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Indigenous Cultural Programming

Tags: Tipsheet

On June 26, Culture Days co-hosted Indigenous Cultural Programming with SaskCulture’s Outreach Consultant, Dominga Robinson.

Dominga provided background, context and insights for building lasting partnerships with Indigenous community members and producing meaningful cultural programming. She discussed the benefits of Indigenous inclusion in cultural programming, some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Calls to Action, issues around cultural appropriation and proper terminology, Treaty territory acknowledgement statements and more — all grounded in her experiences as an Outreach Consultant with SaskCulture and as a member of the Pheasant Rump Nakota First Nation.

While we strongly recommend you watch the video to learn the many important details from Dominga’s presentation, we have some summarized some key points below.  

1. FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION OF CANADA’S (TRC) CALLS TO ACTION

The TRC is a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The Commission documented the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience. The TRC hopes to guide and inspire all Canadians and Indigenous people in a process of reconciliation and renewed relationships that are based on mutual understanding and respect. The Commission published 94 "calls to action" urging all levels of government — federal, provincial, territorial and aboriginal — to work together to change policies and programs in a concerted effort to repair the harm caused by residential schools and move forward with reconciliation.

A number of the Actions are directed at cultural reconciliation, and Dominga encourages all arts and culture professionals to review the report and know where it aligns with both your work and personal life.  

Resources:

2. LEARN ABOUT THE TRIBES/CLANS/NATIONS IN YOUR AREA

Take the time to learn about the Indigenous groups that are present in the Treaty/Tribal Territory lands you reside on. It is important to recognize that each tribe and community will have its own cultural/traditional practices – there is no pan-Indigenous culture. If you take counsel with an Elder, consider learning about their traditions ahead of your meeting. For example, typically, when asking an Elder or knowledge keeper for help, one should offer tobacco.

Dominga states that it is equally important to acknowledge the land in an authentic way at events, programs or other gatherings. Pay homage to the agreement which allows non-Indigenous and Indigenous people the right to reside on specific lands.

3. USE PROPER TERMINOLOGY AND AVOID INAPPROPRIATE TERMINOLOGY

Use specific tribal affiliations, especially when establishing relationships. There are distinctions between First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples and it’s important to acknowledge this distinction. When appropriate, groups will prefer you acknowledge their specific tribal affiliation (i.e. Cree, Saulteaux, Mohawk). If you are uncertain about specific tribal affiliations, use the term ‘Indigenous’, which is now the widely accepted term and is inclusive of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. When in doubt, respectfully ask people what they would like to be addressed as, they will tell you. Dominga also shared a list of offensive terms and phrases that are still commonly used in conversation – avoid them.

4. CULTIVATE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS RESPECTFULLY AND WITH CARE

Building a relationship is also about building trust and it is going to take time. Be patient and compassionate. When meeting with members of the Indigenous community do so face-to-face instead of over the phone or through e-mail. Educate yourself beforehand, bring with you as much knowledge as possible, but do not be afraid to ask questions. Dominga notes that many Indigenous communities are dealing with poverty and critical health issues. While they may want to build relationships with non-Indigenous communities, their priorities may necessarily be focused on the more urgent needs of their own people first. Be patient, understanding of these issues and take your time to build the relationship.

5. INCLUDE INDIGENOUS VOICES IN YOUR INDIGENOUS PROGRAMMING

If you are a non-Indigenous individual or organization developing Indigenous cultural programming, you should always consult with a member of the Indigenous community and respectfully ask locals for help. Indigenous voices MUST BE included, states Dominga. It is very easy to make assumptions about Indigenous cultural/traditional practices, which often leads to tokenistic gestures and cases of cultural appropriation. Dominga notes that most Indigenous people are quite open and receptive to educating and engaging in a positive way. Quite simply, she suggests that you: ask, listen, and be flexible.

6. HAVE SOME FUN

For non-Indigenous individuals, approaching Indigenous communities and cultural traditions can be intimidating. Dominga urges anyone who is developing Indigenous cultural programming to approach the project with respect, confidence and an open mind. Do not think that reaching out to an Indigenous community is offensive – this is about creating together and it is allowed to be fun.