Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation: How to Make Sure You’re on the Right Side

Our world is wrought with social, ethical, and cultural pitfalls that can cause deep rifts in our communities. The sharp contrast between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is one such dilemma Native peoples are confronted with every day. So, taking a deeper look at Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Appreciation shows how your support of Inspired Natives™ today can make a difference for Inspired Natives of tomorrow.

Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation

Defining just what is cultural appropriation and what is cultural appreciation are key to a better understanding of how each affects native artists and our worldview. Many people are not aware of the difference or that one is preferable to the other. So, a look at each helps to bring the differences into focus.

What is Cultural Appropriation?

Cultural Appropriation is an all-too-common practice of adopting the customs, art, music, literature, or symbols of a people without permission or proper understanding of cultural significance. Borrowing another’s cultural concepts always benefits those practicing cultural appropriation. It arises in every sector of society, and with it comes misunderstanding, disrespect, and stereotyping.

Sadly, many people assume using "Native-inspired" designs shows cultural appreciation. Many more still are not aware of just what is cultural appropriation or that they are practicing it at all. So, cultural appropriation is a product of those who take aspects of a culture, not their own, for their own profit or pleasure, whether knowingly or not.

What is Cultural Appreciation?

Cultural appreciation distinguishes itself from appropriation by offering a clear view of cultural significance and a desire to honor the people and practices of a culture. In addition, cultural appreciation requires a willingness to learn and positively promote customs, ideas, and creations without appropriating them as one’s own. Therefore, the best way to answer “What is cultural appreciation?” and “What is cultural appropriation?” is that one is a cultural celebration, and the other is cultural theft.

Cultural appreciation is a celebration of ideas that helps bring greater awareness and understanding of a people and their customs. We allow a truer expression of the artists and their cultural identity by letting native artists share their experiences without attempting to hijack them. That is a win for everyone.

Examples of Cultural Appropriation

Cultural Appropriation is all around us—it's hard to escape it. From flea markets to professional sports, appropriation is woven into the fabric of society. Home goods and wellness industries are regular offenders, appropriating cultural symbols and sometimes even language to market to the masses for profit.

Some of the most glaring examples of cultural appropriation are found within the fashion world. This includes the fake, "Native-inspired" blankets and apparel offered by well-known companies such as Pendleton Woolen Mills. While some of Pendleton’s newest designs are by Native artists, the bulk of their products are "Native-inspired," meaning non-Native designers took designs from Native cultures to profit the non-Native business. Until very recently, Pendleton and companies like it have made little attempt to acknowledge each of their Native design’s origins other than for marketing purposes. Purchasing a blanket from a non-Native company that sells Native-inspired designs that feature cultural symbols, and wearing that piece as a fashion statement or using it in your home without any understanding of its meaning is a prime example of cultural appropriation. This is the very thing Eighth Generation works to combat. .

Unfortunately, people everywhere sometimes buy Native-inspired jewelry, blankets, and other products because they look stylish or are trendy without understanding or learning the cultural significance behind the designs. These Native-inspired products take and profit from actual Native artists, as well as feed into stereotypes that condition non-Native people to misunderstand what Native art actually is.

One way to combat cultural appropriation is to purchase actual Native-designed goods from Native artists and Native businesses. Each of Eighth Generation’s products is made by an actual Native artist, and our product descriptions share stories and details about the design elements in order to educate and inspire. This is true cultural appreciation—supporting an artist from the culture and taking the time to learn about the designs you’re purchasing—and is fully acceptable and encouraged!

7 Ways to Avoid Cultural Appropriation

While cultural appropriation is a systematic problem, it can be combated by cultural appreciation. It is perfectly normal to want to show an appreciation for other cultural experiences! To start, you can help overcome cultural appropriation by acknowledging cultural context and authorship. It just takes a more direct approach when supporting Native artists and designers. Therefore, cultural appreciation is encouraged as long as it is born out of respect for the culture and not from a desire to make cultural experiences one’s own. If you are worried you might be contributing to cultural appropriation, you are already on the right path! Thank you for wanting to support cultural artists the ethical way!

You can further avoid cultural appropriation by using these simple guidelines:

  1. Avoid designs that say “Native-inspired” because these are not by Native artists.
  2. Buy directly from Native artists (Instagram is a good way to find Native artists, but be sure to research their shop to ensure they’re truly Native).
  3. Learn the significance of each Native-made creation you purchase.
  4. Always give artists credit.
  5. Don’t use designs or symbols for profit if they are not from your culture.
  6. Listen to Native people when they talk about the importance of appreciation and the negative impact of appropriation.
  7. Share your cultural appreciation with others.

Sharing this knowledge with friends and family helps pay tribute to Native artists and the Native community. In addition, supporting Native artists and promoting the cultural significance of their works ensures their legacy for future generations to enjoy.

Supporting Inspired Native™ Designs

Eighth Generation was founded to give Native artists a platform to share their unique cultural art with the world. You can help celebrate the creativity of our artists and collaborators by supporting Inspired Natives™ rather than fake, "Native-inspired" designs. You’re helping to combat cultural appropriation with cultural appreciation. Buy Native art only from Native artists, learn about their many voices and the cultural significance of their creations, and share this cultural knowledge with friends, family, community, and beyond. Encouraging this deeper cultural appreciation feeds a creative spirit that lets Native artists proudly share their culture and art with everyone.

Join the Inspired Native™ Celebration

Eighth Generation is here to help you practice cultural appreciation through the knowledge and artistry of Inspired Native artists and collaborators. Practice cultural appreciation, not cultural appropriation. Support Inspired Natives™, not “Native-inspired.” Shop Eighth Generation and help Native voices share their stories today and for generations to come.