Themes Overview

The materials published on this website address a wide range of issues and considerations. While they have been grouped under five broad themes, we acknowledge that many of the experiences shared may touch upon more than one of these topics as well as issues beyond these five thematic groupings.

The five themes are as follows:

  1. The Parameters and Stakes of Misappropriation and Misuse
  2. Navigating Appropriation, Collaboration, and Intellectual Property in the Art World
  3. Sovereignty and Self-Determination Over Our Arts, Cultural Expressions, and Artistic Practices
  4. Experiments in Indigenous-Led and Government-Supported Protections and Protocols
  5. Creating a Critical Mass in Indigenous Arts Leadership.

Importantly, the materials contained in this website reflect contributors’ personal experiences and reflections, often drawing from lifetimes of expertise working in their particular areas of artistic and cultural practice. It is this individual and personal connection to cultural and artistic practices and to experiences of misappropriation and misuse that is of particular value. Given that many Indigenous art forms are deeply connected to different forms of cultural knowledge, spirituality, medicine, legal orders, and family and community history, it is impossible (and undesirable) to separate personal lived experience from our work of examining misuse and misappropriation.

It is also important to note that the stories and experiences our authors share constitute multiple perspectives in an ongoing dialogue on promoting and protecting Indigenous arts, cultural expressions, and artistic practices. With the broad cultural diversity across Nations and communities, it would be impossible for a collection of writings of this kind to be definitive in its scope, or comprehensive in its analysis of misuse and misappropriation. It is hoped that the experiences shared here might lead to continued discussion that in turn prompts the development of new approaches and tools. As these conversations continue, it will be important to hear other examples and experiences of misuse and misappropriation, develop tools and approaches for promoting self-determination in the arts, and consider new protocols for addressing historical and ongoing harms.

The current era of reconciliation following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in which arts organizations, funding bodies, and educational institutions have sought to support and prioritize Indigenous art and knowledge, has resulted in a drive toward Indigenous inclusion. While numerous opportunities and recognition for Indigenous artists have arisen from this, it has also spawned instances where non-Indigenous artists and organizations have sought to “include” Indigenous stories, art, design, and other cultural expressions without permission and consultation. This has often resulted from a misrecognition of what constitutes misuse. Typically, from a Western perspective, only directly copied artworks, rather than the use of a form, “style” or “technique,” is understood as misappropriation. For many Indigenous people, particular forms are governed by hereditary rights, or have a complex relationship with community stewardship.

In other cases, the accessibility of Indigenous cultural expressions— stories, songs, knowledge—circulated by anthropologists and ethnographers in print and collected in museums and institutions of higher learning, has led to a misunderstanding that the rights to the use of this work have been extinguished. This is far from the case, as the hereditary rights of Indigenous Peoples to our cultural expressions persist, while understandings of community stewardship and governance of cultural practice remain strong. While these systems of Indigenous law (sometimes called “Indigenous legal orders” or “customary law”) may not be well understood by the non-Indigenous public, they provide the foundations for Indigenous people in determining cultural rights as well as processes for reparation when these rights are violated. This collection of articles addresses a broad range of examples that include multiple art forms and cultural expressions from across Indigenous communities and involve different actors and stakeholders from individuals to organizations and government funding bodies. Our goal of sharing and gathering these stories is to provide examples of tools and solutions that have been or could be developed to address the challenges raised by the contributors and others.

About the Cover


The Parameters and Stakes of Misappropriation and Misuse

This section’s theme brought to mind the magpie. I see many, especially now as they stand out against the browns and ochres of the land I walk. Being part of the crow family, magpies have many of the characteristics for being thieves and scavengers. They do it naturally. This relates directly to the colonial establishment and how they too take, without consideration sometimes of the effects on other communities and nations.


Navigating Appropriation, Collaboration and Intellectual Property in the Art World

The idea of navigation, the idea of travelling far distances, as part of their existence is
why I chose the char for this theme. I had initially chosen the salmon, but after further contemplation, I changed it to a char, which has a more northern reach than the salmon. Char are also is special and important to Inuit specifically, which would be more appropriate in showing inclusivity for this project.


Sovereignty and Self-Determination Over Our Arts and Cultural Knowledge

The loon is territorial, and fights hard to maintain its claims on behalf of its partner and family. I respect this mentality and can see a similar importance with regards to preserving knowledge and cultural history. I especially appreciate the “Listen, Hear Our Voices”, how like the loon, we want to sing loud to declare our ownership and beliefs.

Loon illustration


Experiments in Indigenous-Led and Government-Supported Protections and Protocols

This section is all about planning and collaborating. In order to implement what is being suggested here, many people with multiple disciplines would be needed, across the country. I personally believe this collaboration is necessary.

Sustainability, territory, preservation of the community, success, all are achieved by working together. I see these systems in that of a wolf pack.


Creating a Critical Mass in Indigenous Arts Leadership

This last section had a lot of good information from specific industries like fashion and film. It was hard for me to think of an animal that could represent all these ideas. I instead thought about what the entire project was about. To me, it is forward momentum.

Once in the hands of people, the ideas outlined within the book will expand the reach of progressive movement on the topic. I immediately pictured a herd of buffalo. Together, they’re an unstoppable force. It’s a community that depends on everyone working together.