Cultural appropriation is something that I have discussed before on tumblr. I think that it would be best to now specify what people cannot use from our culture/traditions. I am half Mohawk and half Mi’kmaq. I grew up on a Mohawk reserve most of my life and have been taught (and practiced) my traditions and language.
So first off let’s start with some basics before we begin.
Mohawk is a term that describes people who eat flesh. The name was given to us from a combination of things, European settlers (misunderstanding) and our traditional enemies (the “Mohawk”/Six Nations were know to be fierce warriors that would often kill and capture many of their enemies). Therefore the term itself is considered disrespectful for our people. We prefer to be calledKanienkeha’ka. This means “the people of the flint”. It is pronounced
Mi’kmaq is also not the traditional name for my other Nation. L’nu is the traditional word and it means “the people”. You may also state that someone is “Mi’kmaw”.
Mi’kmaw is pronounced: mig-ma
L’nu’k (sometimes there is no k) is pronounced: ull noog
Now onto the other details. I will mainly post from a Kanienkeha’ka perspective because I have much more traditional knowledge from that Nation. My mom’s Mi’kmaq reserve has lost many of their traditions.
Similarities with other Nations:
- sweat lodges
- ceremonies are still practiced - but are not at all the same as other Nations
- longhouse style homes
- traditional songs and dances are still practiced
- our language is still taught and practiced
- we have traditional masks
- the use of tobacco, feathers and sage
Differences with other Nations:
- pow-wows - we don’t consider this to be part of our traditions
- rain dances - again not part of our traditions
- ghost dances - see above
- pow-wow drums or hand drums - not our traditional instruments
- the use of the word regalia to describe our clothing
- instead of pow-wows we have socials (kind of like a time to practice our songs and dances) with the other Six Nations
- we use our own form of government still
- we use a water drum that both women and men can use
- we have a calendar to celebrate all of our old traditions
- we have ceremonies usually once a month
- most Mohawks are still given a Mohawk name
What you can use from our culture:
- non-traditional Mohawk hairstyles (the kind you see at punk concerts)
- words in Mohawk if they are taught to you by a Mohawk person who speaks the language (and if you are actually friends or relatives of the people)
- Our rattles but only if you are offered them by a Mohawk person within a longhouse setting (or another traditional setting) - you should not bring them home (unless given as a gift) and you should never make your own
- you may use our medicine to heal yourself only if it was given to you by a Mohawk traditional healer and it can only be used for yourself - you must follow any rules given to you by the healer or else it is considered disrespectful
- you may be allowed to attend our socials since they are not considered traditional - it is best to ask first
What you cannot use from our culture:
- our traditional songs and dances
- our water drums
- any part of our ceremonies/festivals - no pictures, paintings, etc are allowed to be used or made by any Non-Mohawk (or Non-Six Nations member)
- our masks - you are not allowed to paint or photograph them as well; this is ultimate disrespect and complete cultural appropriation
- our traditional clothing
- you cannot give yourself a Mohawk name - especially if you are not Mohawk, you may be given one traditionally if you are adopted (only)
- our traditional form of government (the structure and rules)
- the structure of our traditional villages or longhouses
- our traditional clans or the system we use for it
- any of our prayers/thanks
- you usually have to be invited into a longhouse, we do not allow just anyone to walk into a longhouse
- our traditional kastowa’s (men’s “headdress” - I don’t like this term, but cannot think of a better term to describe it)
Note: I may add on to this list if I remember any other important things.
Many Mohawk people do not consider pow-wows traditional and for us it is not seen as personal cultural appropriation to have pow-wow traditions disrespected, however, we do understand that it is cultural appropriation for some specific Nations. The same goes for rain dances and ghost dances. We do not see the headdresses worn in the south (war bonnets, etc) as traditional for our people, so in relation to us it is not cultural appropriation but we are very much aware that it is appropriation for many other Nations.
If anything written is unclear of if you would like more information please utilize my ask or submit sections in my blog.