I was recently invited to write a counter-point essay for CBC, following my participant in the CBC.Docs documentary that premieres today on Canadian television. Last July in Berlin, I sat down with indigenous writer Drew Hayden Taylor on his search to understand why so many Germans choose to appropriate native cultures and/or dressing up and pretending to be “Indians”. The article was published on January 26th, ‘Native Hobbyism’ is Modern Day Colonialism. and specifically discusses how the effects of such practices, especially on Natives living in Germany, are overlooked by both non-natives and natives, which we explore in our own documentary, “Forget Winnetou”, premiering next month.
“Indigenous North Americans who live abroad often deal with rejection from relatives who only support or recognize those who choose to live in North America. They report negative experiences such as abandonment, disrespect of their heritage and lack of cultural support. This trauma leads to depression, anxiety and frustration because Indigenous living in Europe can’t simply be themselves.”
A brief reference, but a reference, in the July/August edition of Mother Jones Magazine article “Last of the Munichans” with photos by a colleague, Canadian photographer Jen Osborne.
While it is absolutely true that some Germans (or other Europeans) are sincerely looking for connection to native peoples, wishing to learn different, healthy ways of living, physically and spiritually, there are others who combine problematic aspects of German society past and present in their practices. Colonizer privilege. On the topic of Indian hobbyists, cultural appropriation and why some people do it and vehemently feel they have the right to be “Indian hobbyists”, with some even make up “native sounding” names, choosing a tribe, and gathering a following by saying they’re native (when they’re really German, etc.). Some ignore or don’t seem to care what harm such practices can cause both natives and non-natives, negatively influencing their next generation of with “half-truths”.
One of the most important things they dismiss or won’t acknowledge, and what causes frustration for natives when anyone does this (and its a huge problem) is the way any minority might feel when someone is pretending to be them: They have not lived with the centuries of oppression, racism and genocide, much of which is still on-going for Native Americans. Until 1978 in the USA, it was considered a criminal, arresting offense to practice our beliefs and ceremonies, and our many of our dances, our patterns, our symbols, clothing or regalia are part of our beliefs. Residential schools, assimilation concentration camps children over the age of 4 were taken from their communities were not closed in the USA until thr 1980s. In Canada until 1996, native children were still forcibly or coercively taken away from their parents and communities. Other on-going genocidal, ethnocial and racist treatments continue such as policies and laws that force adoption and fostering of native children with white families.
If you want to fantasize about being native, fantasize about being raped, murdered or having your family, your children raped and murdered in front of you. Losing your homes, your land. Being taken away from your family, (historical and still on-going Lakota People’s Law Project). Forced sterilization. Denial services, mockery, being spit at or having things thrown at you (Lakota 57)…just for being Indian. And by people that look just like “you”, if you’re a white European. So, I could go on. The rejection of such playacting and our anger, though dignified, is justified though natives are striving to concentrate on progress: revitalization and resurgence. Part of that is standing up and saying, “No more.”
Also on topic:
“Native Americans have commented on the bitter irony of these plastic shamans profiting from the degrading, twisted versions of Native American rituals while many indigenous people still live below the poverty level. New Age interest in Native American cultures appears more concerned with exoticized images and romanticized rituals revolving around a distorted view of Native American spirituality than with the indigenous peoples themselves and the very real (and often ugly) socio-economic and political problems they face as colonized peoples.”
Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances: New Age Commercialization of Native American Spirituality, by Lisa Aldred
From the Ohio University website
To try to help some natives place this in perspective, and the vehement hobbyist deniers or passive dismissive others: Replace the references, and the message is the same and its the same people doing the indigenous or cultural misappropriation. From the article, “Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers” by Randa Jarrar.
“(European Indian hobbyists) confronted have said, “But I have been dancing for 15 years! This is something I have built a huge community on.” These (European Indian hobbyists) are more interested in their investment in (Native American Indian) dancing (singing/drumming/lifestyle) than in questioning and examining how their appropriation…causes others harm. To them, I can only say, I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late. Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.
When I have argued, online and in person, with (European Indian hobbyists), they have assured me that they learned to dance from (natives). This is supposed to make the transaction OK. Instead, I point out that all this means is that it is perfectly all right with these (native) teachers that their financial well-being (or ego) is based on self-exploitation. As a follow-up, (European Indian hobbyists) then focus on the…community aspect of (Native American Indian dancing/drumming/singing/lifestyles). Here, the argument ignores the long history of (European Indian hobbyist) appropriation of (native dancing, etc.) and becomes that this: the learning and performance of (native cultures), is not about race and appropriation.
But, here’s the thing. (Native American Indian cultures) are not vessels for (European Indian hobbyists) to pour themselves and lose themselves in. This dance form is originally ours, and does not exist so that (European Indian hobbyists) can have a better sense of community; can gain a deeper sense of (comradeship) with each other; or can reclaim their (connection to the earth, nature, animals and native spirituality). Just because (European Indian hobbyists) don’t profit from (their) performance doesn’t mean (they) are not appropriating a culture.”
Hobbyists by Red Haircrow
Published on 24 February at Indian Country Today Media Network, it’s based on observations from myself and my son when visiting the “native inspired” event called the “Winter Pow-wow 2014” that took place in Berlin, Germany just over a week earlier.
As usual, there are hobbyists who take offense to any critique of their activities, and others, like the activities themselves, who are sincere in their questioning and finger-pointing without seeming to have the ability to truly understand that however well meant, it is still considered misappropriation and disliked by many natives to have their cultures playacted (they aren’t native, so what else is it but pretending?). That’s just a fact.
They, like myself, may not dislike the hobbyists personally. You might even like some of them (I know a number, and do), but it doesn’t take away the fact they are copying another culture for their own reasons, desires, pursuits, etc. Whatever you want to call it, just be honest. I am a long time scholar of German history spanning centuries, do you see me dressing up in lederhosen, traditional regional or period German clothing pretending to German? No, and you never will. I honor my heritage, and I respect their culture and history too by not pretending to be one of them even if it’s just for a day. I don’t know why they can’t get the concept.
As instructed I wrote what I saw around me and how I was treated. I wrote it solely from my perspective, again, as I was required. Until someone “walked a mile in my moccasins”, to coin a phrase, then they have no right to question. Another quote, this time it’s Shakespeare, “Thou doth protest too much!” Culpability. Feeling of guilt with a need to justify themselves. The reactions tell the tale.
Plus articles have editors. Editors who edit. They edit out some information that might be more explanatory. Don’t you just love readers who like to attack you? Grain of salt.
Check out the article: “A Star Trek Convention for Native Enthusiasts: Inside a German Pow Wow.”
Read more at https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/02/24/star-trek-convention-native-enthusiasts-inside-german-pow-wow-153712
Other articles at this site on native topics: