Cultural Appropriation

There is a common misconception about Rewilder’s, that we are cultural appropriators.

Now… Before we delve into this, I think it’s important to look around and say, yes some of us are. This thread is meant to talk about that and what we can do to stop cultural appropriation.

I now have a series of questions to ask you all:

What is cultural appropriation?

Why is it considered negative?

How do you go about learning from Native people in a positive, reciprocal way?

How do you learn from your own ancestors without appearing to culturally appropriate from Natives?

Alright… since no one has bitten yet…

Stew over this stuff:

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, they’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 – to turn them into the white people they
 are – 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.


Hey Monica!

Yes, that John Trudell quote is awesome. He is an amazing guy!

Reel Injun is also available on Netflix instant view if you have that.

The opinions of cultural appropriation are very diverse. There are some native people who don’t care at all, and others who think that a white man with long hair is appropriating and should die.

Some Native people are just angry no matter what. They bear so much un-metabolized cultural grief that my existence as a white male is enough for them to hate me and everything I do no matter how nice I am, or how much I try to explain to them about European history. I understand this. I get it. As much as I want everyone to like me, this one is a lost cause and I should just accept that they will never understand what I mean by Rewilding.

The hard part for me though, is in not seeing angry people as the archetype above, but really looking at my actions and trying to see their point of view. An entitled person might just pass off anyone who gets angry with them thinking, “They just hate white people”. For example, if I were to wear a Plains Indian War Bonnet, and it made people mad, I could just pigeon-hole them as “angry indians”. This is why every time I make a Native person upset in real life (I don’t engage on the web because it’s too impersonal), I need to sit down and have a personal conversation with them and listen. Then, I can explain myself to them. Because so many white people stereotype and appropriate from Native Americans, and because Native American’s have mostly seen white people only as colonizers (and do not know the history of European colonization by the Roman Empire and prior cultures) they believe that the white people are “playing indian” or appropriating from them when they may or may not be.

If you are wearing buckskin because you want to look like an Indian (for example) than you are not doing anyone a service. If you are dressed in buckskin because you want to help keep traditions of tanning animal skins into leather and living more like all of our ancestors, or your own specifically, than you are not appropriating from Native Americans.

I definitely rely on Native cultures more than my own ancestral lineage. Though, the more I learn about my indigenous ancestors of Europe, the more in common I find with Native American cultures.

One of my Native friends once told me that I was the most respectful non-native he had ever met because I wasn’t idealizing their culture or wanting to be them (or adopted into a tribe). I thought that was interesting and a nice compliment. It was hard won. I’ve done things that would go on the appropriation wall of shame. But I’ve learned and now pass on what I know to others and continue to learn more.

I don’t think there is an easy solution in the current PC/CA climate. No matter what you do, SOMEONE is likely to judge, criticize, or even hate you for doing it. If you’re of European decent, and you “copy Indians”, you’re labeled an appropriator and a racist. But if you get really intense about your Celtic or Germanic ancestry, someone is probably going to accuse you of being a racist as well. I guess the internet makes some things worse, but then again, the internet has also helped trigger a Renaissance and sharing of cultural information I don’t know how we would have got access to otherwise–whether our heritage is Native American, or European, or any other group that has been colonized.

I want to hear more people using the term “Ancestral Skills”. Words like Primitive, and “Abo” bother me in the context of who we are and what we are doing. But I also want to hear more about new skills that are based in ancestral technology. Once those of us of European descent are firmly on the path to a “new” culture with roots in our past, then I believe we will run into fewer conflicts with the Cultural Appropriation police, and spend less time trying to defend ourselves to people who know little or nothing of our heritage.

BTW, I don’t even know WHAT to make of those two “becoming Native American” links Peter posted!

The first guy seems like he was part of the Indian wanna-be movement that grew out of the era of Reginald and Gladys Laubin, or even Iron Eyes Cody, so I feel like he should be somewhat forgiven.

But those young folks in the Czech Republic??? I….just…don’t….know…what…to…say…….
…except I would love to read the response of the Native Appropriations blog girl to that, if she is even aware of them.

And I hope more people respond to this thread. I know I’m having a lot of trouble getting the forum page to open–perhaps others are as well.

Prior to today, I had NO idea that Native American “fetishization” existed in Eastern Europe, or could be so endemic:

Scroll through the reader letter at the beginning of the post–it is painfully formulaic. The post itself is good, and I found this comment particularly interesting:

“The entire “dressing up as Native Americans” shtick is not only German: It is very prevalent also in all countries which were behind the Iron Curtain, which should tell you something. It is about escaping your surroundings and your situation and your life, “traveling”, which in a totalitarian state was impossible. All aspects of your private life were monitored and had to be approved off by the state in some form or another. Dressing up as an oppressed minority and as “the enemy” of the enemy (the US) was okay’ed by the socialist governments.” -KD

And from commentor PMS Rhino:

“Maybe if more white people realized that if we want to claim our own culture we’re gonna have to take the guilt and shame with it. And even, heaven forbid, do something about it.”

Yeah that’s crazy stuff!

Love that last quote. Totally awesome!

Funny, I read this outloud to Sarah and she told me about this one.

From Indian Country Today… from TODAY!

"Maybe if more white people realized that if we want to claim our own culture we're gonna have to take the guilt and shame with it. And even, heaven forbid, do something about it."

Yeah, I think this is really what a lot of this boils down to! Perhaps I’m wrong, but there just seems to be so little surviving healthy European culture. I know I’ve done a lot of online research into uncivilized/precivilized Europe and haven’t scraped up much more information besides some brief descriptions of tools and hypothetical sustenance strategies. I guess aspects of ancient cultures that can’t be dug up by archaeological research become invisible…

I know I’m mostly British and Irish and central european with some northern European as well. I would love to learn more about the cultures in these places that didn’t rely mainly on domestication. But I also I know I have to own the reality of my inheritance.

The European pagan and/or heathern revival seems to be going through some of the same problems. So little information about the original European religions remains, so most groups seem basically to be creating new religions inspired by the traces of the old. And the groups who are trying to recreate the original religions are very limited by the shortage of original material, and are essentially trapped in a fossilized form–unlike a living spiritual tradition.

Another thing that I find surprising about the East European “Wannabi tribe” folks, is that as I have continued to think about “White” identity, and the non-culture of the European diaspora, I have felt such a sense of loss of our original European cultural traditions. Why aren’t these folks in Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia not reviving their own ethnic heritage? Even after the cultural-sterilization of communism or socialism, there must still be more clues and traces of their ancestral history available to them, than are available to us in the USA or in the Commonwealth countries. Or is it that they too feel that what we think of today as traditional European culture is just too domesticated?

It’s also frustrating that so many depictions of Ancient Europeans is the dirty, patchy, grungy, violent caveman.

I totally agree! And that is something we are going to have to fight against. Just as tribal people of more recent times have had to fight against the horrible stereotypes of being savages or cannibals.

One thing that researching my Gaelic heritage has reveled to me, is that the Highland Scots were probably the last people of Europe (besides the Sami) to be subdued and domesticated. And that is why they had to deal with some of the worst prejudice and stereotypes compared to other Europeans.

When looking for the remnants of a “wild” European culture, one does not have to look as far in the past, in Scotland. But of course, there are an abundance of Scottish stereotypes one has to force their way beyond first–mostly due to Scottish culture being stolen, suppressed, appropriated, caricatured, and then re-marketed to those of Scottish descent, or anyone else who takes a fancy to it.

So, I was recently watching a video by a “rewilder” in which he used the Didgeridoo as background music. This made me cringe so hard.

Thoughts? Native Flute Music?

What is a eurasian equivalent?

goblingirl - i have personally found some interesting things from looking at medieval herberia - basically herbalist guide books. some interesting traditions can be found, like that it was believed that one could not harvest wood from an elderberry tree/bush without asking permission first. depending on tradition, elves or other nature spirits were said to dwell in them, so presumably that is who you are asking. if you dont know, elderberry makes good flutes. since you have british ancestry, you may want to read ‘leechcraft’, a very good book that covers some english herbaria, talisman use, dream interpretation and more. another good source of actual nature worship traditions in england - wassail songs. unfortunately, the only wassailing songs to survive are blessings for humans and for domestic apple trees, but the whole ritual is preserved in song, so it seems pretty easy to me to make some more, using the format to honor whoever you want. its true that most traditions are gone, but most reconstructionists, in my view, dont look widely enough for sources of cultural information, choosing to rely on literature depictions of myth - like the eddas - which have some valuable information, dont get me wrong. they just dont say everything. But people rely on that, essentially copying the christian strategy of blind faith in textual knowledge and the idea that culture should NEvEr change, in order to be authentic. oral-based cultures always change and adapt to the needs and desires of the people. oh yeah, another good source of info about germanic heathenism, besides folk tales, which are an obvious source, is the mennonite healers who practice ‘‘braucherei’’. there is a new religion based on the heathen remnant elements in this folk healing system that they call ‘‘urglaawe.’’ it doesnt have all the elements of neo-norse asatru religion, but neither does asatru have all the personages and traditions that urglaawe has. folk tales help to flesh out the stories, especially about people like mother holle - who has the english - and norse- equivalent ‘hel.’ im not sure how to end this ramble, so i’ll just say that all is not lost! oh, also check this tribal map, if you happen to know where your ancestors were just before, after or during when this was made : I personally have found that Im likely “herefinna” tribal ancestry

[quote=“Peter Michael Bauer, post:15, topic:1637”]So, I was recently watching a video by a “rewilder” in which he used the Didgeridoo as background music. This made me cringe so hard.

Thoughts? Native Flute Music?

What is a eurasian equivalent?[/quote]

this might help as a starting point. Also, see ‘tabor pipe’ or ‘bagpipes’ for cross-country european instruments of the middle ages

Peter, fragments of bone flutes are commonly dug up around Europe, so there is definitely a very old tradition of European wind instruments.

Bagpipes actually originated from Roman instruments like the Tibia ( ). Interestingly, some of the early kings of the north-eastern tip of Ireland (which shared a common cultural heritage to much of the Scottish highlands–all part of the Dal Riada kingdom) were allegedly Romanized Britons, but the pipes probably spread around via many other paths.

I like to visit this website: as they have some very nice examples of early instruments they have researched and made, (including bone flutes). I thought for awhile I might like to try and make a Germanic Lyre, but for now I have settled on playing around with a mountain dulcimer, as I already have access to one, and it is actually an instrument of the Gaelic Diaspora. (Of course I find that I am inclined to play it more like a sitar than a mountiain dulcimer, having dabbled in that many years previously–talk of cultural appropriation!–but again, I must refer to our common indo-european cultural roots, not to mention that music was especially prone to cross-pollination throughout Europe and Asia)

oakcorn, I had heard of elder branches being used for flutes, but had forgotten! The branches are poisonous though, which discourages me from trying to make one, without the proper instructions on how to do it. You have some other good info in your post, although it may take me awhile to digest it all. Thanks!

Great links all!

Elder wood is toxic when it is wet (green), but when it dries out it’s fine… Supposedly. :wink:

I’m working on my blog about this again. I’m changing it up a bit and going to turn it into more of a list of what is okay and not okay and why. I’ll link to this thread from my blog once it’s up. Should be here by next week.