October 12, 2012

Shamanism series seeks Native authenticity

Alyson Noel’s ‘Soul Seekers’ Young Adult Series Destined for Big Screen, with Native ActorsSoul Seekers, a series of young-adult novels by Alyson Noel, may be coming to a theater near you, and will feature Native actors in key roles if Arnold Rifkin has his way.

Rifkin is co-founder (with actor Bruce Willis) of Cheyenne Enterprises, which has optioned screen rights on the series of books. The storyline follows protagonist Daire Santos, a 16-year-old girl who has visions and premonitions—and who soon enough discovers she is a Soul Seeker, able to move between the world of the living and that of the dead. Daire explores her powers while living in Enchantment, New Mexico, and some of the supernatural touches in the series are pulled from American Indian lore.

“I did a lot of research into Shamanism and Native American spirituality to create the world of the Soul Seekers series,” Noel said, according to a story at Deadline.com. “In using these ancient practices and ideas as a jumping off point for the mystical world of the books, I tried to portray them in an authentic way and to do so with reverence. After meeting with producer Arnold Rifkin, and learning first hand of his personal passion for these themes, I have no doubt that he will do the same.” The report said that Rifkin is “determined to cast the films with Native American actors when appropriate.”
Comment:  Good of Rifkin to insist on Native actors. We'll see if the studios and investors let him have his way.

But Noel's lack of specificity is troubling. Which tribe is she honoring, since the various Navajo, Apache, and Pueblo tribes are different?

As far as I know, none of New Mexico's tribes practiced shamanism. If Noel used a generic or unnamed tribe, I wouldn't say that's reverent. It's like revering Indians via a mascot: revering the fantasy rather than the reality. It's usually inauthentic rather than authentic.

Of course, the Twilight Saga went the other way by naming a particular tribe: the Quileute. It blew it by falsifying many aspects of Quileute life. For example, the Quileute don't live in small wolf packs with an alpha male as their leader.

The best solution is to pick a tribe and portray it accurately. If no tribe in the area practices shamanism, set the story somewhere else or drop the shaman aspect. Attributing shamanism to the wrong tribe is like attributing it to the wrong religion: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. That every tribe practices shamanism is false and stereotypical.

For more on the subject, see Truth vs. Twilight and Twilight Ruining Indians' Reputation?

Below:  "Cover art for 'Fated,' the first book in the Soul Seekers series by Alyson Noel."


Anonymous said...

Shamanism means "a belief system that isn't my own" in anthro-speak. They can't define it, but pat themselves on the back for no longer using words like "witch doctor" or "sorcerer".

New Agers added some Jung and Campbell to it, naturally. Jung was the Richard Wagner of psychoanalysis, in more ways than one, but who cares?

Also, why is it that when Indians have supernatural powers, either 1) it's otherwise out-of-context for their character (e.g., Forge from the X-Men), 2) nobody else does, or 3) both?

Rob said...

I think you nailed it with your first comment, Anonymous.