Inappropriate & disproportionate cultural appropriation

If it weren’t for Ashu Solo, recognition for Saskatoon’s most stupidly sensitive person would have to go to Erica Lee, who objected to a Hawaiian-themed fundraiser because, well, let her tell you:


The poster showed a darkhaired, bikini-clad, apparently American tourist – an image the group took from an old airline advertisement for Hawaii. Within 12 hours, a new Tropical Night poster instead featured a palm tree.

U of S student Erica Lee, an Idle No More activist and one of the event’s critics, said she might not have realized the problems with Hawaiian imagery had another student not brought it to her attention.

“It’s something that’s so pervasive in our culture. We think of Hawaii and we think of flower leis, we think of grass skirts and sexy hula girls,” she said.

“It’s like having any other racial or ethnic groupthemed party. It’s something that seems like a fun and harmless idea but there are Hawaiian scholars that feel really passionately about not being represented in such a commercialized way.”

The history of Hawaii includes aboriginal people who were violently settled and had customs banned, she said.

The hula dance was formally banned for a period in the mid-nineteenth century following pressure from Christian missionaries, and later regulated by the state.

“For so long we oppressed them and didn’t let them do it, and now people in the West will take that and commercialize it.”

Oh, for crying out loud. Let’s ban any event just in case there’s someone who might possibly be offended because of past injustices.

So long, St Patrick’s Day, as it might (and probably does) offend an Irishman (sorry, Irish “person”).

Do pobačennja to Saskatoon’s “King of Kielbasa” festival, just in case this sausage celebration might harbour up grim memories of the Ukrainian famine.

Skuttle all Dragon Boat races. Don’t you know the Chinese were culturally exploited?

Don’t you dare forget about the debilitating effects of alcohol on those indigenous people who were forced to sell their island to the Dutch the next time you order a Manhattan cocktail.

And considering the culturally-appropriated name of this shitty, racist, Eurocentric hellhole, if you want to set off fireworks this Canada Day, you should take off, you hoser.



I’d like to think I’m being facetious, but considering that this topic produced an “uproar” (which the media defines as one person making a big deal out of nothing), I wouldn’t put it past Ms. Lee to keep raising stinks on such matters.

Notice that she doesn’t have an issue with indigenous cultures appropriating and benefiting from the trappings of “European” culture, such as medical immunization, or forged steel, or parliamentary governance, or central heating. No, her concern is limited to the appropriations by the “privileged” from the “unprivileged”, regardless of how the unprivileged might have benefited from the exchange, as if they would be, by net, better off had the cultures never merged or conflicted at all.

Perhaps she’s right on this, that indigenous cultures are presently, on the whole, worse off because of colonialism, etc. And as such I patiently wait while the non-European indigenous cultures around the world shed their woven-textile garments, shut off their electric lights, park their cars, and return to the land.

In any event, the article noted that the images and language used by the Arts and Sciences Students Union wasn’t exploiting the indigenous Hawaiian culture but was pointing back to the idealized island culture of the 1950s or ’60s. Her argument is akin to criticizing fifties-era sock-hops because white kids like Sam Phillips appropriated rock ‘n’ roll from African-Americans. In other words, it is so removed from the actual incident of injustice as to be ludicrous.

Even if you don’t agree with her precise concern, one might argue that all she wants to do is “create a dialogue,” as seen below:

But that doesn’t work either, because usually a “healthy dialogue” between two parties doesn’t start with a premise that one side is racist, QED.

In the end, Ms. Lee isn’t fighting for a “healthy dialogue” and her issue isn’t with the existence of disproportionate power, but rather that this power isn’t hers:

As a political studies and philosophy major at the U of S, Lee is living what she studies. She says her school work hasn’t suffered despite immersing herself at the very root of this national grassroots movement. Lee, who is the first person in her family to finish high school, refuses to let her grades slip.

“It’s important for me to finish and get into a position of power,” Lee said.

Indeed, and as this incident has shown, she’s well on her way.

UPDATE: Speaking of cultural appropriation, this is pretty funny.

As is this.

  1. #1 by Michele Rajput on January 26, 2014 - 11:56 pm

    In order to avoid cultural appropriation, I assume that I shouldn’t spend any money at the Wanuskewin gift shop purchasing dream catchers and moccasins.

    And the First Nations/Indians/aboriginals should stop claiming bannock as a traditional food.

    Got bannock? Thank a fur trader.

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