Cultural Relativism or Multicultural Appropriation? Linguistic Appropriation of Indigenous Histories.

by Sukeyeena Omran

Download article in PDF


Cultural relativism is the principle mandating members of a culture to be judged against principles of their own culture instead of the cultural principles of other groups (Kehily, 170). Cultural relativism assumes that some cultural characteristics or beliefs are naturally occurring in certain ethnic groups (Anderson 16). In theory the cultural relativist position should be neutral and therefore exhibit an inclusive character that acknowledges ethnic differences (Li 152). However, the cultural relativist stance is also used to define ethnic groups in false ways based on practices and conditions that are socially constructed and therefore not innate. Although the cultural relativist position has the potential to inspire tolerance it can also be an oppressive exercise when used by the Canadian state to define ethnic communities. I argue that the appropriation of cultural relativist theory is used to support Canada’s official policy of multiculturalism, which manages Indigenous People’s identity through the use of coercive language in public documents.


Multiculturalism, Cultural Relativism, Indigenous, Law


Sukeyeena is a fourth year law student with a minor in Canadian studies. Sukeyeena is greatly fascinated by the manipulation of language and theory through policy, as a means of perpetuating modern colonialism. Sukeyeena engages in activist scholarship by attempting to identify the threads of colonialism to inspire dialogue and action towards repudiating this ideology. Upon graduation Sukeyeena intends to pursue a law degree with a focus in international law, and to remain committed to writing about cultural theories.