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Let’s Talk About Respecting Indigenous People

Updated Published
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

I am from the White Earth Nation, my tribal affiliation is Ojibwe. Indigenous people are my people. I have so much respect for my culture; I know that even though I am Indigenous, I hold white privilege. I am using my voice, for my family, for my people who do not have a voice. The Indigeneous people deserve to be respected. I am here to tell you things that you can do collectively to maintain this respect toward my culture.

outdoors hc 1
Original photo by Lily Borror

The biggest thing I want to talk about is cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the idea of a dominant culture that benefits/takes things away from the oppressed culture without any compensation or recognition. This is so disrespectful toward the Indigenous culture as a whole. My culture already struggles to find a voice in this society, so taking big ideas from their culture and not crediting them makes it even harder for them to voice their culture. A big example of this is headdresses. They are seen throughout many aspects of this society: halloween, lingerie, thanksgiving and even music festivals. Traditionally, the Plains Indigenous people wore headdresses when they were highly respected. Headdresses are also seen in ceremonial situations, which makes them a huge cultural artifact. Wearing headdresses for fun is so damaging when the foundation they were built on is with respect and spiritual aspects. This takes away how important they were when headdresses are seen as a “costume”.

Tree with leaves turning brown
Photo by Irina Iriser from Pexels

Understand that being Indigenous means something different for everyone. They affiliate themselves using different terminology that each have their own meaning. Some say “American Indian,” others will say “Native American.” These terms are widely accepted in the Indigenous culture. You will commonly hear Indigneous people refer to their tribal affiliation or clan name. You are not being disrespectful if you use a variety of these terms. It is respectful enough to recognize their Indigenous heritage and question to learn more about our culture. Definitely avoid the term “Indian.” This is very disrespectful. The term “Indian” toward the Indigenous people has a history with negative stereotypes surrounding it; A history filled with trying to oppress and ignore their true cultural heritage. If you are still questioning how to refer to an Indigenous person, simply ask; they are prideful people and would be happy to tell you.

Give Thanks Sign
Photo by Simon Maage from Unsplash

Let’s talk about something that you all are probably wondering – Thanksgiving. For most Indigenous people, it is a day of mourning. Thanksgiving is the signifier of the beginning of the invasion of the colonialists. The beginning of genocide of MILLIONS of the Native peoples. A day of mourning the oppression that followed, Thanksgiving is a day of remembrance and the constant struggles that the Indigenous people still face currently. For my culture, we give thanks everyday. Indgenous people spiritually emphasize giving thanks and having gratitude. The biggest way that you can be more respectful is not being ignorant toward what Thanksgiving means for the Indigenous people. This next Thanksgiving, get educated. Join with us to dismantle stereotypes and barriers surrounding the Indigenous people.

There are so many things you can do to become more respectful toward the Indigenous culture. There are over 550 tribal affiliations, just remember that they all differ. In any situation, simply asking is better than assuming you understand. I am using my privilege, my voice, to educate others. Please, feel free to exercise your own privilege. Buy from Native owned businesses and amplify Indigneous voices.

Kate O’Leary

Wisconsin '23

Kate is currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin Madison majoring in Biology, Psychology and Sociology. She is the proud co-president of Her Campus Wisconsin. Kate enjoys indoor cycling, spending time with friends, cheering on the Badgers and making the absolute best crepes ever!