There is so much I want to say on this topic, but if I wait until I have enough time to type it all up, it will turn into a gigantic essay I don’t even feel qualified to write.
But I did finally watch the fantastic documentary “Reel Injun” the other day, and I am assigning any of you who are interested in the topic of cultural appropriation to go to the Multnomah country library website and request a hold on it right away. The documentary shows the different phases the film industry (and American culture) has/have gone though, in portraying or imagining Native Americans. And in doing so, the documentary presents a brief history of 120 years of appropriation/misappropriation and distortion of Native American culture.
Many parts of this film stood out to me, more than I’m going to write about here.
But here are two I will share:
People are still holding Indian-themed summer camps, complete with caricatured totem poles, and boys sorted into “tribes” with real stolen native tribal names. The scene in the documentary with white boys covered in body paint screaming “their” tribe’s names at each other was the weirdest thing. Especially as they all just looked like a bunch of angry saxons and celts. What a lost opportunity to pass on some knowledge of their own original culture/s! But instead, these camps just continue the disrespectful appropriation of a parody of Native American culture.
Then there is this amazing quote from Native American political activist John Trudell, who they interviewed extensively, (and which I also posted on FB previously):
"They were in a way trying to imitate us but in another way they were trying to remember who they were.
Every human being is a descendant of a tribe. So these white people, theyâ€™re the descendants of tribes. There
was a time in their ancestry when they wore feathers, and they wore beads, and shells. There was a time in
their ancestry, before this colonizing mentality came and did to them â€“ to turn them into the white people they
are â€“ and then it came and did it to us; the very same thing that happened to us happened to them."
John Trudell, Reel Injun (2009)
Lakota Activist / Poet
And he was actually brave enough to say that there really aren’t any “Real Indians” anymore–basically, that the pre-contact culture no longer exists.
But there are still the elders, and even if the scope of knowledge of today’s elders is less than that of the elders of times gone by, today’s elders recognize the shift that is finally occurring–a reclaimed desire to recover what has been lost. They grew up when almost everything had been taken from them, so they can see what they have already gained back. It is the awake members of the younger generation who only see what has been lost/taken/stolen, and yes, it is their right to be ANGRY about this! The same pattern has been happening in New Zealand too, with the Maori, although I am no longer so in touch with that. (Will our children and children’s children be just as angry???)
The Native American elders can also recognize how the younger generation of European Descent is waking up and desiring to recover their identity…but with such difficulty, as so much more time has passed since our cultures were lost/taken/stolen. And we SO desperately need elders of our own to guide us. But I think it is starting to become obvious, that we are going to have to somehow become the elders of our own lost culture.
Thanks Peter, for helping create a path towards that destination.