My Week 162: Indigenous Discussions, Scientology, and the Cultural Appropriation of Iceland

This will be a quick one, because I spent most of this weekend at a conference. It was sponsored by the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Education Association. It was a humbling experience, and I really learned a lot. The biggest thing I learned was that Indigenous people are angry AF. And with good reason. Of course, they express that anger in a very polite, articulate, and dignified way, but there’s no question that they are supremely pissed.

I’m going to give you an analogy that will demonstrate the reason for their anger, but first a little context: This past week, the Church of Scientology took over a building in a town near here, a building that used to be a community centre, and they have converted it into their cultish administration offices which “will serve as a rallying point for Scientology activities across the country.” In case you’ve forgotten, Scientologists are a weird-ass cult founded in the mid-50s by a not-particularly-talented science fiction novelist, and they believe that aliens led by a dude named Xenu, “tyrant ruler of the Galactic Confederacy”, came to Earth 75 million years ago in giant spacecrafts. Then the aliens blew themselves up in volcanoes using hydrogen bombs, and their evil souls to this day try to inhabit regular people bodies. Now, if you don’t know anything about Scientology and think I’m making this sh*t up, I’m actually not. I guess in the long run, their belief system isn’t any stranger than most religions and it might be difficult to differentiate it from other belief systems, except that I doubt Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, and all those other guys were failed writers who were trying to make money and evade taxes. The founders of most religions aren’t even aware that they’re founding ANYTHING at the time, unlike L. Ron Hubbard, who actively petitioned to have his science fiction tale recognized as a legitimate faith. At any rate, the people of Guelph organized a peaceful protest, and then the Grand Swami of Scientology (OK, she’s not really called that, but it sounds like it would fit nicely into their idiom) made a statement discrediting the protesters as a “hate group”.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the analogy. Let’s imagine that a couple of Scientologists come to your house one day, and they want to borrow a cup of sugar.

“No problem,” you say. “Here you go.”

“Gosh, thanks,” say the Scientologists, giving you the Vulcan salute or whatnot. “We might need more someday.”

“That’s fine,” you say. “I have lots. I’m happy to share.”

The next week, they come back, only this time there are 50 of them and they have phasers. They drag you out of your house and force you to live in the garden shed out back. Then they kill your dog, take your children away, sending them to weird-ass Scientology school, and you never see them again. Oh, and they also give you smallpox.

Are you mad?

The issues of our Indigenous people are certainly more complex than this (and don’t actually involve Scientology), but I hope you take my point.

I also went to a workshop on cultural appropriation, and it was really timely because right now it’s almost Hallowe’en, and Indigenous folk are really sick and tired of “Indian Princess” costumes. Even the name is offensive. I was actually shocked this summer when I went to a conference in the States, and one of the presenters actually referred to Indigenous people as “American Indians”. I was like, “You mean people from Southeast Asia who now live in the United States? That’s a very specific subgrouping.” But no, he meant Indigenous people. And they would really, really appreciate it if everyone stopped dressing their kids up like cultural stereotypes. If you really want to dress your child in the costume of another culture, may I recommend “Icelandic Stewardess”? When we flew back from the UK last summer on IcelandAir, they were actually selling “flight crew dresses” for girls aged 2 to 7. Apparently these are “elegant hats and dresses in the style of an Icelandair flight attendant”. They also cost 50 Euros, which is about $75 Canadian, so I guess they’re better quality than the Walmart Icelandic Stewardess costumes. Also, shoes seem to be optional.

The other interesting thing that happened was that I was standing in the hallway waiting for Ken to finish his session (yes, we were both there for work—nothing more romantic than spending the weekend together at a conference), when a woman (non-Indigenous) and her male companion stopped close by to me. All of a sudden, the woman burst out with, “The f*cking British. They ruined the world! F*ck them.” I was a little taken aback, and really wanted to respond with “The British? Don’t you mean the Romans?!” because the Romans were basically the master colonizers, and did to the Celts and many other cultures exactly what the Brits eventually did. But no one ever blames the Italians for ANYTHING, except taking a dive in soccer. Anyway, I was really perturbed by this and would really have loved to discuss it with her, but she seemed super angry and aggressive and swear-y so I left it alone. Then, as luck would have it, she ended up in my last session. She still seemed angry and aggressive, admonishing someone in our group that “our task wasn’t to make comments, but only to ask questions as per the protocol”, but I thought I might broach it with her at the end of the session, you know, just for fun like. But at the end, she went up to the session leader and suddenly burst into tears. Turns out she had been given a Native Studies class to teach. She was starting “Residential Schools” on Monday and had no idea how to teach it properly, knowing what she knew now. And I get that—it WAS overwhelming, and hard, and beautiful but I’m sure as hell glad I went. Meegwetch.