Rambles about Cultural Misappropriation and Community Involvement

(stream of consciousness post, with ~~~ separators for the different shiny thoughts running through my mind at the moment…)

~~~

So I have run hot and cold over my involvement with a local Pagan community group… partly timing and partly some miscommunications and confusion.  Recently however, I have decided I don’t want to be involved with them.

This group is hosting a “Native American Ceremony”, led by a gentlemen who has been involved in the local community, and presented Sweat Lodges at a local Pagan gathering, for years. No problem with the guy personally, it’s just that he’s not  Native…

(Lakota in this case as it is a “Lakota Pipe Ceremony”) nor is he a member of the Lakota Nation….his profile lists a long list of tribes whose elder’s he’s studied with and Native Peoples with whom he’s studied… I am rather certain were he a member of one of the Nations he’d broadcast that fact far and wide in his sincere and probably heartfelt spiritual practice service information)

The problem I have with this is that Native Americans do not like it.  Many of them feel that it is akin to stealing from them, and insulting to them and their spirituality and culture, and you can read more eloquent and more first-hand explanations here…

~~~ from the Native American Spirituality section of the Online Resources!!~~~

Personal Views about the Exploitation of Native Cultural Traditions

This is a first hand essay on the issue found on the Internet…

Seeking Native American Spirituality and Traditional Religion: Read This First!

This article is from Native Languages (dot) Org, a linguistics and cultural website.

Help Stop American Indian Exploitation

This article is from the Canku Luta, a grassroots non-profit committed to the preservation of American Indian customs and culture.

New Age Frauds & Plastic Shamans

This excellent Native American run website strives to sort out reality from trickery, and sincere confusion, as it relates to Native American religion and Shamanism

~~~

When I tried to bring up my concerns about the issue of cultural mis-appropriation and ritual theft my concerns were pretty much swept aside by the President of the Board of this local organization and I was informed that

As far as any religion or ceremony belonging to one person or persons as a birthright, (LOCAL PAGAN ORGANIZATION NAME HERE) believes that we each have the right to follow the path that calls us.”

Which sounds all well and good except that part of what makes a Lakota ceremony a ceremony is it’s interconnectedness with and meanings within the Lakota culture.  Those threads of emotion and feeling and tradition and power are connected to being Lakota.

The same is true of a Gardnerian ceremony… even if a copy of the Gardnerian BoS were to drop into your lap tomorrow; you might be able to make yourself a Witch with it… and perhaps even reach some sort of connection (not necessarily a positive one) with the Gardnerian Lord and Lady… but you would never be a Gardnerian!  Part of being a Gardnerian is being initiated (or adopted) as a member of that particular group…

I feel like I am failing to communicate why this issue is important, not just because it is disrespectful (at best) towards Lakota and other native peoples, but in it’s own right….

~~~

Of course, being against Cultural Appropriation presented me with some problems… one of which was easy enough to fix…

I had at one time downloaded a copy of an alleged “Traditional BoS” from an online source, I have since deleted that file and information.  Not being an initiate to the Trad in question, I have no business mucking about with their stuff.

The deeper problem, for me, is that where does Reconstruction and Modern Paganism end and Cultural Misappropriation begin?

For me, for now, I think that one of the biggest differences is that in seeking a relationship with and stiving to honor through ritual the Hellenic Gods (Ancient Greece) I am not reaching out to a spirituality of a still living culture… to be sure Greek Culture is alive and well, but the Polytheistic and Pagan culture of Ancient Greece is only now begining to be reborn and rediscovered by modern peoples, even within Greece itself.

Of all places the Celtic Recon FAQ actually has some great things to say to the difficulties and nuances of Reconstructionist paths…

~~~

I have this nagging fear that this local groups desire to dress up and play Indian is not only going continue a cycle of theft and racism that Native Americans have been dealing with since “Native American” spirituality became so cool and shiny in the 1980’s and 90’s, but will also negatively impact the local Pagan community.

~~~

Then, on a more personal level,  I am now looking for a different avenue in which to participate in my local Pagan community… as I am working two part time jobs it is very easy to let myself hold back from involvement in things.. especially from starting things…

… but if I am to follow my gut instincts, including the one that says Community is worth working for, then i am going to have to get involved and perhaps start a group… or join another local one…

~~~

Peace,

Pax

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7 thoughts on “Rambles about Cultural Misappropriation and Community Involvement

  1. Thought provoking post.

    I have a coworker whose husband is Native American. I don’t know what tribe. I asked her last night if he was a Shaman. She said he talked to the spirits and performed healings and such, but that he didn’t call himself a Shaman because he hadn’t gone through the rituals and been “initiated” (though that is not the right word).

    I asked her if the Earth, the Universe, the Land Spirits have called him to be a communicator for them? She said yes. I asked her “Who do you think called the first ‘Shaman?'” That left her speechless.

    I’ve been exploring thoughts like you’ve posted above over at my blog and it’s been nice to run across a few more doing likewise. 🙂

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  4. STOP, you do not speak for the Sioux People.
    The links you have posted do not speak for the Sioux People.
    New Age Frauds & Plastic Shamans is run by a man called Al Carroll, who is not Sioux nor is he even Native American. He spreads hate. He has attacked Grandmothers of the Sioux Tribe on his site.

    The Sioux have elected officials that are the voice of the Sioux people.
    http://www.oglalalakotanation.org/

    The Sioux motto is “Unity, Peace and Understanding”

    What you are proposing is that unless you are Aryan of Celtic AND Germanic decent, you can not be Wiccan, if you are not of Norse decent you can not honor Odin or if you are not Greek you can not worship their Gods.

    The only thing that we can agree on is that Spirituality should not be sold. This is what is MIS-appropriation.

    The Sioux have shared the pipe with all peoples of the earth willing to honor it for 200 years. What makes you think this will stop because some are spreading hate words like those posted above?

    You have been fooled into spreading the hate message.

    • Dear Mr. Stillwater,

      Well, I never claimed to be speaking for the Sioux, I found information that told me that many Native Peoples neither like nor appreciate their rituals and practices being used piecemeal by those outside their tribes or traditions.

      Thank you for the link to the Sioux Nation Website, and I will contact them directly to seek more information about this issue.

      Peace,
      Pax

      PS_ Since your e-mail indicates your in the Central Florida area perhaps we could meet and discuss this issue at some point?

      • Dear Mr Stillwater,

        Let me repeat publicly my recent private e-mail to you…

        “Hello,

        Pax/Geoffrey here, you recently commented on my blog? Since your in
        the Orlando area perhaps you’d be interested in meeting with me to
        discuss the issue further? I would also be very interested in helping
        with any sort of fundraising efforts for the ongoing crisis at Pine
        Ridge…

        Peace,
        Pax”

        I figure since you link your name to the Sioux Nation website you must be a member of the tribe or affiliated with the tribal government, perhaps I should contact them for clarification of their position on this matter?
        Personally, I am still trying to figure out how I might be of help with the rare Ice Storm disaster that the Sioux have been dealing with in the last few weeks, and I do appreciate how strongly you must feel to be taking time on this year+plus old post with much more pressing concerns…

        For those not in the know, here is a video about the ice storm…

        and you can read more info on the youtube site for the video or at Kathryn NicDhana’s recent blog article on it. Kathryn is a widely respected writer and Pagan Elder, and considered one of the founders, of the Celtic Reconstructionist branch of Paganism and is active in Native and Indigenous Peoples rights activism.

        Of course the fact that your in Central Florida, Longwood if I read your IP address correctly, it must be troubling to you to being so far away from family and friends during all of this, you can actually go to the New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans site and find a thread that includes news stories, friends posting in with updates from Standing Rock, Pine Ridge, and Cheyenne River Reservations, and their personal and professional feedback on relief efforts.

        I am eagerly awaiting your reply…

        Pax

        • Oh, one other question Mr. Stillwater, what about the other three sites I linked to that feature articles discussing the inherently disrespectful nature of taking and using culturally and group specific rites and using them outside the group when many members OF the group object? Are those sites also “spreading the hate message?”

          I look forward to your advice on this matter.

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