Montreal is known for its summer festivals, such as the weekly drum circle around Sir George-Étienne Cartier’s Monument that occurs every Sunday. Thousands of people gather on the park’s lawns to listen and dance to the rhythm of the hundreds of Tam Tam players gathering to form an incredible drum circle.
Drum circles have shamanic origins, and have been used for centuries by aboriginal peoples around the world in order to celebrate their connections with each other and the Earth.
The nature of the drum circle, with no head or tail, suggests inclusivity.
To witness the Tam Tam festival in Mont-Royal Park is to see solidarity within a group that in appearance has little in common, yet that has the desire to share rhythm and create a collective sound.
However, the fact that this circle takes place on unseeded Kanien’kéa:ka and Algonquin nations territory reminds us of the colonial components of the current festival.
Cultural appropriation takes place when a group of people belonging to a dominant culture adopts the traditions of a historically oppressed culture.
Though the participation of settlers in a drum circle or a potlatch may at first glance seem inoffensive, one must take note that these very traditions were outlawed by the Canadian government not so long ago in an effort to suppress the existence of aboriginal culture.
The appropriation of the drum circle by settlers is confirmation that colonization is an ongoing process in Canada. Attempting to conceive of white Europeans as apolitical participants in colonialist practices is impossible. Choosing to ignore settler impact mirrors the logic behind colorblind racism: ‘Race doesn’t matter, because thinking about my privilege makes me uncomfortable.’
Failing to recognize the appropriation of aboriginal culture during the weekly Tams festival is proof of the persistence of the settler colonization mentality – the same mentality that refuses to recognize the residential school system as a genocide.
Wayside crosses, like the one on Mont-Royal, are an important component of settler heritage: there are more than 3000 in the province. These crosses are not only proof of a material culture symbolizing religious belonging, but evidence of the first colonial occupations by the French, starting with the first cross planted by Jacques Cartier in 1534 – who was the first European to climb Mount-Royal and give it its name. Tams’ drum circles take place in a park footed by this cross.
Settler colonialism in Canada originates with the very same Jacques Cartier, who, in one of his most infamous interactions with the aboriginal peoples, went so far as to ruse and abduct Iroquoian Chief Donnacona and his sons, bringing them to France to serve as circus attractions.
The juxtaposition of the Mont-Royal’s wayside cross, a symbol directly linked to Jacques Cartier, above a dancing group that is formed by a majority of settlers is a textbook case for cultural appropriation in North America. If you are a settler show your solidarity by not participating in the drum circles at Tam Tams.*
Jiliane Golczyk is originally from Red Deer, Alberta, but has lived in Belgium, Chile and Turkey. She will be beginning her Master’s in International Affairs at Sciences Po this fall.