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What the $%# did I just watch?

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The latest controversy in cultural appropriation news erupted this week when a New Brunswick singer attempted to bring attention to her Acadian roots and failed miserably in the process.
Natasha St-Pier’s latest music video for Tous Les Acadiens not only has Indigenous people scratching their head in disbelief, but Acadians too.
The video is an amalgamation of appropriation and stereotypes with cliché after cliché.
The 34-year-old singer has spent the majority of her musical career in France, but wanted to pay tribute to her Acadian roots with her latest album, “My Acadie,” which is slated to be released next month.
“I wanted in this album then, to leave room for Native Americans, because when you really dig, we find that many Native Americans helped the French in Acadia,” St-Pier had told French media earlier this summer.
She was quoted saying she learned about the relationship between First Nations and Acadians after hearing a historian speak on the subject during the World Acadian Congress.
“So when I started to do the album, I thought: I can not not leave room for Amerindian peoples, because without them, maybe we would still be far fewer and the fight would have been even more difficult,” she said.
Ummm, sorry, but piling as many ignorant stereotypes into a music video is not the correct way to pay tribute to Indigenous people.
Canoes? Check.
A teepee? Check.
A tribal print poncho? Check.
An entire souvenir store’s dreamcatcher display? Check
Children in paper headdresses making mouth-whooping gestures? Check.
Even Acadians are upset with the video, with criticism from the president of the National Society of Acadie (SNA), René Cormier.
“Despite all the efforts we do, we continue to convey these kind of clichés,” Cormier told Radio-Canada on Monday.
The video, and promotional photos for the album, also features St-Pier donning a full headdress.
It’s not like St-Pier missed the memo about the problems with cultural appropriation. In an interview she did in August with CBC radio personality Penelope McQuade, St-Pier said she got permission to wear the headdress from some random Native dude, as long as she choose colours and feather that didn’t mean anything.
So, swap out some eagle feathers for peacock and voila, not appropriation!
Not quite.
Nicki Minaj wore a headdress by the same designer for a promotional poster for her European tour last December.
The image of Minaj sparked debate on social media whether the headdress is something culturally appropriated or something else…
Many argue that the headdress is a Caribbean carnival headdress, an ode to Minaj’s Trinidadian heritage, as it included peacock and pheasant feathers.
I accepted that as a valid argument… until I looked up the designer.
If it was created by someone in Trinidad or a designer that specifically and clearly designs for carnival attire, I wouldn’t question it whatsoever, nor would I feel comfortable critiquing Minaj’s use of it.
But it’s not.
The headdress Minaj and St-Pier wore was created by jewelry designer Sigourney Burell, and her Winnipeg-based company Ruby Feathers.
After perusing the company’s website and several interviews that Burell has done with media since 2011, much of Burell’s other work is described as having an “Aboriginal look” to it.
That is problematic.
Burell repeatedly stated in interviews that her designs are influenced from First Nations, and has even worked with Aboriginal artists to learn how to make breastplates and headdresses, just adding her signature style.
I think that leads to an important discussion. Where do we draw the line of inspiration and appropriation?
There is a fine line between what is acceptable and what could be considered as marginalizing and cultural appropriation.
For some, just swapping a few eagle feathers for peacock feathers qualifies. As demonstrated by St-Pier’s music video, wearing that headdress still contributes to a larger misrepresentation of Indigenous people.

jessicad@easterndoor.com

 

Jessica Deer
Jessica Deer is the deep-thinking, quick-witted (and perhaps heavily caffeinated) columnist. She began her career at The Eastern Door back in 2008 as a summer student. In addition to writing about youth leadership, ranting about Indigenous politics, as well as raising awareness of cultural appropriation issues in The Caffeinated Potadoe, Jessica has been a staff reporter since 2015 and does on-call layout and graphic design. She also updates the website, so if something is broken... it is probably her fault.
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