Missoula’s Festival of the Dead Accused of ‘Cultural Appropriation’, Coordinator Responds
Missoula’s Festival of the Dead is inspiring some pretty lively rhetoric. The Festival has been a yearly staple for the past 25 years, but some Missoulians are protesting the event. This week at city council, a number of people, beginning with local resident David Beck spoke out claiming the festival should come to an end.
“To me, the event smacks of cultural appropriation: the practice of taking pieces of other people’s cultural activities and using them for your own purposes,” Beck said. “To me, the month long celebration, which culminates in a parade, is a direct rip-off of ‘Day of the Dead’ an event grounded in indigionous religious practices in Southern an Central Mexico.”
Festival organizer Tarn Ream says the event is designed to allow people to consider and reflect on death and those who have died. She says she is glad people are bringing other viewpoints to the discussion, but believes the festival should continue.
“Missoulians are, in general, in love with that procession,” Ream said. “The main thing I would say is I feel like thta most Missoulians are pretty darn respectful and they come from a place of either having educated themselves or from a place of authenticity, which means they have created art that is authentically theirs.”
Ream says there is an effort to keep insensitive costumes out of the procession. She pointed to a Missoula lesson plan involving a Guatemalan kite-making ritual as an example of how art projects can help with cultural understanding.