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Appropriation prize flap a chance to listen and learn: Vicky Mochama

Until I can swim in the deep end with Indigenous people, I’m going to do my best to stay in my lane.

The appropriation prize flap, like the Josheph Boyden controversy before it, should be taken as an opportunity to educate yourself and listen to Indigenous voices, writes Vicky Mochama.

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The appropriation prize flap, like the Josheph Boyden controversy before it, should be taken as an opportunity to educate yourself and listen to Indigenous voices, writes Vicky Mochama.

Two weeks ago, I watched several powerful people gleefully line up to throw money at the opportunity to refuse to hear criticism.

The so-called appropriation prize and the ensuing fallout at major media organizations are not about free speech. This is about who gets to speak and who should be thankful for being allowed to exist.

At times, Indigenous issues overlap with my ill-attended-to specialities: race, gender, and politics. To be sure, it’s a wide umbrella, but it doesn’t always cover everything.

On those occasions, I read, listen and learn.

In the aftermath of the Joseph Boyden controversy, I read Indigenous writers who, with compassion and fury, asked for transparency.

After the human rights tribunal concluded Canada discriminated against Indigenous children, I read the rulings and listened to Cindy Blackstock’s fierce advocacy.

I listen to podcasts from Media Indigena and Indian and Cowboy.

Slowly but surely, I’m working through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. It’s a harrowing read, but essential.

I say this not to self-congratulate, but to say that I am still in the shallow end. Every new piece of information leads to more questions, which leads to answers that only ask more questions. Until I can swim in the deep end with Indigenous people, I’m going to do my best to stay in my lane.

And that’s what the appropriation prize organizers and their friends and supporters need to do. Because in a short period of time, they revealed the things we — Indigenous, Black, racialized people — suspected to be true: That for them, our cultures, like ourselves, can be put up for auction. That our histories, our pains, our joys (if we’re allowed that), our style — the things that make us strong and unique — are available to most ambitious imitator.

There have been consequences: a resignation, a demotion, and some apologies. But there are still more non-Indigenous people defining terms of a conversation they’re not equipped to have.

For us, it’s a time for listening and for learning. For progress and reconciliation to work, speaking up cannot mean speaking over.

In Indigenous Writes, a friendly and righteous raft for these waters, Chelsea Vowel says, “What we cannot do is pretend the subject matter is anything but difficult. Sometimes, we will simply have to agree to disagree.” Still, she insists that it can be done: “We begin that process by understanding the fundamental issues.”

The most consistent voices asking for explanation, accountability and apology were Indigenous writers and creators.

Simply, theirs is the voice to listen to.

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