Author: Neil Gray

How The Campaign Against Cultural Appropriation Came Back to Haunt Canada’s Indigenous Peoples

The debate over cultural appropriation isn’t unique to Canada. But my country does seem to have a particular sensitivity to the issue—especially when it comes to white people allegedly appropriating elements of Indigenous culture. And in recent days, the phenomenon has broken new ground entirely, with a high-profile controversy involving alleged appropriation taking place entirely within Canada’s Indigenous communities. The Indigenous Music Awards (IMAs) are part of the larger Manito Ahbee Festival in Winnipeg, a gathering that “celebrates Indigenous culture and heritage to unify, educate, and inspire.” Conceived as a Juno Awards for Canada’s First Nations people, these awards do not focus solely on traditional music, but feature a broad range of categories such as Best Blues Album, Best Music Video, and Best International Indigenous Release. Because Canada’s Indigenous music scene is still a niche sector within the larger Canadian music industry (which is itself tiny compared to its American counterpart), the Indigenous Music Awards typically pass under the radar of most Canadians. But not this year—thanks to Cree artist Cikwes, who’s been nominated in …

The Purity Spiral of Canada’s Music Industry

In 2015, the Canadian music world erupted in controversy when a Calgary post-punk band named Viet Cong came to slight prominence with the release of their debut album. The name was deemed culturally appropriative, insensitive and racist. And the band endured concert cancellations and protests throughout a North American tour for its self-titled debut album, with some activists claiming that the band’s name was enough to cause them full-blown emotional trauma. Finally, in late 2015, members of the band announced they would change the name, unveiling “Preoccupations” in 2016 (under whose banner the band has released two further albums). One might think the band would be lauded for this move: The members took the protests seriously, spoke to those involved—even if they may have bristled at the accusations of outright racism, and pushed back against the level of scorn they were receiving. Having chosen “Viet Cong” in an unserious moment during an early rehearsal session, the band eventually concluded that four guys from Alberta, none with any personal connection to Vietnam, might want to pick …