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May 15, 2021

If it’s not your birthright, then it’s not yours

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Delta Kay – Photo Tree Faerie.

Native American tribes consider the presentation of an eagle feather to be one of their highest marks of respect. A recipient would earn the feather through selfless acts of courage and honour, or be gifted them in gratitude for their work or service to their tribe.

The medicinal use of cacao originated among the Olmec, Maya, and Mexica (Aztec) peoples. It is sacred.

Didgeridoo healing is an ancient method – very few today know its true secrets.

Cultural appropriation is not cool. No, it’s not cool to get pissed and wear a war bonnet to a music festival; unless you are the product of generations of Mexicans, and no, you cannot make cacao medicine; and unless all of your ancestors were born on this country, it is not your place to put a didgeridoo on someone’s chest.

Is it you birthright?

Unless you can answer Yes to the question ‘Is this my birthright?’ then it’s just not okay.

Along with Uncle Magpie Yerrubilgin and others, Arakwal-Bumberbin, Bundgalung woman Delta Kay began Culture Aware in 2018, a project designed to support and encourage managers and organisers of venues, events, and festivals in their understanding of the importance of local native protocol and lore, monitoring event content to be in ‘right relationship’ with the local Indigenous people.

Delta Kay – Photo Tree Faerie.

Last year Delta Kay travelled to America at the invitation of Chief Arvol Lookinghorse, the 19th-generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, a man widely recognised as a chief and spiritual leader of all three branches of the Sioux tribe. Delta was asked to speak at the World Peace and Prayer Day hosted by the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation in El Cajon near San Diego, California.

‘I was invited to speak about my stand against cultural appropriation in the Byron Shire,’ says Delta, who this week is in Tasmania at Newkind 2019, an annual conference designed to inspire and activate the next generation of global changemakers and social-justice champions.

Delta says that after reading Chief Arvol’s 2003 proclamation – the Looking Horse Proclamation on the Protection of Ceremonies – she felt the need to write her own statement that reflected the issues affecting our local community regarding cultural appropriation.

‘I was astounded to receive Chief Arvol’s invitation to speak about Culture Aware and the issues we face in the Byron Shire.

Cultural appropriation is a huge challenge

‘Cultural appropriation is a huge challenge for the native peoples in North America and they embrace those who are willing to stand with them to help educate and create awareness on this issue.

‘World Peace and Prayer Day is a gathering of native spiritual leaders and elders from around the world. Ending cultural appropriation with its divisive and offensive nature is a major step towards world peace.’

Delta says colonisation is at the root of the problem. ‘Let’s look at colonisation – the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area.

Colonisation is an insidious disease

‘Colonisation is an insidious disease of the mind that allows for the endless justification and indiscriminate theft and extraction of anything of value from indigenous cultures in the capitalist economic world in which we all live.

‘This mindset preys on the oppressed, the marginalised, and the minority groups within our society.

‘The exploitation, abuse, and misrepresentation affects traditional cultures in many ways, none of which is positive.

The native nations of the world have, and continue to endure, the effects of the extractive colonisation process. Native cultures suffer this assault and genocide of traditional cultural ways .

‘This extraction of the attractive cultural elements by non-native people for personal gain and advancement is continuing the genocide by diluting and trivialising traditional culture – by being a voice of tradtions without permission, without context, without protocols or training and, most importantly, the birthright to do so.

‘It is not vitally important that the non-native communities and individuals who have any interest in native culture look to decolonising their mindset before connecting and getting involved.

‘The colonising mentality is entitled, divisive, insensitive, exploitive, an act of larceny, and, worst of all, the final phase of native assimilation through cultural genocide.’

Delta says that questions to ask yourself before you ‘borrow’ aspects of a native culture are: Have you the birthright to practise that culture? Are you using an Indigenous culture to make money? Are you practising Indigenous culture publicly? If you answer Yes to any of these, then you need to stop.

We are now in the time of the false prophets

Delta says the impacts of cultural appropriation are felt across all indigenous cultures. ‘As an Indigenous woman we are now in the time of the false prophets. People are making wild claims publicly as to their place and power with culture frameworks not of their origin.’

Delta says that self-promotion using traditional cultural elements attracts and deludes the vulnerable who seek true knowledge

‘To respectfully engage indigenous culture is to arrive without an agenda other than to be of service without a personal agenda or outcome. This is unconditional service and allows anyone the opportunity to be part of an indigenous community with right relationship.

‘Culture Aware is proud to announce that we have two festivals signed up – Renew Festival and Mullum Music Festival – and we have two venues – Byron Community Centre and Corner Palm.’

Delta says things are getting better but there is a long way to go. ‘We are already starting that process by teaching our children the true history of Australia in all schools. We need to change places/towns back to their original names, such as “Walgun”, not Cape Byron.’

To find out more about the Cultural Aware project, visit their website: www.cultureaware.org.

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  1. Tough issue, but the best future for the land of Australia is for as many people as possible to ‘culturally appropriate’ the native Indigenous culture. Be it through food, traditions, agriculture, love of the land.

    • Changing your own cultural beliefs and values as a result of being guided and inspired by Indigenous values and beliefs is a lot different to cultural appropriation. The integrity of the process should be measured by the quality of relationships with Traditional Owners and the recognition of the sovereign rights they hold and will always hold unless they themselves actively relinquish them. This involves big changes not just rhetoric.

      If we really want to live in post-colonial society then we need to have a pretty clear vision and shared an understanding of what that might look like and why we want it. As Delta’s T-shirt in the pic says “decolonise to survive”.

  2. ‘Decolonise or die’ 2017
    Army canvas with text in white ochre
    Of the exhibition
    The decolonisation of nonesmannslond. 2017
    Southern Cross University
    Sarah-Jane McGrath

    I won the highest award and high distinction for my bachelor, I did this as a woman with stolen generation background.

    The system asks you to tick three boxes, I only tick two, so I am an artist with a lost history yet my message is clear.

    Through the conversation with art I was welcomed by other mob and called to present by my ancestors, art in my first ever Aboriginal art exhibition in Lismore 2016.

    As a Gadigal woman born in Darlinghurst with a maternal grandfather be of the stolen generation, I am still searching for my place, history and meaning.

    I hear these words and understand many have no lineage in their country, no place in no mans land and when we choose to believe in the original ways we do so with guidance and respect.

    Let’s talk about appropriate engagement first.


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