The practice of appropriating Indigenous names and cultures is experiencing an unfortunate renaissance in today’s popular culture.

Kesha, No Doubt, and even Victoria’s Secret have all recently made headlines for their use of Indigenous imagery in insensitive and controversial ways. It has even gotten so bad that Indigenous electronic group A Tribe Called Red have asked people to stop showing up to their shows in red face and head dresses. And, as Christi Belcourt has recently argued, it is important to draw attention to incidents of Indigenous appropriation in what is today known as Canada.

A case-in-point is the new “Khatsahlano!” Art and Music festival that took place July 13 in the neighbourhood of Kitsilano in Vancouver.

In the lead-up to the Khatsahlano!, and in the week following, there has been no critical discussion about the Indigenous origins of the name of the festival. It seems as though the organizers have incorrectly appropriated the Indigenous name “Khatsahlano” to simply refer to the Kitsilano neighbourhood. To clear the record: “Kitsilano” was actually named after the Sḵwxwú7mesh (Squamish) chief Xats’alanexw, also known as August Jack Khatsahlano.

Chief Khatsahlano lived in many villages during his life, including a village near what is today Kitsilano known as Sen̓áḵw. To learn more about the history of Indigenous peoples in the “Kitsilano” area see the recent piece by Maria Wallstam and Nathan Crompton, “City of Perpetual Displacement: 100 Years Since the Destruction of the Kitsilano Reserve.”

(August Jack Khatsahlano in 1907, with his wife and child)

The organizers’ choice to use the name “Khatsahlano” without any acknowledgment of Chief August Jack Khatsahlano, the village of Sen̓áḵw, or the Sḵwxwú7mesh peoples is part of the phenomenon that Belcourt critiques: “Most Canadians are quite comfortable with, and even comforted by, the Indigenous origins of the names of the places they call home. But only to a point. The names must remain vague — empty references — rather than carry the burden of Canada’s colonial history and the erasure of Indigenous ownership of lands.”

Indeed, the ‘Khatsahlano’ in the Khatsahlano! Art and Music festival is an empty reference that obfuscates the sordid story of colonialism in Vancouver.

The very least the organizers for next year’s Khatsahlano! can do is acknowledge the more complicated story behind the name of the festival. That and maybe they could invite A Tribe Called Red to headline next year’s line-up to get people dancing to the new beat of decolonization.


Sean Carleton is a PhD student in the Frost Centre for Canadian and Indigenous Studies at Trent University. He is currently living on unceded Sḵwxwú7mesh territory.