Background On Our #Documentary Directors (us!) & The Last Official Week of our #Crowdfunding Campaign

Around three years ago, I first heard through a mutual acquaintance, that a German guy named Timo Kiesel was interested in doing a film project about Native stereotypes. While not skeptical, though knowing nothing about him (and the mutual friend wouldn’t have passed the message along if he was sketchy), Timo’s motivation and aim was my concern. Understanding the issues? Honesty? Trustworthiness?

Since I’ve been in Germany, my work is out there such as in ICTMN or my website, and I’d been contacted before by German studios or individuals seeking “authenticity” for their productions, but almost all of which turned out to be deliberately ignorant because they rejected historical accuracy (even in documentaries) in favor of stereotypical Indians and stories that were “fun for German audiences” but misrepresentative or are outright offensive in content. One example? In 2013, “The White Comanche” (very loosely interpreted to tabloid level) documentary (originally titled “The White Squaw”, I’m dead serious), I was asked to be a consultant under contract.

Very enthusiastically, the representative assured me the writers and producers wanted to be accurate, such as having natives play natives, and I began working for those aims. Yet as the days passed, the contract never came, the script and story became more eccentric and misrepresentative of known facts, and the rep finally admitted they had been contacted by hobbyists or clubs which acts as “Indians” willing to work and provide equipment and a setting just to be in the production. I was never paid for the work I’d done, they still owe me, and the production itself ended up being horrendously demeaning to the Comanche people. I’m looking at you Bilderfest.

So, I was deeply wary of anyone seeking me out for consulting on a documentary anymore. I told our mutual friend to have Timo contact me directly, no intermediaries, but due to schedules or whatever, I didn’t hear from him again for nearly a year. During the time, working as I still did in a small local restaurant to support myself, doing supplementary workshops on native themes, going to university full-time and as a single parent of a special needs teen, I had little time anyway. Through 2014, separately, we continued our research, gathering experiences and observations, even filming material for the eventual product. I continued writing on the themes, and expanding my knowledge, contacts and awareness through native organizations, communities, relatives and friends, and Timo did the same in his own networks and contacts throughout Europe, while working as a trainer and consultant at the anti-racism organization, glokal e.V.

In February 2015, we met for the first time and had a productive conversation. The proverbial wheels were set in motion, plans were laid and built upon, yet as ever, life had unexpected twists and turns. Continue reading

German Museum’s Lastest on Human Remains? WE Decide, Not You. We’re in Control. #Repatriation

These photos were taken by and copyright to Mark Worth, used with his permission.

This photo was taken by and copyright to Mark Worth, used with his previous permission.

A “case study” by Robin Leipold, curator of the Karl May Museum in Radebeul, Germany. Karl May is the German author who created the stereotypical “American Indian” character Winnetou, peopling his dozens of books and later films with fabricated, mythical, heavily distorted “Indians”, but “positive” characters, not the vicious or dumb savages churned out by the USA. That’s why some try to claim it’s not so bad, and No, it’s not the same, but the effects of stereotyping are.

Forum: R. Leipold: The “Recommendations for the Care of Human Remains” in Practice: Case Study of the Karl May Museum Radebeul
This town is Germany is the homebase for Karl May fans, and hosts an annual festival each May. A festival which some Natives are invited to and attend, and without fail and no sarcasm whatsoever, are treated close to royalty as many Germans were introduced to “native culture” through May’s work and natives who dress and are believed to be traditional and thus “authentic”, due to appearance based on stereotypes, most certainly are. One isn’t faulting them, most have been misinformed for decades. There are lots of sincere people in Germany about native concerns as they understand them, but behavior and practices of the dominant culture still remain: appropriation. We believe it’s a unique opportunity that can benefit both, but this particular situation is unacceptable.

This same musuem (and others in Germany, but especially this one because they say they’re celebrating native culture) has been holding and refusing to return Native American scalps for years. Dismissing or ignoring entreaties to return these relatives home for proper, respectful treatment and burial. I was contacted and alerted in 2013 and began researching and writing, and by 2014, when invited to the festival I declined to participate in a “Q&A” on Native spirituality, not just because I won’t take part in any such affair but because of their holding native captives. So, almost 3 years of talks, negotiated and bluster, this is the latest from the museum.

Full of Eurocentrized interpretations of Native American cultures and practices, dripping with colonialism and pure German rationalé: that since they don’t yet have written guidelines and established protocols using only their logic and reasoning, human remains cannot be returned. The level of white privilege and white supremacist behavior, the objectification of Native peoples is so deep, I could barely read the whole. So much for those who call themselves “Indian” experts, knowledgeable of native peoples and cultures, because obviously they have no respect or understanding of the Peoples, or even of cultural bridges.

And part of all this is reinforced when Natives and other allies are told, because we’ve been repeatedly told these exact phrases by staff and directors from KKM:

 

  • “Natives have visited many times and THEY never complained about the scalps.” (How could they, they were your guests!)
  • “Oh, natives were battling each other all the time and taking these trophies, what is the issue of us having them?” (If you can’t see it, it’s because you don’t want to. Multiple Native individuals, nations and organizations have informed you.)

Or by Natives: “They don’t know. We must educate them” On topics like these? They KNOW, they chose to ignore. When you’re not here year round, aren’t aware of the issues and know what they’re doing otherwise, your presence validates and further exacerbates the continuing colonialism, racism and silencing of minorities and ethnicities’ voices so they can continue their privileged play. These aren’t general interested villagers, you’re dealing with but those who consider themselves experts and wish to remain in control as decisionmakers. Unacceptable. There are people who you can reach and help educate, and that’s what our documentary Forget Winnetou-Going Beyond Native Stereotypes in Germany is about. We’ve been researching and working hard to bring it to the world, about the REAL story behind Germany’s fascination with Natives, and it’s fall-out. Help us reach our goal.

Crowdfunding campaign is Live now.
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My past articles and appearances on the topic of these human remains:

Karl May Museum Reneges on Agreement to Return #NativeAmerican Scalps

At Missy Magazine, “#CulturalAppropriation & Violence” #KulturelleAneignung und koloniale Gewalt

Kulturelle Aneignung und koloniale Gewalt at Missy Magazine, an article by Noa Ha, on which I was consulted for comments on examples in contemporary German society. The article is in German. Art © Moshtari Hilal.

“Über „Cultural Appropriation“ kann nicht debattiert werden, ohne über koloniale Kontinuitäten zu sprechen.”

 

The #BorderPersonalityDisorder Connection & Extreme #NativeAmerican Hobbyism

sloganSMALLIn the years of my observation and research on Indian hobbyists, whether personally or professionally, there are significant similarities between many of the most extreme in Germany, including their age group. Most often those born 1940-1970 or so, but can include others. As any social scientist can attest, those terrible events of Nazi Germany and WWII also had an effect on German society.

One was a need for escapism, conscious or unconscious, to a lesser or greater degree, and the avid interest and appropriation of other cultures, while still “being German” in their methods and mentalities. This is neither good nor bad, in and of itself. It is simply an after effect, but it does contribute to the sub-culture of Indian hobbyism and non-native “native” spiritualists.

Healthier personality types who more often came from homes with little or no abusive behaviors parentally or environmentally and who had positive reinforcement, may also have natural interest in other cultures but without attempting to “lose themselves” within them. Comparatively, those who grew up receiving frequent personal criticisms, for example, especially with added other stresses or abuses can develop a variety of psychological issues, one of which is borderline personality disorder.

Though having a name and description of the mental issue, behavioral traits aren’t always recognized, so the disorder (like others) can go undiagnosed or be “hidden” by the individual as long as their desires are satisified. When their desires and expectations are not? Behavior can quickly become emotive, extreme and shocking even to those closest to them. It is also frequently directed at those closest to them or those they feel closest to, whether or not having a relationship and/or connection to them (i.e. someone they perceive as a threat to their happiness, such as someone via Internet). In the particular case of hobbyists, native enthusiasts or “pseudo-Indians”, it is when the desire for validation, recognition or acceptance as their chosen culture is thwarted or challenged. Continue reading

#NativeAmerican Stories Vs. Exploitation: “Don’t Let the Sun Step Over You”

a sstepRe-reading “Don’t Let the Sun Step Over You“, the collected stories by Eva Tulene Watt assisted by Keith Basso made me write my mother and say, “Tell me a story”…and she did. She did, and it was good! If you’ve read the work, you’ll know why I add emphasis just so in the previous sentence. And why I wanted to hear from my mother about our people, our cousins, our family, about the past that touches the present and the future. The stories she was told or the things she observed.

Re-reading “Don’t Let the Sun Step Over You” made me want to hear songs. Made me want to hear songs I’d never heard before in this life and songs I already knew. One of them was “I’ve Been Around”, a popular Apache song that somehow voices all those stories of the hardworking, big-hearted, fierce, gentle, humorous, resilient, pragmatic, whimsical and wise Apache. “They’re always walking, walking, going around and doing things. They worked hard!”
I hear my ggrandmother’s voice again, and the stories she told and tried to tell us even when we weren’t listening, only halfway or transfixed cause they seemed light, even funny, but were deep. Stories when she was cooking or cleaning or working or chasing us (me!) with a switch when I had done something she directly told me not to do but I did it anyway because I was stubborn and/or curious.

Stories tell you why you should do things or why not to do other things. They give you purpose. They give you hope. They help you remember why you’re here now, right this very minute and not just what our ancestors endured. Stories help explain why they are important, to be kept, and remembered so our children understand and know. Some stories are shared with non-family, not-of our People, but others are special. Knowing them helps you understand why we defend them and how when someone copies you, culturally appropriates, or takes and changes your stories into their fantasies, these critically important parts of your culture and identity, it is beyond offensive but also really hurtful. Painful. That they do not care, that they make excuses, rationalize or say its just “fantasy” or “honoring” you is even worse. It’s terrible for native identities and cultures.

Some do think they are honoring but obviously they’ve never read or really interacted in depth with native cultures or peoples. If they really knew/learned true history, not just the stuff written by mostly non-natives however expert the “world” thinks they are…if they really knew, they wouldn’t do it. They would understand. They would be respectful and learn without trying to “become” what they study or explore, or fantasize native “stories” into entertainment a.k.a. money-making schemes that boost their own image of themselves, positively reinforcing their centuries long mendacity.

J.K. Rowling in her new series recently represented by “Magic in North America” involves a form of native exploitation. Twitter has been alive with messages questioning the famously outspoken writer who has rebuked others for their racism, etc. Though this isn’t racism, it smacks of neo-colonial attitudes where commodifying and homogenizing the indigenous of North America is SOP. Such writers ignore how romanticized or villified portrayals of natives, doesn’t matter whether it is claimed to be fiction or non-fiction, has damaged, helped eradicate and further marginalize already oppressed indigenous populations.

Dr. Adriene Keene addressed Rowling’s work in a March 7th essay at Native Appropriations website: “Native spirituality and religions are not fantasy…These beliefs are alive, practiced, and protected. We fight so hard every single day as Native peoples to be seen as contemporary, real, full, and complete human beings and to push away from the stereotypes that restrict us in stock categories of mystical-connected-to-nature-shamans or violent-savage-warriors. Colonization erases our humanity, tells us that we are less than, that our beliefs and religions are “uncivilized”, that our existence is incongruent with modernity.”

I’ve never read Rowling. I’ve never seen any of the movies and I never will despite being a long time sci-fi and fantasy fan. I have read reviews and seen the genuine affection readers of all backgrounds have for many of the characters, however. Yet why is there’s always the time when a non-native says “Hey, let’s make it about Native Americans, that’ll be cool!” (a.k.a. make us money off them). Even if they do some research, its never seems to involve time or conversing with actual natives. Not just questioning or interviewing, but having devoted a relationship of some kind where there can be mutual respect. I really believe that would lessen exploitive and appropriative activities.

I’m sure they’ll be more dialogue as more of Rowling’s “new magic” makes it way across the world. For my part, I’ll keep reading work that is accurate and respectful even if fictional, because we are varied and real. If you want to read about Native Americans, fiction or non-fiction, why not read work by Native Americans? They’re out there and our voices are growing.

Revitalization and Resurgence!