Stereotype and prejudice


By Dan White – Special for Sydenham Current

This week’s column will focus on two words, stereotype and prejudice.

We often speak of these terms and we proudly trumpet our ability to throw off the yoke of these oppressive terms and move towards a more enlightened society.

After all, the etymology of stereotype as described in the Online Etymology Dictionary is “to assign a preconceived and oversimplified notion of the typical characteristics of a person or group”.

As a society, we are far beyond such tunnel vision. We know that looking at a band and throwing a blanket over them to describe them is, at best, childish.

And the prejudices?

The same site defines the word as, “preconceived opinion” (mostly but not necessarily adverse) is from late 14c. In English; now generally “a decision rendered without a thorough examination of the facts or arguments necessary for a fair and impartial decision”.

The word literally means to pre-judge.

Make assumptions (usually based on cultural or personal biases) before gathering actual facts.

I get it, life is easier when you can classify whole sections of society and claim that “they” are A, B or C.

But wait… is it really any easier?

At this point, you might be thinking, “Dan! This is an artistic chronicle, not a political chronicle; Shouldn’t you just write stuffed animals and feel-good stories? »

The best art has historically held up a mirror to society and made people take a closer look at civilization.

I don’t dare suggest that’s what I’m doing here, but art does more than just entertain.

Joni and I attended the powwow at Walpole Island Bkejwanong Territory and had a great time.

As I noted earlier in this column, for me in the past there was a hesitation that lingered over attending a powwow.

I felt as a descendant of Europeans, an unwanted guest at best, an intrusion into a sacred event at worst.

I knew it was about my biases and biases and was led by former student Rachael Simon to let go of those long held beliefs and attend a powwow several years ago in Sarnia Aamjiwnaang Powwow.

Rachael was dancing and she was very proud of her heritage and wanted me to attend…I was honored and overwhelmed.

The beauty and pride of the culture of the guardians of this land for millennia was overwhelming.

I loved the experience and felt that I got to know Rachael and her culture a little better.

Still, I worried about offending and felt very uncomfortable.

Since moving to Wallaceburg five years ago, I have become friends with Philip Moses.

I love Phil; he is honest, open and genuine and we can talk about anything.

If Phil was reading this column, he’d be embarrassed if I mentioned it.

(He never does… but Karen does)

He is a First Nations member of the Six Nations of the Grand River and we are close enough friends that I had the courage to ask him about anything, and he had the gentle spirit that allows him answer, knowing that I don’t want to disrespect him.

These conversations lead to a better understanding of Aboriginal culture.

You might be wondering what all of this has to do with a column about… what was it about?

Right, stereotype and prejudice.

Bear with me a little longer.

Like most compassionate people, I was heartbroken to hear about the 215 graves discovered last May.

Our brass quintet contacted our friend Tina Aquash and created a video to honor the tragedy.

Last fall, Gretchen Sands Gamble joined the Wallaceburg and District Council for the Arts.

While talking to Gretchen and preparing for this column, I was brought back to an old friend and former colleague, Dallas Sinopole.

Dallas and I worked together at Scits and we developed mutual respect (hopefully) and learned a lot from him.

Before I continue, I apologize to our First Nations friends and neighbors if I’m not quite right here…don’t blame Dallas, I’m the messenger and I’m floundering in my ignorance.

Speaking with Dallas, I gathered as much information as my brain could absorb.

The purpose of this column was initially to promote the Aamjiwnaang Powwow as it is truly a rich artistic and cultural event.

But I heard friends and those who would like to be seen as leaders speak with long held biases and prejudices and felt compelled to strive to begin a journey of enlightenment and information.

Dallas is a proud member of the Anishnaabeg Nation and has a wealth of knowledge acquired during his years as a dancer and now a powwow drummer and singer.

The first revelation for me was that a powwow is not a ceremony, it is a social gathering and a celebration of culture.

This fact alone makes participation much more comfortable for me.

This column does not allow the space to delve into the oppression of culture that drove cultural celebrations underground until the 1950s, when the current form began to evolve and insignia became more flashy, the songs evolved, the dances evolved and several (now traditional) styles of dancing and drumming developed from ancestral roots.

I hesitate to sum things up here because, as my teacher liked to say, “Anything that can be summed up in one word should generally be left there.”

However, this is a chronicle, not a doctoral thesis or a novel.

What you need to know if you are going to a powwow: Powwow is not a native word. You can find the detailed definition online, but it’s an English misuse of an indigenous term that has stuck.

There are several styles of dancing, singing and drumming, Dallas talked in detail about six styles (three male and three female) but I may have forgotten some of them.

Each song has a purpose and the song may include lyrics; some songs are created entirely from nature sounds that inspire the singers to create the song.

Songs, dances and drumming are associated with pride, culture and heritage.

The songs are not written down, rather they are passed down from generation to generation.

Take the time to look at the beadwork, the leatherwork, the stitching, the bells, the feathers of the badges – the person wearing them has probably invested a lot of time creating this exquisite outfit.

A competitive participant in a powwow has trained for thousands of hours, an investment similar to the preparation of an Olympic athlete.

Ask questions if you want to break your stereotypes and prejudices.

Most performers are happy to explain what they do, how they created the performance, and what it means to them.

The 59th Annual Aamjiwnaang Pow Wow takes place June 18-19 along the St Clair River just south of Sarnia.


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