Over the years I have heard a number of spiritual leaders and cultural workers say, "Everyone has Indigenous roots, everyone's ancestors are Indigenous to some place."
But it seems people are interpreting this concept in radically different ways from one another, and due to the white privilege and white supremacy of some who are latching onto it, the concept itself is in many cases becoming toxic.
When I first heard this concept, from an elder Indigenous relative, it resonated with me very strongly. Because of course we want to be rooted in the earth and connected to our ancestors. Of course we want to be ethical, whole, spiritual beings. And because to me it meant, "Your ancestors were rooted in the Earth from which they arose, they had their own ways of communicating with the spirits and respecting the natural world. They were an inseparable part of the landscape around them, and of the spirits and stories that animated and explained that landscape. As a 'white' American, Canadian or Australian, you don't have to be envious of Indigenous cultures, you don't have to imitate or appropriate the ways of other cultures, because if you just look back far enough, you can reclaim the ways of your own ancestors." This idea of becoming rooted in the ways of one's own ancestors is one of the primary reasons I began and then deepened my work in Gaelic Polytheism - the strong message I was receiving, politically, socially and spiritually, that I needed to do my part to revive the earth-based ways of my Irish and Scottish ancestors, and that I had to make sure we had spiritual traditions that are our own - anything less would be a disservice to my ancestors as well as to the people of this land.
But more recently, I have seen other white people in the "Celtic" diaspora decide that, based on a very different interpretation of this meme, they can also claim to be "Indigenous".... that they can speak to "Indigenous" issues here in the Americas and take point on Indigenous actions - despite their white skin privilege - and that they can claim to be "Indigenous" in the same way the Native American and First Nations peoples of this land are Indigenous. This is very problematic. Indeed, it is manifesting in ways that are truly alarming.
White Americans and Canadian, and other hyphenated-Americans and Canadians, are not Indigenous to Turtle Island. Nor are we fully rooted - from birth or in daily life - in the Celtic or European lands our ancestors left. As children of the diaspora, we have some very different challenges from those whose ancestors arose from this land, and from our relatives still in the lands from which our DNA hails.
As I see it, these are three of those challenges:
1. Learning Humility
I often see white people in liberal and progressive groups talking about "empowerment." As in, empowering themselves. This grates on me. As white people, we don't need to learn how to have more power. We are given an unequal amount of power from birth; we didn't earn it. What we need to learn to do is share power, in a way that honors and respects and even at times privileges those who were born without this unearned advantage. What do I mean by privileging others? Well, in areas where they are the experts. Such as addressing questions of what it is like to live without white privilege in America, or what it is like to be Indigenous to the Americas, and any actions that need leadership based on solid life experiences that non-POC simply do not have. Solidarity does not mean showing up and dominating the discussion; it means listening. Then listening some more. Then knowing that even after lots of listening, you are still not the expert. Solidarity does not mean telling Indigenous people how to run their meeting or protest; it means asking what you can do to support them.
2. Connecting With Our Own Ancestors
This doesn't mean ripping off a ritual structure and beliefs from outsider fantasies of Native American, First Nations, or African tribal ceremonies. This means taking the hard challenge of learning the language our ancestors spoke, that our relatives still speak, and studying the real lore, as it has been maintained by the surviving tradition-bearers, and as it was recorded in interviews during the time when these practices were still an active, integrated part of our ancestors' lives.
Most white people are just as ignorant about the earth-based traditions practiced by their ancestors as they are about Indigenous communities here in the Americas. And just like the offensive misrepresentations that happen to the traditions of Native people, the true ways of our ancestors are also threatened by commercialization, pay to pray, and fantasies sold to the gullible by those looking to make a buck off people who are feeling spiritually empty. Finding the real traditions is not as easy as finding the fakes. There is a market in newage or pretendian swill decorated with knotwork and sold as "Celtic". Like with Native communities, it takes time and trust-building to find knowledgeable people willing to take newcomers in. And becoming part of real Celtic communities that know their stuff also takes years of listening, learning, trustbuilding and practice. But there are plenty of us who are involved in this work now, and who have been for most of our lives. There is no need to settle for Newage misinformation, warmed-over Wicca, or for people who are still stuck thirty years in the past, who think we are still in the early days of 101 "reconstruction." They may be at the 101 level, but if so, they shouldn't be presuming to teach others.
3. Don't Colonize Indigenous Identities
Appropriation is not Solidarity. Native activists have encountered a very bizarre phenomenon over the years. It peaked in the seventies, and has again gotten really bad since Occupy. There are non-Natives who are claiming to be anti-racist activists, and who are claiming they want to be allies of Native people, but they are also promoting the idea that they can choose to become "indigenous" themselves. Dealing with these people has been absolutely surreal. They really believe that imitating NDNs (or, their outsider fantasies of how they think NDNs live, speak, and do ceremony) is something that will build solidarity with Indigenous people. Most of these people have never even met real NDNs and, needless to say, they are not members of any Indigenous community. Rather, these newagers, environmentalists, neopagans and ungrounded academics think they can "(re)discover their own indigeneity" through mimicking NDNs, or through claiming to be Indigenous to countries where they have never lived (and that their ancestors left many, many generations ago). They are attempting to create new, fake tribes or "villages," made up of non-Indigenous, mostly white, workshop culture newagers or activists, people who have only occasional contact with one another and whose only exposure to ceremony has been the fake ones sold by the pay-to-pray Plastic Shamans. Even worse, they don't seem capable of understanding how this grotesque misappropriation of Indigenous terminology and identity is offensive to real Indigenous people, real tribes, and real Indigenous villages.
These people are seen as skinstealers. They have been blocked on social media by the Indigenous people and allies they have harmed. Yet still these Celtique pretendians are trying to join legitimate groups and data mine, or starting their own using offensive terminology, forced-teaming and identity theft.
Right now there are intense arguments going on between some of these non-Natives who claim they want to be allies (or worse, they proclaim that they are allies), and the Native people who are rightfully and deeply offended by their actions. If you've been following the #NDNZ, #Decolonize, #AppropriationIsNotSolidarity and #DecolonizeIsColonized tags on Twitter, you've seen some of it, as well as some excellent blog posts on the topic. I will collect some of these posts and add them here, as others have already said it eloquently, humorously, militantly, and every other way they can think of, in an attempt to get the message across. I hope one of these days the pretendians will understand.
Or if they refuse to understand, that they'll move on to a new fad. Because, quite frankly, I'm sick of hearing that any of the pretendians "have good intentions." They don't. Those who are colonizing Indigenous identities, attempting to replace Native voices with non-Native ones, are committing cultural genocide and cultural extermination. It's not an honor. It's not solidarity. It is shameful and harmful and people aren't going to put up with it.
To all the wannabes
It is not colonialism, or racism, or lateral violence to ask what recognized Native American community you come from, or who your family is, or whether you are connected to any community at all. It should not be taboo to talk about blood quantum, because BQ does have something to do with where you actually belong and come from. 31/32 non-native? Ignoring all your other heritages to focus on some small sliver of native identity is dishonest. BQ is not the be-all, end-all, but neither is that feeling you have that you really are native. Are you accepted as a member of a Native American community? If not, you have no right to say you are one of them. Don’t say you are Mohawk if no Mohawk community would ever acknowledge you. Don’t say you are Ojibwe if no Ojibwe community would ever acknowledge you. You have no right to take away the power of actual native people to determine membership, just because you want in.
Don’t Know Much About Indians (but i let non-indians speak for them anyways)
Since the beginning of Native/non-Native interactions, non-Natives have had a racist, dehumanizing and insulting pattern of propping up—irrespective of Native people’s wishes—completely inadequate, improper and many times, illegal leadership to speak on Native people’s behalf. ... Native leadership is a small circle, and when very few (or none) of those leaders know about a purported fellow leader, one might be inclined to be suspicious about letting that person speak for Native people assuming they value an honest Native discourse, as they value other honesty in other ethnic discussions.
Helpful hints for would-be anti-racist, Indigenous Solidarity activists
If the members of your all-white group think they are showing "solidarity" by speaking in a subcultural patois of Newage Bafflegab crossed with TontoSpeak... you have a problem.
Redemption of the White Liberal
Appalling numbers of white liberals are in deep denial of the unfathomable pain, suffering, and death that the pursuit of white supremacy has wrought. Yes, their denial is appalling but completely understandable. They labor under a grand form of “cognitive dissonance” which exquisitely defines the term. I have wondered often that had I been born “white”, how utterly impossible it would be, must be, to simply look into a mirror knowing how much innocent blood lay behind my reflection, my history. Absolute denial and rejection of that blood, of that reflection and history would be the only means of maintaining even a semblance of sanity.
On another level, though, many, perhaps a majority, of white liberals appreciate quite clearly what they have done. Indeed, they celebrate and gleefully swim in that bloody sea of denial, ever thankful for their whiteness and their conscientious and well-meaning liberalism. This set of white liberals eagerly embraces their unearned privileges and power and protect themselves and their whiteness behind world-destroying weapons, multi-million-man armies – or “gated” enclaves. Their fear is understandable as well for they have much to fear, going all the way back to, and starting with, Indian attack and slave revolt.
Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?
Cultural appropriation is harmful because it is an extension of centuries of racism, genocide, and oppression. Cultural appropriation treats all aspects of marginalized cultures (also known as targets of oppression) as free for the taking. This is the same rationale that has been (and still is) used to steal land and resources from People of Color, particularly Native people. Put together, the theft of the lands, resources, and culture of a marginalized group amount to genocide. The defense of cultural appropriation is based upon the misconception that race relations exist on a level-playing field, as though racism no longer exists. Systematic racism does still exist – white people have power and privilege in this society, while People of Color are systematically denied power and privilege in this society. There cannot be a truly equal and free flow of ideas, practices, and cultural markers as long as one group (white people) have power and privilege over another group (People of Color).
What White People Fear
I have a choice: I can rest comfortably in the privileges that come with being white, or I can struggle to be fully human. ... This analysis of the dynamics of mixed-race settings is hardly original. Non-white people have long recognized that white liberals are happy to engage with folks who aren’t white as long as their white-centric worldview isn’t threatened, and that white groups are happy to have non-white members as long as the power dynamics don’t change. ... A first step for me has been to question the value of the seemingly endless “race dialogues” that are popular in white liberal groups. In the pseudo-therapeutic setting of such dialogues, with more talk about personal healing than about political change, white people are guaranteed that we won’t be forced out of a white-defined world. White-dominated institutions—corporations, nonprofits, universities, government agencies—are happy to sponsor such dialogues, diversity trainings, and multicultural events, precisely because they don’t threaten the fundamental distribution of wealth and power.
Race Matters: Liberal Racism and the Occupy Wall Street Movement
White liberals and white conservatives are both infected by white supremacy and white privilege. In addition, both are invested in the white racial frame and a type of racial heliocentrism where “whiteness” equals normality: in this aspect, I have long suggested that white liberals and white conservatives differ only in how the disease that is white racism manifests itself.
Systemic Racism and the Occupy Movement
You cannot help a community if you do not take time to understand the problems and will of the community. I cannot speak for you if you are not forthright and direct in your beliefs. And the movement cannot have any spokesperson if there is not consensus among us about where we are heading.
Cherokee Nation: What is a real Indian Nation? What is a fake tribe? (Video)
The #NDNZ Daily
The #Indigenous #Decolonize Daily
P.S. - One of the tactics I have seen in non-Native peoples' attempts to colonize and appropriate Indigenous identities is homogenization. I recently found a video where a white minster of a liberal American church confidently lectured a "Decolonize" group about how all indigenous cultures had (not have; he spoke in the past tense, rendering contemporary Indigenous people and their surviving cultures invisible) certain, core elements and beliefs and practices in common. He then made gross generalizations about all "Indigenous" cultures, presenting misinformation about their spiritual beliefs, ceremonies and social structures. By ignoring the diversity and uniqueness of these ancient and contemporary cultures, he in effect advanced the dangerous lie that, since all our ancestors followed the same ways and believed the same things, everyone is of the same culture, therefore no one owns cultural property and there is no such thing as misappropriation. This is a blatant lie and an act of cultural extermination.
Indigenous peoples own their cultures, their stories, their traditions. Only an outsider who is grossly ignorant of the actual cultures, or promoting an appropriative, colonial agenda, would present such misinformation. Even worse, this white minister has fooled other non-Indigenous people into thinking he is Indigenous (fake Cherokee, of course), and can represent Indigenous people in groups that are supposed to be for People of Color (POC). We need to stand up to these acts of colonialism when they infiltrate our groups and meetings. If someone is claiming to speak for Indigenous people, ask them what community empowered them to speak, and then do some research and find out if it's a real tribe. If it's not, they are a fraud. If they claim to speak for a real tribe/Nation, go to the traditional people - the real Elders - from the tribe they claim, and see if that tribe claims them. Usually, as in the above case, you will find the tribes have never heard of these imposters. In the rare cases where the person may actually be from that community, find out if they were ever granted the authority to speak on the issues they claim to be authorities on. Find out who the imposters really are, and then tell your friends and the groups where they are seeking followers.
P.P.S. Many of these recent discussions have taken place in the context of the Decolonize/Occupy movements, with non-Natives making horrific statements like, "Let's Occupy (name of Native territory or Native event)!" and then proceeding to colonize and attempt to take over events that used to be run by NDNs. White people have "occupied" areas that used to be POC spaces and, except for a couple tokens with class privilege, driven the POC out. Some groups heard the feedback about the problems with the name "Occupy" and changed their names to "Decolonize," but what we have seen in most cases is that the change was only cosmetic. Instead of improving their behaviour, their behaviour has gotten worse; they've tried to learn how to pass as allies while in actuality looking for ways to misappropriate. Some of the worst frauds and appropriators have now taken shelter in the "Decolonize" groups themselves, bringing in pretendians to present fake NDN "teachings," lead pretendian/newage prayers, and even organize to keep real NDNs from coming to events. Some of the "Decolonize" groups have spawned new frauds who are trying to pass as Indigenous. It is an absolutely hideous situation. I personally witnessed NDNs trying to help some of these offensive non-Natives. They took the Occupy/Decolonize people at their word that they wanted to be real allies instead of offensive burdens. But once again, the NDNs wound up betrayed, because these non-Natives have not changed their core values of individualism, greed and selfishness, and are apparently incapable of seeing things from any point of view but that of privileged, colonial settlers who think everything - even peoples' very identities - is theirs for the taking.
I strongly urge people to read the following statement, a critique and commentary on Decolonize/Occupy by a coalition of People of Color (POC). If you belong to a group that allegedly signed off on this document, but now find your group is being dominated by white voices, pretendians and shadow leadership, I urge you to do something about it. It is tragic and hypocritical that some who have in name supported this statement have all of these exact problems currently dragging their groups down:
For People Who Have Considered Occupation But Found It Is Not Enuf
Decolonization calls for organizing a movement that is led by individuals and communities whose voices are least likely to be heard.
... In fact, many of the same characters that have attempted to dominate movements in our communities in the past are the same people who lead OWS from the light and shadows.
... Movements led by those without the lived experience of day-to-day violence and generational poverty cannot produce justice, transformation, and dignity for those of us who live on the margins and on the streets.
... We demand that our white allies speak with their comrades about the racial privilege that enables their actions. We do not want white people to “protect” us, but we do want to coordinate strategically before events, during events, and after events.
... We demand the acknowledgement and abolition of Rape Culture, which has gone uncontested by the majority of Occupiers. Slavery and genocide were perpetrated through mass sexual assault of women of color. Colonial logic still questions the humanity of women of color to this day, as evidenced by the sexual assault and the sexual exploitation of women of color before, during and after Occupy encampments.
... Above all, we demand that the work that began before OWS be recognized, honored and supported. Years of anti-police brutality work, indigenous land movement organizing, and fighting for transgender peoples’ lives are but examples of movements that must not be abandoned in favor of focusing our collective energy on anticapitalism.
... To our white brothers and sisters: ... We want you to strive to find your way. We want you to recognize that the ways that you seek liberation often comes at the expense of ours. We expect you to act from that knowledge with integrity.
... We hope that we can emerge, renewed and strong, and continue to walk together.
ETA: 6.12.2012 - Hey "Well-Intentioned" non-Natives attempting to colonize Indigenous identities, here's a mirror for you. Check out how NDNs see you:
WannaB SightingsETA: 4.5.2015 - Looking back on Occupy some more today, since Yahwaach Kelsmaht / Ian Ki'laas Caplette's I am the "un-%" photo is making the rounds.
A witness at the Stomp dance relayed this account to Dana Doubtful:
"I was sitting in the bleachers with the spectators and I felt like I was being watched!"
"After listening to him talk about his vegan diet and his close personal relationship with the face on Mars, I lost all sense of time! I must have passed out from boredom. There's at least 20 minutes I just can't account for!
"After a while, I managed to get up and go back to my family. They also reported a sense of losing time when they had listened to this wannaBs message.
"He was wearing a purple t-shirt with a wolf on it and a woman's wedding necklace. He had white doeskin fringed leather boots on and a pigeon feather tied to his blond hair. He started talking about earth vibrations and all the Peyote ceremonies he attended. I felt like hours had past, but when I looked at my watch hardly any time had passed! Then he started talking about his high holy leader, Carlos Casteneda. I think I might have lost consciousness for a while. The next thing I remember he was talking about Billy Jack, Chief Dan George, reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee 100 times and Iron Eyes Cody. I can barely think about this! I lost almost 2 hours of my life! I don't want to say anymore. The experience was just too horrible!"
'My lands are being occupied by a public which largely remains ignorant or silent about the injustice I live with every moment of every day. I am silenced or minimized in the "occupy" movement frequently as my issues of injustice transcend mere financial concerns.'
I just came back from a trip to Ireland; I had never been there as an adult. And now I'm wondering if I, as an American with no ties--other than DNA and a personal interest--to the Celtic lands, should attempt to pursue any spiritual path that involves them. I don't live there, I don't have any modern ties to the land, and after having actually been there, I feel like as an American, I'm appropriating "Irishness" or "Celticness" as much as a white person appropriating Native things. I'm not really a Celt--I'm a 21st century American. And I'm starting to think those Gods don't have any real ties to those of us who don't live on their land.
How is what we're doing different from what the appropriators are doing? Because our DNA is "right"? I don't know.
I have also heard African-Americans express the same dilemma - of traveling to Africa, expecting it to feel like home, and it just doesn't. I've seen friends go through crises of faith over this realization.
As descendants in the diaspora we are definitely different from the relatives who still live in the Celtic Nations. That's one of the reasons why I always stress that I am speaking as an Irish-American, a Scottish-American. We're not the same as Irish or Scottish citizens. Our challenges are different.
DNA is definitely not enough. It's about culture, not blood quantum. I think that when people of Celtic heritage dabble in the ways of our ancestors, and mix them with beliefs, structures and practices from other cultures (as is done in Wicca and most Neopagan and Newage approaches) it is definitely a form of cultural appropriation. This is then compounded when those misrepresentations are presented to people as authentic - it results in the same kind of cultural erasure and extermination as when exploiters do that to any culture.
I don't think those of us in the diaspora have any right to tell people in the Celtic Nations how to run their countries (though I admit, having done solidarity work with some political movements in Ireland, Scotland and the North, I could be accused of this; but I didn't dictate policy, just served as backup to activists on the ground and front lines). However, I do think we have a right to learn the languages, histories and earth-honoring ways of our ancestors. I would go so far as to say we have a responsibility to do this for our ancestors. Though particulars of spirits will vary with locale... language, song and culture is not limited by landscape.
As you well know, it's not easy. It's taken us decades and generations of work and learning to revive and preserve what we have. And if we don't continue to bring in young people, our work will not last. One of the things that has been meaningful and essential for me is, just as we have to listen to and respect the tradition-bearers here in the Americas, is listening to and respecting the tradition-bearers in the Celtic Nations, and giving them the same degree of honour. I cherish the trad singers and speakers who are preserving the songs and tales, and people like those at Tigh nam Bodach who still perform the traditional rites and fight to keep the sacred sites free from development.
(continued next comment...)
Using Tigh nam Bodach as an example, no, we don't have the same Gaelic rite here. And it can take decades and generations of learning the land and spirits where one is to even know if something similar, with a local watershed and land features, is appropriate in the diaspora. But bit by bit, with collective effort, collaboration and feedback from those in the Celtic Nations as well as those Native to the lands where we find ourselves, we are finding our way.
I do feel rooted in the land where I live. But I think that's because I live in an area with a very high percentage of Irish-Americans, who have been in this area for many generations, and who carried their culture here with them. We are the next parish over from Ireland, and have had continual traffic back and forth since the Irish and Scottish ancestors first washed up on these shores. Some of the spirits here came over with the ancestors, and others are very similar to those in the Gaelic areas (Raven and I went into this more in KILLYOUANDEATYOU). Maybe the facts that some of my family and community have a history of alliances with the Indigenous people here, and a history of leaving out offerings for the spirits, have something to do with it; I don't know.
Anyway, I thank you both for your comments. And Tlachtga, however it works out, I thank you for sharing your experiences as a descendant in the diaspora. We are a third type of creature - different not only to those Native to these lands, but also to those in the lands of our ancestors. It's obvious that this comes with its own challenges, but I'd like to think that it comes with its gifts, as well :-)
Tapadh Leibh agus Slàn, - KPN
I think looking to the survivals in the diaspora is something that's been kind of undervalued and underappreciated in the process by some folks. There's a huge weighting towards looking at what has survived in Ireland and Scotland (and rightly so in many respects), but there is plenty in the diaspora as well and I think it's fair to say that they survived for a reason. It's just knowing where to look, I suppose. Perhaps those are the kind of things that can help parse the disconnect that can happen between where you are now, rather than where your gods come from.
Thank you Kathryn, for yet another excellent post. Sometimes I feel like it is like trying to teach the unteachable, you know? People read the words, share the message and then go and exploit and appropriate. I don't know if it is because they think they are such super fabulous allies that it's absolutely okay for them because, unlike other well intentioned white people they really they think are appropriating out of respect or if they're just jerks that don't care and will do what they want. It disgusts me and depresses me. It's like a skeevy man who abuses women but says all the right seemingly respectful words to make his potential next victim feel safe. That's how it feels to me any way. Please continue to write, I will continue to share your words.
*hugs Seren & Koga*
Koga, I'm starting to think the mental-disconnect appropriators, the ones who think they can mimic NDN ceremonies as long as they also sign on to anti-racist or anti-appropriation statements, are like the closeted homophobes. Specifically, the rabid homophobes who become radical rightwing politicians who pass virulent anti-gay legislation, but in secret are cheating on their trophy wives with rent boys in bathroom stalls. The hypocrisy is staggering.
If the appropriators won't look in the mirror, some of our friends and colleagues are kindly holding up mirrors for them.
"Steven" thinks he's a "respectful" appropriator.
(Thanks, Tito, you rock!)
"They admire us so much, they ignore our feelings on the matter"
This film pretty well known, but the clips deserve a repost. I am used to people in the anti-racist groups I participate in staunchly avoiding these behaviours and those who behave this way. So imagine my surprise when some of the white people latching onto Decolonize turned out to be pretendians, acting and sounding just like the crazy white people in these videos:
White Shamans and Plastic Medicine Men
- An award-winning documentary by Terry Macy and Daniel Hart of the Native Voices Program at the University of Washington. Purchase the whole film, and view clips on YouTube:
White Shamans and Plastic Medicine Men, Part 1 of 3
White Shamans and Plastic Medicine Men, Part 2 of 3
from Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 12/30/2012. Posted with permission:
This is About Mother Earth!
As Keeper of our Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, I would like to send out support for the efforts of Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation, for giving of herself through fasting with prayers for the protection of Mother Earth.
Throughout history, there have been many Voices from different Nations trying to alert us of the prophecies that are now upon us. We are in a time of Great Urgency, especially since the animals have been showing their sacred color white to tell us we need to change the Path we are on.
The war in the Middle East over money, oil and power, in the name of Spirituality, has been affecting us for far too long. A Healing now needs to happen from that lesson. Those lessons now exist in those territories in the lack of animal and plant life, as well as the many orphans and childless parents.
Political decision makers throughout history have made decisions that have affected many People, lands and animal/plant life, the recent decision made to subject Mother Earth and take away any protection she had left, is a decision that affects all humanity.
This effort has to be understood the same light of our Peace work, which is “All Nations, All Faiths, One Prayer”. This effort to protect Mother Earth is all Humanity’s responsibility, not just Aboriginal People. Every human being has had Ancestors in their lineage that understood their umbilical cord to the Earth, understanding the need to always protect and thank her. Therefore, all Humanity has to re-connect to their own Indigenous Roots of their lineage - to heal their connection and responsibility with Mother Earth and become a united voice.
In a Sacred Hoop Life, where there is no ending and no beginning!
Chief Arvol Looking Horse
19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe
Thanks for the really interesting blog post. I'm just now really starting to wrestle with the ideas of white privilege and cultural appropriation, and I know I have a lot to learn. Anyways, Tlachtga's comment really resonates with me. I grew up emphatically American. My father insisted we had no other ethnic identity, probably because his father did the same. The thing is, I'm only 3 generations removed from Lithuania; my grandfather was raised by Lithuanian immigrants but born in the US, and it seems that his parents chose not to pass on any aspect of Lithuanian culture to him, or he to his children. For some reason my recent ancestors strove to strip us of any Lithuanian identity.
I have significant Irish blood coming from my mother's side by way of Texas (several generations of very Irish families living in Texas), and while I knew we had an Irish ancestry nothing further was discussed of it. I had no idea it made up the bulk of my blood, if that's the appropriate term. For whatever reason I've long felt an affiliation to Irish culture (or I wouldn't be an Irish polytheist), but I wasn't raised as even part of the diaspora. We're thoroughly and emphatically American.
I'm just wondering if I have any right to try to reclaim the ethnicity my ancestors actively tried to destroy. At this point I'm attempting to adopt Irish culture. Can one become part of the diaspora, and how is my attempt to do so not appropriation?
I don't expect you to have the answers, but this is what's been running through my head for awhile. I'm not sure how to reconcile it.
Hey Ashley, sorry for my delayed response. We've been really busy with Idle No More organizing, and trying to deal with the Indigenous Knowledge Stealers who are trying to colonize INM events.
There are still some really strong folk traditions surviving in Lithuania and Latvia - sauna ceremonies, solstice bonfires, and traditional offerings to the spirits. In some areas these traditions never died out and no reconstruction has been needed. There are some parallels to some Gaelic practices and beliefs, but it's definitely a different culture.
All I can really suggest is that you attempt as much immersion as you can - surround yourself with the language, music and stories. See if it changes you, and if so, how. This usually makes people feel more strongly connected or, if it's not where their ancestors want them to be, it doesn't feel right. If the ancestors want you somewhere else, I believe they will open a door for you.
What the ancestors have to say about our paths is not always easy to hear. I was definitely a "grass is greener on the other side of the ethnic fence" type when I was in my teens and early twenties. But when I finally started working with more traditional people, and they stressed that my ancestors came first... I started offering to my ancestors and opening to hearing them. And well, my ancestors got very loud and demanding.
I think when it may be difficult is when the spirits of the land where you live and your blood ancestors have really different ways. I was able to connect with my ancestors in the midwest (where I spent most of my childhood) but most of the Gaelic spirits I know prefer the mountains where I now live.
As someone in the diaspora, I can't speak for our relatives in the Celtic Nations, but through our networks you can get input from them about this, too. I'd just advise praying on it and immersing yourself as much as possible. Listen to your gut and your dreams. We're here to give you feedback on how it goes :)
Reposting this as I had to fix some of the links:
A heads-up for folks in areas that want to support Idle No More, but that may not have large NDN populations. We have seen some non-Natives, and some pretendians, trying to colonize Idle No More.
Please forgive my redundancy if you've seen me post this stuff elsewhere, but...
One thing that some of the non-Natives have been misinterpreting (not with this statement in particular, but with the concept of "Indigenous" and "Indigeneity" in general). Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe wrote:
"Every human being has had Ancestors in their lineage that understood their umbilical cord to the Earth, understanding the need to always protect and thank her. Therefore, all Humanity has to re-connect to their own Indigenous Roots of their lineage - to heal their connection and responsibility with Mother Earth and become a united voice."
I have always found this to be a beautiful and inspiring statement, ever since Paula first spoke it to me. But lately we have come across some appropriators and exploiters misinterpreting the idea of Indigenous roots, thinking that having ancestors with "roots" means that they are also Indigenous people (NDNs), or that they can choose to *become* Indigenous (through stealing ceremonies from NDNs or other Indigenous cultures). Some of these appropriators and ceremony-sellers have come in through the "Occupy"/"Decolonize" movement. So, just making a note here for anyone else who gets odd reactions from non-Natives when they share this, or if they see shameons posting it in places and misrepresenting what Arvol is saying.
Going back to our Indigenous roots means taking the challenge of learning the languages, ways and ceremonies of our own ancestors, not stealing ceremonies or identities or terminology from Native people. Our CAORANN Council has issued a statement about this: On Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenous Identity.
Here's a post from the Idle No More founders on advice for non-Native allies: Idle No More: The Indigenous Peoples' Movement -
I’m Non-Indigenous, How Can I Participate in Idle No More?
I would also highly recommend this teach-in led by Ryan McMahon, with livestream participation from a number of the Usual Suspects (there were some tech problems, but it's still well worth it): Idle No More Internet Town Hall (Jan 8, 2013)
If you want to do a local action, or join a local group, find out what Native people in the area are doing - in most cases they have already organized groups. For the most part, so far things are overwhelmingly Indigenous at the demos. But we actually *are* seeing a bit of a problem with non-Natives wanting to form and lead Idle No More groups (in some cases, they are misrepresenting themselves as Native and forming a group where there is already a Native one). While I'm seeing that respectful support is very appreciated, we need to make sure this is truly solidarity and not appropriation. For instance, if people are doing a solidarity action that does not involve Native spiritual leaders, for them to pray and sing in the ways of *their own* culture, not imitate the ways of NDN people or try to use their sacred songs or ceremonies (including smudging). Non-natives, if you go to an action and find that pretendians are appropriating, stand up to them and say something. NDNs in my area have already had to do some creative re-scheduling, and making networking for events private, in order to avoid being colonized.
And in line with my previous comment, I'm even having to wrangle some of the links on here, as some who initially came on the scene and spoke up eloquently have turned out not to be who or what they represented themselves to be.
Sometimes we've given someone the benefit of the doubt because their initial words have been on the mark... but only wound up doing a background check when they start making odd claims.
With the roundys and teach-ins that are happening... some are focusing on the political work that is the purpose of INM, but other event organizers are misappropriating INM, and are trying to use INM as a platform for pretendians and those seeking to colonize Indigenous identities. Things are moving very fast, and people need to stay aware.
People who show up claiming to be allies, but who turn out to only be there to try to steal ceremonial knowledge, or cultural knowledge that may allow them to pass as Indigenous, are harmful to our communities. They may be another body at the demo, but we need to gauge what the long-term effects of this are going to be if we allow them to violate cultural boundaries.
We are particularly seeing that First Nations individuals and communities have been being exploited by shady pretend-allies and pretendians, as in most cases they have not been as heavily subjected to spiritual colonizers as have been the tribes in the US, so they have tended to be more tolerant in the past. But again, things are moving quickly, patterns are being recognized, and boundaries are being firmed up.
As we've been seeing, some of the wide-eyed patronizing gushers, if tolerated, start believing they are Indigenous. To the Indigenous people they fawn and flatter, then when those they've gushed over leave... they mimic the ceremonies, and colonize INdigenous identities for themselves. Sometimes they even fool ignorant non-Natives that they are Indigenous.
I would rather be a gatekeeper, keeping other non-Natives out of cultural events, than see my pale presence used as a justification for letting in anyone who is not family. I have just seen too many people gush and lie then go out and exploit.
The exploiters have a vague idea of how to mimic because some well-meaning elder let some gushing, pretend-ally in before they realized how truly lacking in morals the greedy ones are. Now, decades later, we have multiple generations of frauds taught by frauds. It is truly heartbreaking.
So if some of us seem skeptical or slow to open up to new people, this is why. We've seen what happens when people are trusted before they earn trust.
(Thanks to my Crow Girl for her thoughts on this)
And here's a new twist on the "I know my own roots" issue. We've now seen white pretendians list, in exhaustive detail, all the different sorts of white people they're descended from. On and on, indicating they have most definitely done their genealogy (or had it done for them). Then comes the kicker: They are pretendians anyway.
Knowing where your ancestors are from doesn't automatically mean you are familiar with, or preserving, their culture. And being able to list a whole bunch of white people has absolutely no bearing on anyone's "right" to steal ceremonies or participate in identity theft.
Another lovely phenomenon: The woman who "must" be Native. Goes like this, "All my American ancestors are white, going back to the 1600s. But look, here, there's a woman with no last name. They must be.... Hiding the fact she was an INDIAN!!!!"
Seriously. I've seen this happen. Genealogists are laughing right now. The pretendian who said this, who is now presenting themselves as an Indigenous representative to other white people, is lucky she could trace her ancestors back that far. Because with patrilineal naming, it's inevitable that you will wind up with female ancestors who are only recorded as "Mary (husband's last name)" or "Sarah (unknown)." That's what happened when women weren't counted as individuals in the censuses. It is zero indication that some woman with an unknown surname, living among white people, with all her children listed as white, was anything other than... white.
Get a grip people, we're smarter than that.
I have updated the title of this again, as lately I've been seeing this same sort of stuff from Americans or English people who move to a Celtic Nation and then misrepresent themselves as Indigenous to that land, based on redefining "Indigenous" to simply mean, "rooted in the Earth." This offensive re-definition is leading to many white Pagans and Nuagers, in America, Canada, and a few other English-speaking countries, calling themselves "Indigenous". As these non-Natives plagiarize and misappropriate, in some cases those who don't look deeply enough are mistaking these offensive appropriators for tradition-bearers.
The link in my comment above, to the CAORANN statement on Indigenous Identity, wasn't formatted properly. This link should work: On Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenous Identity - from Celts Against Oppression, Racism, and Neo-Nazism
We had to start CAORANN due to plagiarism. Now it's happening again. Hey data-miners: we have an attorney. While we love sharing our work for free with respectful people, when nuagers rip off our words and try to sell them, or try to sell fake ceremonies they promote with words ripped off from us, we WILL do something about it. Think that over.
And another repost: A Self-Inflicted Curse Falls Upon All Plagiarists
So how does this work? Im very drawn to Celtic culture (both historical and modern) but it only accounts for a quarter of my ancestry (Scottish). Does this count as appropriation? Most people I know have a mix of ethnic backgrounds so how does this even work? Hope I dont come across as rude or anything, just trying to understand.
Hey S Hope, sorry about the delayed response. I don't always get these notifications.
It's about culture, not Blood Quantum (BQ). It's about who your family and relatives are, what language you speak, the sense of humour you have, what food you eat. It's about the prayers you say, the songs you sing, what you do when someone is born, when they get married, or when someone you love dies. We consider this a Lifeway.
If you don't have these ways in your family of origin, or if the ways of your family of origin don't resonate with you, it's about finding community and tradition elsewhere. It's appropriation if someone decides in isolation that they belong to, and can represent for, a community they know little about, and have never participated in. It's not appropriation if you actually become part of that community on the terms of that community, and they consider you a full member.
If someone makes a sincere effort to learn the culture, then it is up to the members of that culture to see if that person fits in. In the Gaelic Polytheist, and broader Celtic Reconstructionist communities, while we've always assumed that most people drawn to these ways will have some Celtic ancestors, we've never made it a requirement; mostly because we abhor the racist, white supremacist groups that are obsessed with "racial purity". Usually those groups aren't even spiritual. It's not that we don't think the ancestors are important. They are. And as a tradition that honours the ancestors, sometimes people who start out in a Celtic group (or a group of another culture) might find their ancestors pulling them elsewhere once they connect with them.
So, long story short, it's about culture and community, not blood.
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