Cultural Appropriation & Respect

TL;DR*: Appropriation of native traditions such as headdresses, war paint, faux native regalia / ceremony by non-native people are not welcome at Catharsis. They will cause active discomfort and disrespect to native people present. This is especially important since Catharsis takes place on occupied native land. If you bring them, we will approach you and may ask you to stop.

Catharsis on the Mall exists to create accessible spaces for healing. In particular, we seek to foster healing space in our organizing and our gatherings for minority peoples that have suffered hundreds or thousands of years of oppression and discrimination. We, as an organization, recognize that oppressive systems have taken traditions and rituals sacred to these groups and have claimed them as their own, while actively oppressing the people who have originated and nurtured them.
Cultural appropriation has become a complex topic with varied perspectives and heated discussions. For many in a dominant culture, we can develop a strong identity attachment to a certain practice in our search for authenticity which is often scarce today. The urge to judge or remain “in the right” can be very strong. On topics such as dreadlocks, hip hop, yoga practice, “Namaste”, spirit animals and sacred plant medicine there can be a diversity of perspectives and opinions even among people deeply grounded in the originating cultures. When operating between two distinct oppressed cultures, things can be even more unclear.
For Catharsis on the Mall, we want to make it clear and actionable. Our principle is that considerations of cultural appropriation should be grounded first and foremost in Relationship and Respect. If you are considering practicing or wearing something that originated in a community which you are not directly tied to, we offer a few invitations for reflection:

  • Is this considered sacred, holy, or restricted to only some people or situations in the originating culture? This is generally where the most harm and disrespect can come from so please do not bring it without active consent from local members of the originating community.
  • Are you in direct relationship with members of the originating community? Have they offered feedback or space to discuss your use of this practice? Was it explicitly gifted to you for your use or sharing?
  • Are you actively in solidarity with the originating community? You are directly benefiting from their work to uphold and maintain this practice to the current day, often at great direct cost of life. Is there a reciprocity where they are also benefiting from your time, energy, and money in healing and uplifting their community?
  • Have you learned the history and context of this tradition and how it came to you? Learning and self education (preferably from histories recorded by the originating community) can be very helpful in determining whether your use is respectful and beneficial for all affected.

In particular, Catharsis honors that our vigil takes place on occupied land which has been continuously inhabited by native people for thousands of years prior to colonization. Specifically, the Piscataway people, members of whom will be participating in and co-creating Catharsis on the Mall.
To demonstrate respect and appreciation to the original inhabitants of this land, we ask participants not to wear or engage in any of the following at Catharsis on the Mall:

  • Headdresses
  • Native regalia or clothing
  • Faux native drumming, singing or ceremony
  • “War paint”
  • Tipis
  • Use of the word “tribe” outside a direct native context
  • Other clothing or practices you suspect could cause disrespect to local native people if they saw them

This is not an ethical or hypothetical concern; the above will cause actual people in the space to be uncomfortable and/or disrespected. It is important to acknowledge that we are guests on this land and we only intend to use it so long as we can do so with respect to its native inhabitants.
If an organizer, ranger, or native person approaches you and asks you to stop a practice or change your clothing/appearance, please understand that their intent is to end a discomfort or disrespect to oppressed people, NOT to make you feel ashamed or judged. Please listen to them and take the opportunity to deepen your understanding.
If you have questions or feedback about the above policy or any particular cultural or spiritual practice, feel free to reach out to us at Thank you!
*TL;DR - Too Long, Didn’t Read

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