March 16, 2016

Rowling colonizes and vanishes Indians

Paquette: J.K. Rowling lifts Indigenous traditions but ignores history

By Aaron PaquetteRowling takes the more than 500 distinct Nations of North America and lumps them into a simplistic amalgam called “the Native American community.” She also appropriated the legend of Navajo skinwalkers (shape-shifters) without so much as a please or thank you and additionally painted some of the spiritual leaders of the Navajo as corrupt charlatans.

So what? The stories are fiction, right? What about books and movies about ancient Greek or Norse gods? Or leprechauns and vampires? Isn’t this the same?

Not really. No one believes in vampires.

Many Navajo take their beliefs seriously and regard knowledge of skinwalkers as sacrosanct–part of an interweaving expression of the Navajo worldview. These aren’t just stories, they’re ceremony, as significant today as they were in the past.

Rowling’s new foray is different than borrowing from old traditions no longer practised, or from cultures that are safe and thriving. She’s taking the property of a marginalized people for her own use simply because she can and wants to.

This is colonialism. Simply put, it’s cultural theft and these are not her stories to tell.
The Colonization Effect In Rowling’s Magical American History

By Katie Majka“Harry Potter is fictional,” people have (and will continue to) insisted, and that’s true enough. But the history that Rowling has rewritten to suit that fictional world isn’t—that history is real and valid and important, and not to be used as a malleable narrative prop.

As a white person, I can’t sit here and say that what Rowling did was permissible; I can’t and won’t attempt to justify it, both because I don’t think it’s worthy of justification, and at the end of the day it has nothing to do with me, anyway, and everything to do with the Native peoples whom it affects. While I don’t think Rowling purposely set out to colonize Native American history, the point is that’s precisely what happened and it needs to be addressed by her. When any person sets out to explore a culture that isn’t their own, it’s that person’s responsibility to do the proper research, and that responsibility goes double for white people. We have a wide and vast history of colonization and cultural appropriation, which we still benefit from and are ignorant of (see: a few notable American sports teams/mascots, white people on Halloween, etc.) today.
Native Americans to J.K. Rowling: We’re Not Magical

The author has come under fire for equating Navajo religious beliefs with the world of her fictional Harry Potter characters.

By Becky Little
There is another, more subtle, layer to the depiction of Native Americans as magical, fictional beings—they end up being portrayed as though they don’t exist. Howe refers to this as “the trope of the vanishing Indian.”

“The vanishing American Indian is in art, it’s in stories—we’re the so-called Last of the Mohicans,” she says. “We exist in the minds of mainstream America as dead and forgotten because the white Americans won the American West.”

When native traditions are constantly depicted as relics, it gives the impression that those traditions—and the more than 5 million native people in the United States—don’t exist anymore. Think of the Native American characters you’ve encountered in books and movies. How many of them were portrayed as characters from the past, and how many of them were depicted as people in the modern world? (Modern characters that are also magical don’t count—I’m still looking at you, Twilight.)

On a more basic level, the stereotypes of the “vanishing Indian,” the magical medicine man, or even the noble savage dehumanize the people they profess to represent. Children read books to learn, but also to identify with the characters. For native children, this presents a problem if most of the images they see of themselves are otherworldly, long gone, or sports mascots.

“These stereotypes hurt us in terms of our human rights,” says Howe. “You cannot have civil rights, you can’t really have human rights or be thought of in a significant way, if you are invisible and you’re dead. So the trope of the vanishing American Indian is in a way undermining the humanity of native people because the assumption is we’re dead, or there’s just a few of us left.”
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Rowling's Magic in North America and Pocahontas in Harry Potter.

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