Arts and Culture Community Culture

Art and agency: the misuse of inclusion

The Indigenous Futures Resource Centre has created an online space to nuance the conversation on cultural appropriation.

In recent discussions surrounding reconciliation, inclusion itself has emerged as a contentious notion. The term inherently implies an imbalance of power between those at the centre who hold the authority to make decisions and those on the periphery who are left at their mercy. Inclusion can easily be mishandled—even organizations with the best of intentions can end up unwittingly tokenizing and exploiting their Indigenous employees. True reconciliation is the democratisation of decision-making, where inclusion efforts are no longer necessary, because everyone is already seated at the table. 

In her article “Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto,” Indigenous artist and fashion designer Sage Paul discusses the urgency of addressing cultural appropriation in the fashion industry in all of its subtleties. It is increasingly important to have a discerning eye. As overt, public incidents become less common, the problem continues to fester behind the scenes. For example, Indigenous artists are being included in projects only to find that their presence is nothing more than the company’s effort to reach a diversity quota. Their names become stamps of authenticity on designs in which they were granted little, if any, creative control over. 

Paul’s article can be found among a growing collection of Indigenous scholarship surrounding this issue on the Promoting and Protecting Indigenous Arts (PPIA) website, which was recently launched as an expansion of the original 2021 print publication. To celebrate the launch on Sept. 26, Concordia’s 4th Space held a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Heather Igloliorte, along with Paul, visual artist Nico Williams and fashion designer Julie Grenier as guests to discuss the impacts of cultural appropriation on Indigenous fashion. The panel noted the long history of Indigenous communities’ participation in the global fashion world as fur traders, and the importance of remembering this history. They also tackled some of the unseen issues facing Indigenous artists and designers, such as crossing the country borders without having their materials confiscated or their customers’ fear of openly wearing their designs. The panellists recalled instances where their non-indigenous customers would admit to only wearing their jewellery or clothing in private, worried that wearing the designs in public would attract negative attention. 

Indigenous fashion panel held at 4th space. Photo by Emma Bell/The Concordian

The PPIA website is a living resource. It provides a space for new scholarship to be placed in dialogue with existing conversations to build a cohesive body of knowledge that is readily accessible to all. “This project unites the wisdom and experiences of Indigenous artists, scholars, cultural stakeholders and knowledge keepers who demonstrate a profound commitment to educating the public,” said Igloliorte. Visit the website at to learn more.
The full panel discussion and Q&A session is also available to watch online on the 4th Space’s YouTube channel here.


The two-dimensional representations of real life

How social media is a necessity today, and why that might not be beneficial

In sixth grade, I made a deal with the devil. In the middle of the night, I created a Facebook account against my parents’s wishes and, like most of my friends, lied about my age. Within a few years, I amassed more than 2,000 “friends.” Bizarrely enough, many of my friends in the social media world were acquaintances at best. In my opinion, social media transports its users into an alternate world in which friends are not friends, and a false sense of connectedness often leads to emotional distress.

A few years later, I made another deal and created an Instagram account—this time, I did not have to lie about my age. Slowly, I learned the platform’s complex code of conduct: when to post, how to write a creative caption and, of course, the importance of maintaining a ratio of more followers than following.

Later came Snapchat. Travel became a chore for me. If I didn’t post about my location, how could I prove to my friends where I had been? As if by some invisible deity, the pressure to post began to feel forced and, in hindsight, took away from my ability to truly engage with the places I traveled to.

Of course, social media is not entirely evil. It allows family and friends separated by distance to stay connected. However, the connection these platforms promise is not true interaction. Posts on social media are two-dimensional representations of real life. Social media gives the user a fleeting sensation of connectedness, but these moments are illusions that leave the user feeling more disconnected than before.

Beyond its influence on our emotions, social media wields a disturbing amount of power. According to Newsweek, Facebook is the parent company of Whatsapp and Instagram. Its increasing monopoly on how we connect ought to concern us all. I am part of one of the last generations to experience a world that connected without technology. Younger generations are going to grow up with technology companies documenting them from the cradle to the grave. Consider the facts—as of 2018, according to Forbes, Facebook has over 2.2 billion active users. That’s larger than the population of any country. According to Pew Research, Facebook is the primary news source for 67 per cent of Americans. Additionally, these social platforms offer their services for free, often misleading the user into forgetting that their information is now being exploited by corporations, without any sort of compensation.

Companies collect information about our posts, likes, and friends to create complex algorithms that categorize user information, demographic, dates, political beliefs, and even who we are attracted to. This is the hidden cost of social media; we are literally selling pieces of our personality in exchange for fleeting moments of connectedness.

I regret using social media. In my last year of high school, I deleted all of my social media, but like an addict, I am back again. Ironically, I had to resurrect my Facebook to participate in a Concordia club. The world is changing into one where living without social media comes with consequences that impact our friendships, employment opportunities, knowledge of popular culture and invitations to social events.

Mark Zuckerberg—ranked among the annual Forbes most powerful list eight times––has changed the way we learn, shortened our attention spans, and radically transformed political discourse. Elections around the world have been impacted by social media platforms; Twitter played a role during a series of revolutions known as the Arab Spring, where people were able to communicate en mass throughout the revolutions. Today, social media platforms are changing history, and users are giving their personal information away for free. If they can do that today, shouldn’t we be afraid of what they may do tomorrow?

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

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