The Colonial Gaze


The Male Gaze, Kelli Clifton, 2011, acrylic on canvas, beads.  Courtesy Kelli Clifton.

Clifton’s painting evokes an ongoing pattern of Canadian society that entails the act of taking, misrepresenting, and silencing Indigenous cultural identities for the purpose of feeding the colonial gaze.

Canadian settlers founded their country on the act of taking what was not theirs to take — Indigenous land, resources, children, cultural objects — without consent and without giving anything back.  Canada made laws that criminalized Indigenous people’s abilities to practice their cultures.  This historical context must be considered to understand why cultural appropriation is harmful.

Historical Thinking Questions

Check out the links below and answer the following questions: 

Potlatch Ban     RCAP Vol. 1  Read p. 267-270

Return of Sacred Objects     Sacred Pipe at the ROM

1.   How does Canadian legislation from the 1920s continue to negatively impact the ability of Indigenous communities to practise their cultures? 

American Psychological Association on Mascots    “Chief Wahoo” short documentary   Stop Caricaturing Us  Listen   I’m not your Mascot (Loren Spears video – scroll to bottom)

2.  Why are stereotypes of Indigenous identity created by white settlers so pervasive in Canadian society?  What happens when settlers control depictions of Indigenous identity?  (Cause & Consequence)  

Totem: The Return of the G’psgolox Pole

3.  Why do you think the Swedish government thought it was okay to take the pole when they took it?  What are the different versions of the story for how it was taken?  (Historical Perspective) 

4.  What function does the totem pole have for the Haisla and Henaksiala people of Kitamaat?   How has its removal impacted them?   (Cause & Consequence) 

5.  What has changed in terms of the Swedish government’s position and the Haisla community’s position regarding the totem pole’s location?  What are some reasons for these changes?  What has remained the same?  Why? (Continuity & Change)