Cultural Appropriation

Complete Podcast:

What is Cultural Appropriation?

“Cultural appropriation” describes the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another; generally Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white form. The act of cultural appropriation connotes cultural exploitation and dominance (Oxford). More broadly, cultural appropriation is the taking of intellectual property, cultural expressions, or artifacts, history and ways of knowledge from a culture that is not one’s own (Ziff).


Although our society is increasingly integrated, we are still not connecting on fundamental levels that involve understanding and embracing fundamental difference. There still exists a misunderstanding of cultures that lead to racial and cultural bias and cultural insensitivity. While teaching future generations about tolerance and awareness, we continue to debate locally and nationally the notion cultural sensitivity vs. political correctness, each time circling back to unexplored notions of Privilege. Attitudes toward race and culture seem to have regressed, especially on college campuses. As many declare the 21st century as post-racial, the research underscores a national backlash or a blatant defiance of anything deemed culturally sensitive which goes beyond “political correctness” and the microaggressive claims of intentions and “over-sensitivity.”

This toolbox of resources includes news articles, videos, and writing that demonstrate the urgency of engaging in critical dialogue regarding cultural appropriation. We invite you to explore these resources and help us build our database. Look out for upcoming programs designed to address this and other issues pertaining to cultural awareness.

An Inquiry To Project Humanities

Project Humanities Leaders:

I would like to know where to get more information or support about cultural appropriation. I am Anglo,my son is Navajo. I have worked hard as an adoptive  parent to make sure my son is connected with Navajo culture. We have friends that live on the reservation as well as Native friends who are community leaders and professional role models that live in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  We attend to Navajo fairs, ceremonies, pow-wows, arts festivals, and his experiences are authentic. 

 My son is having a negative experience with the Boyscouts and their use or misuse of Native culture.  I have made a formal complaint to Boy Scouts of America's national office about appropriation of Native American culture within their honor fraternity Order of the Arrow. My complaint has been ignored to the point they haven't given me a contact name of who to address the issue with after months of repeated contacts. Although my complaint has an official incident # to record my communication with them, they tell me that they don't know who is in charge of the issues I am addressing. Order of the Arrow's misuse of Native sacred objects, Native language, wearing of head dresses, and other Native regalia, and performance of imitated pow-wows is a source of anger, frustration, and depression for my son. Would you know where we could get help with the issue? I would also like more research articles or materials about the negative effects of misappropriation with Native youth. My son does not want to quit Boyscouts, but wants voice concerns and make changes within the Boyscout culture.

I also took my son to Boyscout's Philmont Scout Ranch museum, and saw they had the book Two Little Savages on display - a book about two (white) boys that went in lived in the wilderness.  The book is from about 1912 era. 
-- Thank you, Karen A. (New Mexico) (November 2015)