Author Topic: What should the role of white people be in discussions about appropriation?  (Read 30767 times)

Offline NicoleK

  • Posts: 8

I have a question for the forum.

Being Wiccan, I often participated in esoteric events on the East Coast of the US. For the most part, the people there were educated enough to stick to their own trads and didn't try to poach from NDN practices. But now I've moved to Switzerland. And "Le Chamanisme Amérindien" is IN.

I've brought up the cultural appropriation issue, and people are like, "Yes, it's wrong for fakes to be fake but of course it's ok for sincere seekers to study," and they'll point me to some webpage of some british guy or other selling classes and say, "But this guy is for real!"

They think the reason that US Neopagans and other esoterics don't use much NDN stuff in our rites is because we're racists who don't see the value in NDN traditions. I keep saying its because there's been a lot of actual discussion about cultural appropriation and that people don't want to step on anyone's toes. But the Swiss don't really believe me.

I mention that the NDNs feel we've taken a lot from them, but of course the Swiss feel that yes, the AMERICAN whites have taken a lot, but the Swiss haven't.

I guess my question is, when the subject comes up, should I continue to say something? To be fair, the Swiss tend to read about stuff more than actually practice it. People get very touchy when you suggest their spiritual role model may not be entirely ethical. Someone got very excited defending Carlos Casteneda on a forum the other day, for example, and very angry at the suggestion that his teachings might not be great. Yes, they say, the books might be fictional but there is still a lot of value in them.

On the other hand, who the heck am I to speak up on behalf of NDNs, I'm not one, so maybe I shouldn't say anything. Do NDNs even need me or want me to speak up when I see these things happening? Is it presumptuous of me to say anything? Is it any of my business?

And the last thing they need is some American coming along and telling them how they should or shouldn't practice.  I mean, if they want to cobble together some spiritual practice based on Hopi igloos, Cherokee war bonnets, Zulu sweat lodges and Siberian rain dances... who am I to tell them they shouldn't?


Offline earthw7

  • Posts: 1415
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I believe they should ask us! :o
As a native person Living on the reservation among my people and
no one asked me, no white person talks for us and i see the european
being the worse offenders,
In Spirit

Offline NicoleK

  • Posts: 8
I agree! That's why I am asking! :)

What should a white person do when coming across someone who introduces themselves as being all into Native American Shamanism? Should we say something? But then we risk looking like we're trying to speak for the Indians. Should we not say anything? If we should say something, what should we say?

That is the question!

Offline educatedindian

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No, that's not quite the same thing, but plenty of exploiters will try to pretend it is. You'd be claiming to speak for us if you were saying something different from what NDNs actually think. (And that is exactly what exploiters or imposters do and part of why it's so offensive, wrong, and damaging.)

No one has to be Jewish to stand up to anti Semitism, or Black to say slavery and segregation are wrong. They just have to be good decent humans.

That other argument they're using is wrong in a couple ways. Most of Europe can't claim their nations never did harm to NDNs or other indigenous people. Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, even Sweden and Denmark did but on a smaller scale. And Germany, Italy, Russia, even Belgium and the Netherlands have ugly histories of colonialism.

Switzerland, along with Ireland, may be just about the only place that can claim to not have been victimizers. But that doesn't change the fact that these Swiss, by promoting exploiters, are taking part in another kind of victimization.

I did a speaking tour in Europe a few years ago, and it was my experience that most Europeans just didn't know any better. Once presented with the evidence, most changed. Invite any you think may be open to listening to come here to the forum and see for themselves.

Offline snorks

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You approach it from yourself - say "I do not like this.", "I do not think this is correct.".  You are speaking for yourself, and your values.  If they question you why, you can say why you feel the way you do.  If someone said a racist joke that everyone else is laughing at, and you said you find it offensive, you represent your values.  They may dislike you for stating your opinions, but you have the choice of violating your own values or not.  

If people want to know the reasons for your opinion, then you could direct them to this forum or others, where they can research and read what has been said.  The problem lies in the fact that they want to continue doing what they have been doing.  They do not want to be told "no".  Their reasons that they give is their way of continuing to do what they are doing.

However, by stating your opinion, "I do not like this", you keep your self respect, and may prick their defenses.


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On the other hand, who the heck am I to speak up on behalf of NDNs, I'm not one, so maybe I shouldn't say anything. Do NDNs even need me or want me to speak up when I see these things happening? Is it presumptuous of me to say anything? Is it any of my business?

Read more:

As a non NDN speaking to other non NDNs I make it clear that I am speaking only for myself, as a person concerned with justice and respect for all peoples. As I am speaking only for myself I of course get to express discomfort, opinions, preferences, and passions. I get to say to other white folks "Stop that", "Do you realize how oppressive that is?", "Do you know the origins of that group?", and things along those lines.

I do so knowing that I and others are speaking against a deep belief that Native peoples are available for consumption, a belief that the rest of us have an inherent right to grab anything we please. The prejudices, injustices, mistaken beliefs and all the rest are buried deep and also right up on the surface. Talking to someone who believes it is their right to culturally appropriate anything they damn please is sort of like talking to someone who is really drunk or drugged, or otherwise has their mind altered - there is some kind of trance this puts people in - they believe they have the inherent right to play NDN and that no one can take that from them.

You might try viewing the whole "But we are Swiss, we aren't doing anything wrong" as a diversionary tactic, in other words, you might end up having to avoid getting into that debate. You can stick to what you want to say and not get deterred by the other. When people are determined to rip off other cultures they can come up with a zillion excuses.

Also can be helpful to point out the financial and psychological fraud aspect of many rip off groups.

Whether we like it or not, we white folks are automatically granted power. We can do something positive about this and speak out against injustices. We can also encourage people to look into their own heritage. And we can keep pointing people to this forum.


Offline LittleOldMan

  • Posts: 138
I have been ruminating over this subject for the last couple of days.  What I have to offer to the discussion should be considered as an opinion.  Mine.  Fact, I have never been to Europe nor have I had occasion to speak to a European person on or about this question.  I am an older Southern White male Scott/Irish with a little NDN thrown into the mix for leavening.  It seems to me that there is a gulf between the European mind set and the Native American having to do with historical culture as well as religion (spirituality).  Catholic thinking has dominated the European mindset for a couple of a thousand years now.  It has always been about control from the top down and while they preach personal everyday spiritual walk and responsibility in practice it has and still is about top down authority. That is to keep control and the masses ignorant.  Native Spirituality on the other hand in most cases has and is about one’s own personal responsibility to the Creator.  As the European people become more enlightened they see the flaws in the top down approach.  They become more rebellious and start to seek Spiritual fulfillment from other sources. Some go back to their prehistory roots, that’s fine. I take the Christian view and try to live it from the Native American perspective of being responsible to only the Creator and no one in-between.  The problem is one that is endemic to those European cultures that have been ruled top down by both church and state for centuries in that it seems to foster a since of entitlement.  Look at Europe.  In a lot of cases they have let self-determination be replaced by a system of social welfare rather than independence.  Rather than look to other cultures they should stay true to their own DNA.  I have for many years now studied the Native American’s culture and Spirituality not from a desire to appropriate but so that I do not offend my friends.  Their cultural and Spiritual way is their way if at a ceremony, by their invitation, I can support them in it by lifting them up using my own prayer relationship with Creator.  I would not want to inhibit their communication with Creator by inserting a foreign element into the mix.  There is also the fact that when people not raised in a culture attempt to access the Spirituality of said culture without the proper protocols and training bad things can happen.   This is offered for your perusal with all due respect and honor.  I am “LittleOldMan”
Blind unfocused anger is unproductive and can get you hurt.  Controlled and focused anger directed tactically wins wars. Remember the sheath is not the sword.