Written by Alice Benson, La Crosse Area SURJ Member
The La Crosse Area SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) chapter recently noticed Kickapoo Coffee’s decision to change their name. These local coffee roasters are taking this action based on their understanding that continuing to use their name would be an act of cultural appropriation.
From their announcement:
“When we founded Kickapoo Coffee in 2005, we chose our name with the intention of honoring the place where our business has its roots: the Kickapoo River Valley. But Kickapoo is not simply the name given to a river. The Kickapoo are a People.
The Kickapoo Nation is composed of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, and the Mexican-Kickapoos. By using “Kickapoo,” we claimed a name that was never ours to take. The decision to use their name, and to continue to roast under it, was an act of appropriation. In an effort to right that wrong, we have decided to change our name.”
SURJ is an organization committed to working toward racial and cultural equity in our community, and we thank the owners of Kickapoo Coffee for their willingness to examine their choices. We congratulate them for their understanding of the damage that can be caused by cultural appropriation. We appreciate their decision to change their name and congratulate them on the thoughtfulness of their approach. It’s always heartening when a business not only recognizes cultural appropriation, but also takes positive steps to address the issues raised. It’s especially heartening to know that Kickapoo Coffee made the decision to be accountable for this matter on their own, proactively. They had not received a complaint or any pressure from the public.
Why is cultural appropriation harmful? Dictionary.com defines cultural appropriation as “the act of adopting elements of an outside, often minority culture, including knowledge, practices, and symbols, without understanding or respecting the original culture and context.”
For hundreds of years, Western society has appropriated the cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples all over the world for stories, art, clothing designs, and, of course, the names of sports teams. People often justify this appropriation by denying that it is stealing, insisting instead that is simply appreciating history or honoring a culture that is old and in the past. In reality, the uses are less of an appreciation for Indigenous peoples, and are instead the unauthorized use of items and expressions that are valuable and sacred within cultures that are still very much alive.
Cultural appropriation uses a piece of someone else’s heritage without permission and can perpetuate stereotypes, trivialize sacred objects and symbols, and even commercialize holy relics to make money off facets stolen from another culture. For a more thorough exploration of Cultural Appropriation, CLICK HERE
Cultural appropriation allows privileged people and groups to profit from oppressed people’s labor and minimizes violent historical oppression. It is wrong and causes harm to the people whose culture is being stolen from them to benefit others. Thank you Kickapoo Coffee for recognizing cultural appropriation and understanding the importance of making amends. We look forward to learning your new name and to enjoying your products.