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Choosing change and reconciliation in the arts

Canada is at an important turning point in its history as all sectors of Canadian society are re-examining the position and impact of treaties and the ancestral rights of Indigenous peoples – and the arts sector is no exception. Against this backdrop, the question of the appropriation of Indigenous cultural knowledge and heritage has become a contentious issue with some in the arts community. As Anishinaabe artist Aylan Couchie has so powerfully articulated, "The appropriation of Indigenous stories, ways of being and artworks is simply an extension of colonialism and settlers' assertion of rights over the property of Indigenous people. The history of colonizing Indigenous identity through images, film and narratives has played its part in placing Indigenous perspectives at a subordinate level."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report highlighted repeated attempts at cultural genocide vis-à-vis this country's Indigenous peoples. In doing so, it posed a historic challenge to every institution in Canada, including the Canada Council.

As Canada's public-arts funder, we are now aware – in a way we weren't when the organization was created 60 years ago – of the deliberate attempts throughout Canada's history to eradicate the cultures and languages of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We are also aware of the role cultural appropriation played in the oppression and violence against Indigenous peoples. With this awareness comes an obligation and a duty to act. We are all agents of either the status quo or change – and the Canada Council is taking responsibility and choosing change.

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Source: Simon Brault and Steven Loft from The Globe and Mail

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