July 12, 2010

Native beliefs = werewolf story?

Twilight Saga boosts Quileute Nation's profile

By Craig TakeuchiThough Jacobs encourages fans to learn about the real Quileute culture, she says the Quileute aren’t overly concerned about how the they're depicted in the Twilight series. “The reality is that The Twilight Saga is fiction. It’s a figment of [author] Stephenie Meyer’s imagination. Therefore, the Quileute don’t look at that as any kind of authentic representation of their culture or their traditions, and they’re quite capable of speaking for themselves. They have a very powerful voice, and what they’ve done is taken this global spotlight and are using it for educational purposes, to tell the true story through their own words, their own culture, and their own traditions, their music, their dancing, and their oral stories.”But:Deanna Reder, a Cree-M├ętis assistant professor of First Nations Studies and English at Simon Fraser University, who isn’t bothered by the stereotypical elements in the film, does have some other concerns. “The trouble I really have is with the very common disregard of cultural stories of actual First Nations,” she says. “The Quileute…are a real tribe and La Push is a real place, and there is the real originary story of being transformed or descended from wolves. Yet no one imagines it as any kind of outrage to turn that kind of story into a werewolf story. But imagine if someone wrote a novel or a film in which Jesus was a werewolf.…But that’s not a consideration that’s given to First Nations culture.”

Reder thinks this blurring of fact and fiction has deeper sociopolitical roots. “If you actually say that the stories are sacred, then the implications for the indigenous land claims are right there. Much easier to make indigenous people a fantasy and exotic and something separate from real concerns.”
Comment:  I have to agree with the professor on this point. The Quileute aren't looking at the big picture. They're ignoring how the books and movies shape our overall perception of Indians.

It might be different if Twilight were deeply rooted in Native reality...but it's not. There's a minimum of genuine Quileute culture and a maximum of unrealistic fantasy elements. The takeaway from Twilight isn't "The Quileute culture looks so rich; I want to learn more." It's "Indians are mystical beings with supernatural powers. They don't have a real religion or culture; they have a grab-bag of magic tricks."

The consequences arise when we talk about, say, protecting sacred Native sites and remains. A non-Indian is likely to say, "Indians don't have a religion like Christianity. They worship trees, rocks, buffalo, eagles, and wolves. Therefore, they're not sincere about wanting to protect this place. It's nothing but a political ploy."

People get such ideas because of frequent media stories about Native shamans, spirits, burial grounds, demons, and shapeshifters. They think Native religion is some fantasy concocted by a fiction writer. Thus they don't take it seriously.

For more on the subject, see Quileute Quiz for Twilight Fans, Genuine Quileute History and Culture and Twilight vs. Quileute Legends.

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