Humans Invent Culture; Culture Invents Humans
Cultural knowledge, with the deep meanings inherent ascribed by humans, is what differentiates us from all other beings.
While Creator made the four sacred elements and placed on the earth the four layers of creation, it is also said that within these entities the only constant that humans can rely on is change and our ability to adapt with the change.
To help us adapt to this constancy of change, Creator bestowed onto humans the free will to invent and re-invent traditions as needed.
Since the time that culture began to shape who we are as human beings, cultural knowledge has been shared, borrowed, and exchanged within and between cultures. Indeed, cultural knowledge is a multi-directional fluid phenomenon that moves across both time and space.
Sharing or Appropriation?
Within this context of constant change, just as genetic material is exchanged between cultural groups so are knowledge, ideas, and practices. In this way, the boundaries between cultures are always porous and fluid. Long before critical theory brought to the minds of people the theoretical framework known as “cultural appropriation”, cultural sharing was what peoples did and for that matter will continue to adapt and change when needed.
It is true that through uneven powered relationships cultural knowledge is appropriated and of course this appropriation is unfair and sometimes downright immoral. While I value that sometimes cultural knowledge is appropriated in a disproportionate way by people with power and privilege over, borrowing and sharing culture is sometimes just that: borrowing and sharing. To argue all cultural sharing and change is cultural appropriation is essentialist.
Symbols and Icons; Layers of Fluid Meaning
In the process of inventing and re-inventing culture, cultural symbols and icons are birthed. These cultural entities are shared, borrowed, exchanged, and unfortunately sometimes appropriated within and between cultures. As a result, when interpreting the meaning inherent in cultural symbols and icons, the process involves reading their shape and colour as well as reading their particular context and location – geographic and elsewhere, on the body for example. In this way, a cultural symbol/icon has several parameters, or layers, and contexts of meaning that requires interpretation. A change in one parameter, such as colour, brings about new meaning.
No Hegemony is Free From Human Agency
Said another way, no cultural entity is void of the fluid nature of knowledge − no cultural hegemony is ever complete and frozen in time. This is the case even in the context of political tyranny. Ultimately, natural law rules. That said, in the context of cultural borrowing moral codes are crucial.
This blog was in part inspired by Aaron Paquette's facebook May 2014:
Additional resources that may help decipher this knowledge in this blog:
Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.