We believe that the artists of our country do not want to perpetuate darkness. --Simon Brault and Steven Loft In a recent Globe and Mail article, Simon Brault, director and chief executive of the Canada Council for the Arts, and Steven Loft, director of Creating, Knowing and Sharing: The Arts and Cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples, outlined the Canada Council's response to "the question of the appropriation of Indigenous cultural knowledge and heritage." (1) Brault and Loft write,
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report highlighted repeated attempts at cultural genocide vis-a-vis this country's Indigenous peoples. In doing so, it posed a historic challenge to every institution in Canada, including the Canada Council. How will the Canada Council meet that challenge?
When artists and organizations seek Canada Council grants for projects that address, deal with, incorporate, comment on, interpret or depict distinctive aspects of First Nations, Inuit or Metis culture, they must demonstrate genuine respect and regard for Indigenous art and culture in their artistic process. We won't dictate a specific or prescribed way of demonstrating this, but we will expect some indication that authentic and respectful efforts have been made to engage with the artists or other members of the Indigenous communities whose culture or protocols are incorporated in any project for which Canada Council funding is being requested. They elaborate in a CBC News article: "'This isn't about the council becoming the art police or limiting freedom of expression,' Loft said. 'I don't think artists should be scared.'" (2)
But I am scared. Just telling artists they shouldn't be scared is, of course, scary. What is genuine regard? How does an artist demonstrate it? How will a jury discern it?
According to the Canada Council website, "Peer assessment [is] at the heart of its decisionmaking processes." (3) The applicant's "peers" -i.e., other artists--discuss and rate an application. Money is scarce and grants are competitive, so it often takes only one low score to remove an applicant from contention. One juror--adamant, perhaps, that only Indigenous people should write on Indigenous subjects--can sabotage an application.
In the Globe and Mail, Brault and Loft hasten to reassure us:
The Canada Council defends--and will always defend--the free expression and artistic independence of the creators and producers of culture. At the same time, we are also...