The Colonial Gaze


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

Clifton’s painting confronts the male gaze with an orderly regiment of formline eyes.   It evokes the need to examine Canada’s ongoing pattern of taking, controlling, and misrepresenting  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 and resources — without consent and without giving anything back.  Canada made laws that criminalized Indigenous people’s abilities to practice their cultures while at the same time stealing their ceremonial items and imprisoning these items within colonial institutions where they would be subjected against their will to the colonial gaze.  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)


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