Special Feature 3



Volume 48 Number 2
Spring 2015

Special Feature

Cultural Appropriation within the Global Village

Carol Koziol

Written by Carol Koziol, (carol@naturalcourage.com), Pacifica Graduate Institute, Community, Liberation & Ecopsychology MA/PhD

In this essay concepts of community psychology are reviewed within the context of the global village and the challenges of developing an ethically informed, global community psychology. Of particular interest is the paradox created by increased acculturation and appropriation against the sharing of Indigenous ways of knowing in a spiritually starved world.

The world no longer is a collection of independent land masses inhabited by various groups of people, plants, and animals. Advances in technology, communication, and transportation along with man’s native desire to explore and trade with distant lands have all led to the world becoming a much smaller place, a global village. As we continue to become more intimate with what has been happening in our neighbour’s backyard, humanity has started to more fully grasp the affects we have on each other’s lives.

Global Community Psychology

Marsella (1998) expressed preference for the term global-community that is multinational and multicultural and proposed the development of a global community psychology. He stated, “Human survival and well-being is now embedded in an entangled web of global economic, political, social, and environmental events and forces…the global village is multicultural, multinational, and multiethnic” (p.1282). The challenge here is that the term global may end up becoming equated to the predominantly Western colonization of other cultures.  However, global-community psychology has an opportunity to further the concept of sense of community while respectfully acknowledging the many unique cultural gifts from communities across the globe.

Colonization and Acculturation

Nairn (1990) summarized colonization as “control over spirituality, land, law, language and education, health and family structures and finally culture itself pass from the Indigenous people to the colonizers” (as cited in Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010, p. 354). Colonialism implied an inequality in the relationships between the colonial power and the colony, which often included the oppression and exploitation of Indigenous peoples. To this date, an important manifestation of Indigenous empowerment has been the “decolonization” process. However, the broader process of decolonization is not just an Indigenous issue, it is a global issue. The Western way is crippling everyone and everything in its path.

To halt the tide of “systematic exploitation of environmental and human resources in other lands” (Nelson and Prilleltensky, 2010, p. 354) colonization could be rectified by imperative decolonization. However, the process of undoing colonization may be expanded with a global effort to remember ancestry and reconnect with nature and spirituality for the sake of saving the soul of the world. But how would this approach blend into the decolonization process?

Due to the exponential increase of peoples migrating around the world, the subtle continuance of Western colonization, and the dilution of original cultures through acculturation, it is obvious that there is still much research to be completed within the field of community psychology. This could be the rich content of a future project to expand on the development of an ethically informed, global community psychology.

Appropriation and Commodification

Appropriation can be defined simply as the cultural taking of ideas, objects, symbols, images, artefacts, or styles from other cultures. This common cross-cultural fertilization happens unintentionally and often out of cultural admiration. Unfortunately, issues arise when the cultural groups being borrowed from are exploited minorities, thus quietly perpetuating colonialism.

Problems and challenges will continue with the Western world’s focus on consumerism and it’s greediness for commodities. Fromm’s (1976) stark description of the Western world living in a having mode—instead of a being mode—is confirmation of this. With an overlay of Cushman’s (1995) discussion on the empty self that amplifies a spiritual void, suddenly culture becomes big business, especially, what is viewed derogatorily as “exotic,” non-white and Indigenous culture  under Western supremacist worldviews.  Many in the Western world looked to the ways of the other to provide some meaning to their empty lives and to reconnect to something larger than their individual lives. The question is how can this deep yearning be explored with respectful integrity to the culture of origin?

Indigenous Intellectual Property

I was quite surprised to uncover the fact that the United Nations (UN) had added the Indigenous voice to the issue of cultural appropriation. However, I was shocked to discover that countries with significant Indigenous populations voted against or abstained from voting on this article, what obviously can be explained as the absence of Indigenous vote representation. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly during its 61st session at UN Headquarters in New York City on Thursday, 13 September 2007 by a majority of 144 states in favour, four votes against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States) and 11 abstentions (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa, and Ukraine). Article 31.1 stated:

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions. (United Nations, 2007)

This comprehensive statement definitively does not leave much room for cultural copying of anything Indigenous, but when it comes to education there seems to be some exceptions. Many public schools and progressive educational institutions include activities such as council practice and the medicine wheel. These could be viewed as an obvious contradiction to the above UN Article unless the instructors were Indigenous.

Indigenous peoples should ultimately decide on what and how their legacies are shared and I agree that Indigenous peoples should be the primary beneficiaries of this shared knowledge. No one will deny the fact that self-determination will eventually help end racism (Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010). But the issue of appropriation lacks clear boundaries and has in fact been quite blurry at times.

Personal Paradox

My personal quandary around this issue of appropriation involves how to share, in a learning environment, some of the treasures I have observed from various cultures around the world, including many Indigenous practices. The motivation for wanting to include these non-Western praxes are to encourage new ways for Western people to reconnect to the land and through this reconnection help themselves and the earth.

In the plethora of cultures around the world, there are many interesting and unique ways different people from different lands have maintained connection to the land. The Western world has forgotten how to be natural and be in nature. It is my belief that the more Western people become reconnected with nature the better off the planet will be.

This reconnection would be one of the antidotes to Cushman’s (1995) empty self. With this ethical guideline, how can the inclusion of Indigenous wisdom get appropriate recognition and legitimation to avoid the danger of creating another oppressive and exploitative structure? How can I ethically weave my experiences from around the world into the work I do?

In an attempt to develop some realistic guidelines, Archibald (2008) suggested seven principles relating to using first nations stories and storytelling for educational purposes including: respect, responsibility, reciprocity, reverence, holism, interrelatedness, and synergy (p. ix). Archibald used the metaphor of how these seven strands weave a story basket and while each strand has a distinct shape, when they are interrelated the event takes its own life. These principles could apply to other traditions, ceremonies, stories, and lessons from nature.

For the time being, this approach fits my needs. I will ethically follow these guidelines. I respectfully and responsibly will give credit where it is due to Indigenous wisdom and praxis and will include original delivery sources wherever possible. Additional research in cultural appropriation in the field of community psychology is imperative but for now I am satisfied having deepened my understanding of the pervasive dynamics that perpetuate infringement of Indigenous rights.

There is no clear answer to the paradox of cultural appropriation within the global village. I believe we just need to be honest and fair. We need to be sure that the ultimate motivation for sharing any cultural tradition is for a higher purpose than the business of making money that perpetuates colonization through the appropriation and exploitation of Indigenous ways of knowing and being in the world.


Archibald, J. (2008). Indigenous storywork: Educating the heart, mind, body, and spirit. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press.

Cushman, P. (1995). Constructing the self, constructing America: A cultural history of psychotherapy. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publications.

Fromm, E. (1976). To have or to be? London, UK: Bloomsbury Pubishing Plc.

Marsella, A. (1998). Towards a "global community psychology": Meeting the needs of a changing world. American Psychologist, 53, 1282-1291.

Nelson, G. & Prilleltensky, I. (2010). Community psychology: In pursuit of liberation and well-being. 2nd Edition. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.