April 03, 2010

Dreamcatcher = healing at Stanford

The Native Appropriations blog notes a stereotype at the Vaden Health Center at Stanford:

Random Appropriation of the Day! Dreamcatcher=all inclusive Native traditionsI would assume that we're supposed to believe that these are all "Healing Traditions" supported by the health center--but honestly, can we put massage and chicken soup on the same level as Native spiritual traditions? And how is a dreamcatcher representative of healing/medicine in any Native community?Comment:  Superficially, the dreamcatcher's message is clear: "We don't just practice Western medicine here. We embrace healing traditions from around the world. We're multicultural!"

But there's a wealth of covert messages beneath the overt message. Among them:

  • All Native artifacts are spiritual.

  • Native spirituality is all about healing.

  • Native healing is as simple as back massage and chicken soup.

  • Here's the actual story behind the dreamcatcher:While dreamcatchers originated in the Ojibwa Nation, during the Pan-Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s they were adopted by Native Americans of a number of different Nations. Some consider the dreamcatcher a symbol of unity among the various Indian Nations, and a general symbol of identification with Native American or First Nations cultures. However, other Native Americans have come to see dreamcatchers as "tacky" and over-commercialized, especially as most of them are being manufactured and sold by non-Natives.

    The Ojibwa believe that a dreamcatcher changes a person's dreams. According to Terri J. Andrews, "Only good dreams would be allowed to filter through. ... Bad dreams would stay in the net, disappearing with the light of day." Good dreams would pass through and slide down the feathers to the sleeper.
    So dreamcatchers come from the Ojibwa cultures in the Great Lakes region. They have nothing to do with Northern California except as a pan-Indian symbol. There's a whiff of the stereotype that all Native cultures are the same.

    A dreamcatcher's purpose is to provide a good night's sleep. Which is about as related to health as a fluffy pillow is. The sign implies that Western traditions will cure you with medicine (pills) while Native traditions will make you comfy in bed.

    All in all, the sign is a failed attempt to convey a multicultural message. The dreamcatcher isn't much closer to a symbol of healing than a feather, a pipe, or a rattle. I'm not sure it's possible to convey a multicultural message of healing with images only, but this isn't the way.

    For more on the subject, see The Basic Indian Stereotypes and "Primitive" Indian Religions.

    1 comment:

    dmarks said...

    I have one dreamcatcher I bought in Oregon.

    As for "# All Native artifacts are spiritual", well this is not too far off. Or wasn't. From what I've read in some very old sources.