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.'