Welcome! I love to write, and I love sharing what I write with my readers. I vary my style as much as I can-posting events, creative non-fiction, prose and poetry and the occasional video. Enjoy!



Friday, August 30, 2013

Cultural Appropriation

Cultural Appropriation:
By: Christine Smith (McFarlane)

Cultural appropriation… the very words tend to put my back up and I find it difficult to write about. I’m asking you now to please forgive me if this comes out in a way that may offend you.  Offending someone who reads this is not my intention, it is my intention for others to learn what cultural appropriation is and for them to learn how to be aware of it happening and helping to stop it if they can.

First off, let me explain what cultural appropriation is. “Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion, language, or behavior. These elements are typically imported into the existing culture and may have wildly different meanings or lack the subtleties of “their original cultural context”. Because of this, cultural appropriation is sometimes viewed negatively, and has been called “cultural theft.”  (Cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is unique to every Indigenous nation and by that I mean that every nation holds their artifacts, images, and ceremonial items within a specific context, and these meanings should not be misconstrued or abused in any way.  If you have questions in regards to certain items, do not be afraid to ask someone from that particular nation. I have found that someone is always willing to explain the meaning of something if asked politely and respectfully.

To a lot of people in the mainstream culture, cultural appropriation is something to laugh about, when in fact it is not. If they are called on it, they get defensive and angry, or they turn a blind eye to it. Mainstream culture thinks that it is cool when stores try to make a dollar out of selling headdresses, dream catchers, mukluks, eagle feathers etc., and they don’t take the time to understand the true meaning behind these items.

You just need to think about recent headlines about the popular store H&M and how they tried to sell what they called ‘fashionable’ headdresses for fifteen dollars. When a few people complained, they pulled them off their shelves. Cultural appropriation does not just happen with our artifacts, it also happens with how we are seen in the media-the newspapers, film, and literature. In film, you just need to think of movies such as Dances with Wolves, Avatar and the Disney movie Pocahontas. In the movies we are depicted as the ‘noble savage,’ “the damsel in distress” or ‘we need to be rescued.”

In researching this article, I found that there was no shortage of materials to look over when it came to cultural appropriation. In one book “Selling the Indian: Commercializing & Appropriating American Indian Culture,” edited by Carter Jones Meyer and Diana Royer, a contributing author S. Elizabeth Bird writes about the construction of the Indian and the role anthropology plays in this construction. She states, “It is not new to point out that mass culture images of American Indians are images created by white culture, for white culture. In earlier times, that alien image was feared and hated, fed by and feeding a popular culture that mythologized the massacre of whites by savage, uncontrollable Indians.”

Bird further argues “the captivity narrative’ in which honourable white women and children were degraded and destroyed by lustful savages, became a staple of popular journalism and fiction in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and echoed on into the twentieth. She also argues “current media representations are understandable only if seen as the legacy of a complex mesh of cultural elements, including formal history, literature, material artifacts, folklore, photography, cartoon, art, mass media, and anthropological discourse.”

It is important to note that how we as First Nations people are seen goes back into the work of early historians and anthropologists. We as First Nations people have been seen as the “Other.” Descriptions of us became the core of museum exhibits, world fairs, Wild West Shows, and early silent films. Through the lens of these early images, First Nations people have been effectively placed into a kind of time warp, in which we have not emerged from in the eyes of the non-native.

I suggest that if we were a culture that used to be feared and hated, why is it now ‘cool’ to take our culture and traditions and turn them into something that it is not meant to be about? Popular discourse on First Nations people has always been racist and stereotypical, but when a non-native wears feathered earrings, or wears mukluks or buys a “fashionable” headdress, it is all of a sudden cool. What incenses me the most about cultural appropriation is the notion that our culture, traditions and languages are seen as what early historians have called ‘primitive or backwards,” and then there is blatant racism played out in the mainstream culture about who we are as a people, and our artifacts, ceremonies and images are the cool thing to get or have.

Another form of cultural appropriation is the naming of sports teams and mascots such as the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Black Hawks, Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins. First Nations people have been calling on these teams to change their names and logos to something that is not racist and stereotypical, yet team managers do not care to change anything about these names, and say “oh its no big deal.”

First Nations people have struggled since first contact with attacks on their nations through colonialist strategies and policies implemented by the Canadian government. Do I need to call attention to residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, where thousands of children were taken from their families and communities and adopted out to non-native parents, which effectively stole our identities as First Nations peoples? What about ceremonies that were deemed illegal in the early 19th and 20th centuries? 

You just need to think about the potlatch ceremony on the West Coast. The potlatch ceremony was “an important cultural and spiritual practice among Aboriginal peoples on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Chiefs used potlatches to name children, to transfer titles and privileges from father and son and to mourn the dead.” (

It was through a few missionaries, Aboriginal Christians and Hudson Bay Company traders that it was believed the potlatch ceremony encouraged non-Christian beliefs and distracted Aboriginal peoples from ‘productive work.’

In 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology, in which he stated “Two primary objectives of the residential schools system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture…. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, "to kill the Indian in the child." The last residential school closed in 1996.

It is issues such as these that the average mainstream culture struggles to understand because of the absence of Indigenous voices and real identities in film, television, education and literature. First Nations people have been misrepresented for a long time, and it needs to stop!

The very utterance of the words “cultural appropriation” incenses First Nations people. I know it incenses me. It upsets me because I grew up not knowing my culture, language and traditions. Though I am now at a point where I understand a lot more of my culture and traditions, I find it infuriating when I witness non-natives trying to integrate themselves into our culture and community, and then do nothing but tell us ‘how’ we should be or ‘what’ we should be doing to better ourselves.

To mention just First Nations people as being the only ones that face cultural appropriation would not be fair. It happens to all Indigenous peoples, and all Indigenous peoples face some kind of battle with their government and the policies that have been instilled to eradicate their culture, traditions, languages and rights.

I find that no matter how hard First Nations people fight to protect their culture and traditions, when it comes to ‘borrowing’ of images or the selling of artifacts that we hold sacred to ourselves and our nations, we are told “ah, it’s no big deal,” or we’re told “get over it already.” But if you think about it, if we were to take something from another culture and the tables were turned, the whole concept of cultural appropriation would take on a whole new different meaning, and we would be the ones wondering "why are these people so angry about this?".

Lastly in another book, “Writing As Witness: Essay and Talk,” written by Beth Brant, the reader is privy to the “New Age” religion. This is where cultural appropriation is the most dominant. Brant writes about how we are surrounded by magazines, journals and that there is a heavy reliance on paraphernalia and language, and how some of it is ‘borrowed from Indigenous cultures. She writes “it seems that those folks who are anxious to have an experience with other worldly beings are the same people who would declare they are colour blind or refer to Indigenous peoples of any continent as “our Natives.” There is some kind of patronizing and ethnocentric behavior being acted out as that of the missionary and the liberal.”

There is so much to write about when it comes to cultural appropriation, that once I got started, I found it hard to stop. I could go on and on, but my most important message about cultural appropriation is that it is wrong, and the mainstream public needs to understand that First Nations culture, traditions and languages are an integral part of who we are as First Nations people. Our culture, ceremonies, traditions and everything that is a part of us, is not something that can be bought and sold.

If you, as a First Nations individual see something from our culture being appropriated, do not be afraid to speak up and say something or take action. Write letters to companies/corporations that are appropriating our images and artifacts, phone them, or start a campaign to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!



Brant. Beth. Writing As Witness: Essay and Talk. Women's Press. Toronto. 1994

Meyer Jones. Carter, Royer Diana. Selling the Indian: Commercializing & Appropriating American Indian Cultures. University of Arizona Press. 2001

(please note that this is a cross post and this article will be in an upcoming issue of New Tribe Magazine)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Photo by: Christine Smith (McFarlane)


You might ask, why should we say NO to Line 9, a pipeline that will ship tar sands for export and/or why should we worry about this at all?

First off, a tar sands pipeline facilitates the unsustainable growth of the tar sands industry, is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, is responsible for massive increases in air and water pollution in Alberta, as well as  carries a significant threat to our wildlife.

Secondly, the tar sands industry infringes on the constitutional rights of First Nations communities, especially when the air and water are polluted to the point that it also impacts a community’s ability to live off the land. Thirdly, a tar sands pipeline is often put in without proper consultation, and this impedes on First Nations peoples ability to have a say on what can be on their land or not be on their land.

Enbridge Inc wants to export tar sands oil east through Canada and have applied to repurpose Line 9 so that they can use it to export tar sands crude oil east. If this pipeline (circa 1970’s) is allowed, Enbridge will no longer need to import crude from distant countries and serve Western Canadian oil companies that are looking for new markets beyond the United States.

Line 9 is an aging 38 year old oil pipeline owned by Enbridge. It carries conventional oil, runs across southern Ontario and Quebec, and runs through the most densely populated parts of Canada. Line 9 runs a mere 3 feet below ground and runs under farms, through neighborhoods, is close to schools and crosses every single river that flows into Lake Ontario.The installation of Line 9 is detrimental to everyone, it impedes on everyone's ability to have the right to clean air.

A lot of people don’t consider the damages this pipeline carries with it, and the havoc it can evoke if it were to leak. The risk of a spill is not something we can turn our heads away from and ignore because it impacts EVERYONE! Not only in the here and now, but also in the future.

Enbridge doesn't have a clean record when it comes to their pipelines. In 2010, Enbridge spilled 3 million litres of tar sands oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River from its Line 6b pipeline. The 6b line is of the same design as Line 9. The spill that happened in Kalamazoo caused widespread illness, led to evacuations, economic hardship and oil pollution that three years later, has still not been cleaned up.

Enbridge’s Line 9 creates serious risks. Here are three facts about the dangers of shipping tar sands oil:

   Pipelines which carry tar sands oil have spilled 3.6 times more often per mile than the U.S. average.

      Tar sands ‘diluted bitumen’ contains dangerous toxic chemicals that can harm human health and the environment

     Tar sands oil is heavier than water and therefore way more difficult to clean up than a regular oil spill.

There are A LOT more risks to consider when it comes to Line 9. I've only mentioned  a few, but please do your part-get involved and SAY NO TO LINE 9!

How can you get involved, below are some sources you can go to,  to learn more

Contact East End Against Line (this is a group that runs in the east end of Toronto)

Visit the following two websites:

and sign the petition that requests the Province of Ontario to step in to protect the health and safety of its residents:

Lastly, the radio show Indigenous Waves from the University of Toronto has a link that you can go to- to hear First Nations environmental activist Ben Powless speak about the ongoing battle to stop Line 9 from going through our territories.

Ben Powless is a Mohawk citizen from Six Nations in Ontario and has worked extensively with the Indigenous Environmental Network ( This organization focuses on climate justice and resource extraction in Indigenous territories, particularly the tar sands in Canada. He is also an organizer with the Defenders of the Land and Idle No More, and was a co-founder of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, where he still serves on the national council.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Short Story- Writing At A Pub

I saunter into Gabby’s Bar and Grill; it’s just across the street from my apartment building. I have been there once or twice with friends, but this is the first time I’m here on my own.

I stand in the doorway for a couple of seconds and take a deep breath. My eyes have to adjust from the glaring sunlight to the dull yellow indoor lights. I take in everything around me. I see the worn out tables and worn wood chairs. There are a couple of booths, but nobody seems to be occupying them tonight. It looks like the few people that are here want the tables instead. That works fine with me.

Not wanting to draw any attention to myself, I walk over to an empty booth, and sit down. My butt rests on the cushioned bench. My elbows rest on the hard laminated table before me. Music blares around me. I look over the drink menu, and wonder, should I get a pop or should I get a beer? I decide, ah what the heck, I’ll get a beer. The waiter is nowhere in sight, I sit for a few minutes and then decide to go over to the bar and order.

I stand up from the booth and walk a short distance. People’s heads turn as I come to a halt in front of the bar. I guess its weird that I’m there by myself, but hey, I think to myself

“this is a new experiment, I want to see if I can write in a different place other than home.”

The bartender is bustling around pouring drinks here and pouring drinks there. He looks up, smiles and says

“Yes, m’aam, what can I get you?”

“I’ll have an Amsterdam Blonde,” I reply back.

“No problem,” he says, and he turns to get a glass.

I watch as he puts the glass under the tap, and the beer pours out. My mouth salivates as I think of the cold beer hitting my thirst quenched mouth. A white foam (called head) starts to form really quickly and he turns and pours it out into another glass, before it spills over. He finishes pouring my beer and leans over the bar

“Here you go” and smiles

I take the beer from his hand, and turn around to head back to my seat. I feel like eyes are on me, as I make my way back to the booth, but I know its just the anxiety of being in the bar by myself. I’ve never done this before.

I get back to my booth and set my beer down to the right of me.  As I settle back into my seat, and open my purse, I pull out a notebook and my favorite pen and lay them before me. My IPhone is to the left of me. It beeps intermittently as I send the occasional text to a friend and he replies back.

I tell him “ this is the first time that I have ever written at a bar by myself”

We both text “LOL”

He tells me “I’ve written at a bar a few times, and I’ve always come out with some good material.”

My head is down and I’m writing furiously. I write about anxiety, and what its like to live with it. I write about inconsequential things- starting with the words "I remember", and write a couple of paragraphs, tear a page out and start over at least twice. Fifteen minutes pass, and I’m surprised that I’ve written three to four pages. 

I text my friend “ Wow, I’ve done more writing here in the bar than I have at home in the last week.”

He texts back “ LOL, well you’re in a bar by yourself and there’s strangers around, its not like you’re going to get up and talk to people you don’t know.”

He’s right. Maybe that’s why I came here. At home I get distracted, and always find one reason or another to put aside my writing. We text back and forth a couple more times and then I turn back to my book and write. The act of writing takes over me. I love hearing the sound of my pen on the page before me, and seeing the words form before me.

The anxiety I felt when walking into Gabby’s Bar and Grill dissipates. It doesn’t bother me anymore that there’s a table across from me with a crowd of twenty-something’s noisily laughing and chatting.

The waiter comes by, and asks

“Would you like another drink?”

I look up, smile and say “No thank you, one's enough for me! Can I have the bill”

After receiving the bill and settling it, I reach for my purse, put my book and pen away and stand up. I head for the door. I smile because I’ve accomplished what I’ve wanted-

I’ve relaxed and I’ve written a new blog post. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What its like to live with Anxiety

Living With Anxiety:

Anxiety lies within, bubbling just below the surface of my skin. You can’t tell by looking at me because I try to hide it from the world around me.

Is it shame, when I try to hide it? Maybe. It’s usually something people don’t acknowledge. Why do mental health issues continue to be so taboo? I may have won a Transforming Lives Award in 2012 from the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, but my mental health issues are something I’m still afraid to talk about, especially when I am having one of my days. I’m afraid people will walk away, just like they have before. They don’t understand the fight that goes on within, and what it takes for me to fight. They interpret it as something else, and sometimes I just want to yell-PLEASE take the time to understand and know it has nothing to do with you, it’s me.

Only a select few who really know me understand what anxiety can do to me and how it can make me act. It happens like this, even though it can be different for everyone who experiences this too- A sheen of sweat will break out upon my skin, almost like I’ve just come from soaking in a tub. I start to twitch, I can’t sit still and my stomach does somersaults. My throat feels like it is closing and my heart speeds up. I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack, even though I know it’s the anxiety inside that causes me to feel that way.

I draw inside myself even further and I’m quiet to begin with. People mistake the quietness for snobbiness, even though that’s farthest from the truth. In fact, I wear my heart upon my sleeve and get more easily hurt than I care to admit. My fingers go to my hair and I try to pull at the little hair I have. See, there’s a reason I keep my hair short. I know if I grow it long, it would be so uneven and I’m afraid of people laughing-they have in the past.

They have a name for this hair pulling-its called trichotillomania. It’s in the list of diagnoses I’ve been given by the Western model of psychiatry. Call it what you will, I don’t like the list of diagnoses I’ve been given so I try to push myself as far as I can, even if it means my anxiety pushes through and shows in my demeanor.

I don’t want to be a victim so I fight it every day, even if that means I have to stop and take that little orange pill called Clonazepam to get me through the moment. Thank goodness I’ve learned to take that only when I truly need it-I don’t want to be hooked on something I know I can work on by doing what I do-writing and letting the words flow.

Everyone experiences anxiety differently, no two stories are alike, but I’m telling you mine, because maybe you will understand, its not something I signed up for, its just a small piece of who I am.  I try to think positive when there is negativity bubbling inside. I try to smile even when I feel like frowning and make myself go out even when all I want to do is hide.

I like to be alone more times than not, even if that means being labeled anti social. Maybe I am anti social, I won’t lie about that, but there’s always a reason, just take the time to ask me and maybe I’ll explain.

Anxiety lies within, bubbling just below the surface of my skin. I’ve turned to writing to get it out and for me that’s a part of my healing.