One of the things being asked however, is that Native American traditions, songs, dances, ceremonies history, etc. be respected. We do not in any way support non-natives drumming, singing or doing ceremonies, especially those who are non-native who have used our Peoples and cultures as a means for personal profit and fame for whatever reason, no matter how sincere they claim they are.
My point in writing is really to highlight to natives posting from North America who haven’t been in Germany or here recently, because they may not truly know the seriously difficult situation natives face here because of the number of hobbyists and “German Indians” who are pretending to be natives, selling ceremonies and who basically have many museums, art galleries, individuals etc. fooled into believing they are natives or tribally supported when that is not the case.
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Like many things associated with Native Americans in Europe, movements like Idle No More can be problematic. No, not for its message, for that is right up my proverbial alley and what I’ve been promoting and fighting to bring for years: we don’t have to assimilate, don’t need to, and our voices should be heard and our sovereignty recognized and respected.
As Chelsea Vowel, Metis journalist at The Huffington Post said in the article, I’m In A Life Threatening Abusive Relationship With My Government, “We have been backed into a corner and we are literally fighting for our lives. We are literally dying, in so many preventable and unacceptable ways. I’m not being poetic or hyperbolic here and I don’t just mean culturally. We are dying.”
Here in Germany, you don’t have the apathy towards natives generally seen in North America, but often you have those who admire natives to curious degrees, yet primary focus on past aspects: romanticized with native appearance, clothing, etc. from the 1800’s especially.
They admire those who “dress” natives, always speak in words of pronouncement; they seem to expect all natives to be thankful for their attention, helpful and forthcoming whenever asked questions, and some can quickly dismiss you, even saying you’re not really Indian if you don’t concede with their wishes or requests… whatever those happen to be. In other words, you have to be the Indian they want you to be in order to be a real Indian, while in the US for example, they want you to act the way they want you to for their own convenience, if they acknowledge you at all.
I received an invitation to participate in an Idle No More rounddance here in Berlin, on January 13th at Pariser Platz near Brandenburger Tor around 13h (shout if you know about Indian time ;-). It is said to be in support of the Idle No More movement in North America. Ironically, I’ve noted for many groups in Germany that if it is a “name” thing, you’ll have eager participants for such, but if it is an everyday fight, can-we-get- some help/understanding/support you’ll get a hundred questions which you may answer, yet still receive a negative or non-commital reply. Or the universe help you if you want to present natives in a positive 21st century light.
For example, I was approached to possibly write/collaborate with a theatre group to do a Native American presentation. When asked for my idea, I wished to show natives as what we also are: more than regalia wearing people of the past and curiosities in the present. I didn’t hear back, but that’s alright as I shared my message, and I wasn’t a native who collaborated in such a way the producers had their excuse to use native themes, clothing, etc. holding their personal native up as justification and clearance, as if they can speak for all the People.
But back on theme: After traveling three days to return to Germany after visiting in the family in the US, I was exhausted today as well as having caught the flu. I fell asleep this afternoon after reading the invitation…and I dreamed. If you’ve read any of my other posts you’d know, but I say again I am a dreamer in a certain sense of the word. I interpret dreams but also dream them strong, for often they give me clarity on situations and events. In this dream there was a gathering where natives were supposed to speak, to represent but I was uncertain and cautious as to who these natives would be, what they would say and agree to.
In the dream: These natives were supposed to speak before the president and his representatives, and I saw their clothing, their dances and thought to go among them but they didn’t speak the words I knew the People spoke. I was not welcome among them but I quickly found I did not wish to be among them anyway. They knew the steps to the dance and the words to the song and they called each other brother and sister, but their heart was not of true knowledge and understanding. They did not want to hear my questions or make explanation on why they were as they were.
Such dreams can often merely represent our fears and concerns. Dreams can expound on feelings we haven’t been able to face during conscious hours. Sometimes they can confirm after we’ve questioned and almost decided on answers. They can divine, give guidance and show future possibilities, but sometimes they can also just make us think deeper.
An Idle No More demonstration in Berlin, Germany or any other place can be a good thing for raising awareness, but there is also awareness needed about the fact we are not pictures from a book, or a study made by non-natives, we are not avatars to aid people on their general journeys of self-awareness just because they assume that’s part of what we do. To them we have to be spiritualists, dancers, painters or artists, etc. that only deal with Native topics or themes.
They seem to conveniently forget or don’t wish to also accept we can be anything we wish lawyers, doctors, heavy metal guitarists or cooks, etc. and can/are still Native Americans. We are not clichés. We are not those who you want to take pics with only if we are in regalia because then we are really Indians but otherwise not so much.
An Idle No More demonstration in Berlin, Germany or any other place can be a good thing for raising awareness, but with the number of hobbyists and others who have appropriated or misappropriated nativeness it can also be a time for them to dress up and play Indian again. To speak for us, when they don’t even want to listen to us most of time unless we are “being native” to their satisfaction (i.e. sharing our ceremonies, speaking about life back home, how it is on the rez, etc).
There are some genuinely interested in helping or associating with Native Americans. It is interactive, cooperative and respectful that we are a range of beliefs, backgrounds and personal styles like any other group. Those who created this event might be this type but with the mix of participants some of who may be coming out to be native, to rounddance, I can’t say I feel comfortable with that. I have several solid reasons and experiences regarding, which I won’t go into with this post.
It is enough: When I see an event like this suddenly have hundreds of Germans “liking”, “joining” and “participating” when they wouldn’t get involved previously, didn’t want to hear about real 2012-13 native life and concerns unless it had a popular name and sticker or t-shirt that says, “I danced for Idle No More”?
I have supported and worked within indigenous movements and continue to do so. I will do so from wherever in the world I may happen to be and long after the trending goes away. I will not be a participant at the “Idle No More” event in Germany’s capital Berlin on January 13th and its solely based my quote: “Be my friend all the time if you are a true friend, not just sometimes. Be my friend because of who I am, not what I am or what you want from me.” I will be there covering the event for Indian Country Today Media Network, however.
As an editor there rightly asked, reflecting my questions too, because this is something we are naturally wary of, especially considering the problem of Indianism and hobbyism in Germany (please see my article here):
“Does this group consist of people who have researched Native Americans, or are they romanticizing them? In other words, does it constitute actual support or some measure of cultural appropriation that doesn’t really add anything to the discussion or the movement?”
Post on other native topics: