveyed a much different view of Olympics marketing when he asserted that,

“We’re deeply concerned about the concerted and aggressive marketing campaign advanced by Vanoc [the 2010 Olympics organization committee] which suggests the indigenous people of [British Columbia] and Canada enjoy a very comfortable and high standard of living. The Disneyesque promotional materials suggests a cosy relationship between aboriginal people of the province with all levels of government and it completely ignores the horrific levels of poverty our people endure on a daily basis.”

As I will explain, there are deep problems with the ‘indigenous’ Olympics rhetoric and imagery, which is very much at odds with Canadian realities.

As I read, I was mentally substituting Hawaii for Canada or Vancouver. Try the experiment in the following snippet, altered by me:

Here are some figures that convey the highly disproportionate impoverishment, vulnerabilities, marginalization, and disempowerment of natives in present-day Canada Hawaii.

The worst racism in Canada Hawaii is reserved for indigenous peoples who are trapped between assimilation and ghettoization.

Don’t miss the comments attached to the article.


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