Culture

Cultural appropriation 101

Why do we keep having to explain why it's wrong and offensive?

Talking about cultural appropriation isn’t new (certainly not on this blog), but somehow, it still needs to be revisited every three months or so, as white settlers continue to find ways to exploit, profit from and popularize Indigenous culture.

Take the latest example, JK Rowling’s representation of Indigenous people and magic in her series of short stories, “History of Magic in North America.”

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In the first story, Native Americans and the actual history of Indigenous magic is erased. Instead it's told in the context of a Harry Potter world. (But where would we be, if not in the world of a white man’s world?) Referring to Native American “wizards and witches,” Rowling tells the stories of Skinwalkers and Animagi, and rather than reference the true Indigenous history of these characters, she uses colonial, European archetypes to describe them.

Dr. Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations identifies an even deeper issue.

“There is a problematic narrative wherein Native peoples are always 'mystical' and 'magical' and 'spiritual'… But we’re not magical creatures, we’re contemporary peoples who are still here, and still practice our spiritual traditions, traditions that are not akin to a completely imaginary wizarding world.”

So, in response to the inevitable, “But, what’s the big deal? Rowling was just using it as inspiration for her stories,” Keene says,"Since contact, native peoples' traditions, our land, our women, our beliefs have been seen as things free for the taking."

It’s a troubling thing that the more non-Indigenous people pretend that Indigenous people are magic, are not real or are mythical creatures, the easier it is to exploit our bodies, our land and our traditions.

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