Rebecca Thomas, Halifax’s poet laureate, went to A Tribe Called Red’s concert on Friday. She is a huge fan of their music, which blends electronic beats with aboriginal drumming and singing.
While waiting at the bar to get a drink, she sees three folks with war paint on their faces. After giving them a double take, Thomas approaches these people with a few Indigenous friends by her side. “We try to be nice, and said ‘Hey, you might not be aware, but what you have on your face is really disrespectful. This isn’t war, this is a concert. You should probably go wash your face,'” she recalls saying. The people got angry, and defensive, demanding to see Thomas’ status card. “I just had to walk away, because they weren’t going to do it.”
Thomas initially wrote a Facebook status expressing her frustration, eventually leading her to write a poem about the experience. She titled it "RedFace."
“We’re constantly coming up against a world of colonialism; a world of oppression,” Thomas said over the phone. “It’s frustrating, and it’s heartbreaking at the same time.”
Members of A Tribe Called Red have been quoted numerous times speaking out against cultural appropriation. The group posted Thomas’ CBC interview and poem reading on their Facebook page yesterday: “It is NOT okay to make "fun" of us. Shout out to Rebecca Thomas,” they wrote.
Thomas hopes people will learn a lesson from her poem.
“Don’t question, don’t ask us to prove to you why we find it offensive; you don’t have that right,” she said. “One day it would be nice if people could respect us, and believe us when we speak about our truth."
"RedFace" by Rebecca Thomas
I've got a good one.
Johnny Depp, Rooney Mara, and a Cleveland Indians fan walk into a bar...
*smiles at audience*Just kidding! It's not funny.
Let's just call it misplaced cultural appreciation,
Instead of blatantly obvious racism.
Criticisms of sensitivity are severe so I've decided to turn it on its ear! This year for Halloween,
Wait for it...it will score some serious points in the party scene,
I'm going to honour my ancestry and go as my great great grandmother,
A genuine full blooded Caucasian princess.
But not to excess.
Just a tasteful amount of Starbucks pumpkin spice, a messy top knot,
And a Navajo printed Urban Outfitters dress!
I've accessorized it with Coachella tickets!
But no headdress.
I know that’s racist.
I read Huffington Post in excess.
Are you offended yet?
Let's make it all better with a Twitter apology, clasped hands emoji, and the hashtag #blessed.
I bet you’re miffed.
You should be.
What I did wasn't cool.
So let me school you in your misplaced anger at the frustrated Native instead of the war paint wearer.
See, we lived through centuries of genocidal terror.
Catastrophic errors from simply being born brown in the legacy of the crown.
You? You doubled down on your privilege when you demanded to see our cards,
Inflicted and reopened generations of scars because you were called out for your racist garb of colours on your face.
Even poorer taste given the main act on stage.
Do you think that Tribe Called Red are just a couple of Indians in a phase?
On some sort of display?
The few who broke free of the colonial cage?
Can you see why I'm enraged?
It's a shame that you chose the poet laureate to engage.
Because I don't pull punches when I play this game.
Our women go missing,
Our men shot and killed because they sought help for a tire's derimming.
GoFundMe pages paint the shooter as the victim.
His story prioritized when accounts are conflicting.
Did you know we've never had an L'nu hold the INAC minister's position?
So on the inside,
My war paint is dripping.
Pooling into my spirit,
I'm sipping the fire.
I am the physical embodiment to contrast the “Native Inspired.”
I will not tread lightly.
I came armed to fight, you see.
Two degrees and enough community backing,
I will line up with my brothers and sisters to send you packing.
Because we are done with your attacking.
This is Turtle Island.
After centuries of being repressed.
You owe us a debt.
You can go wash your face now.
And pay us your respects.