The next time you visit the Sitka Center’s campus you’ll notice a change. A large, carved, wooden pole using imagery from Pacific NorthwestNative people was de-installed from Sitka’s public courtyard this spring and relocated to safe storage.
Over the past six months Sitka’s staff and board of directors have been examining programming through the lens of equity, inclusion and diversity. One takeaway from this ongoing conversation is the idea of cultural appropriation.
The Oxford Dictionaries define cultural appropriation as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” Cultural appropriation is especially harmful when the source culture has been exploited or oppressed by colonizing cultures, as Native Americans have been, and when the cultural elements appropriated are sacred, as authentic Pacific Northwest Native totem poles are.
It became clear to us that the pole in Sitka’s courtyard fit the definition of cultural appropriation. Despite the high quality of its craftsmanship, no Native artists or advisors had been involved in the conception or carving; it uses sacred Native American cultural imagery and knowledge without permission.
The distinction between cultural appropriation and artistic appreciation can be confusing. We have immersed ourselves into further research and conversations with experts to increase our understanding of, and sensitivity to, this issue, especially in the arts. In the end, with new understanding and with feedback from both Native and non-Native perspectives, we decided to remove the pole.
At Sitka we strive to build an inclusive and loving community where all voices are welcomed and encouraged. We acknowledge and respect NativeAmericans as part of our regional and organizational community. We sincerely regret and take responsibility for any disrespect we have shown by displaying the pole on our campus. We will continue to be self-reflective and accountable to our community, so that we may continue to learn and grow as an organization.
We appreciate your support on this journey.
Alison Dennis, Executive Director, and the Sitka Center staff
For more information, contact: email@example.com