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Cultural Appropriation or Cultural Divisiveness

For some years now, certain Native American groups claiming their ways, their customs, and their beliefs have been taken over by white people. First, I quarrel with that label, Native American. Those early people who lived in what is now called the United States of America were not created here. They, like everyone else’s families, immigrated to this land. The white man is accused of bringing disease, brutality, and war to the shores of the North American Continent. The concept of the Nobel Savage died many years ago. We are into a trend of making the First Settlers, as I prefer to call them, nearly saints. They, we are being led to believe, have the answers to a natural diet, the clues to understanding the natural world, direct connection to the Spirit World and a higher moral standard. Lest we forget, these First Settlers waged war against one another, raped and killed one another, and kidnapped members of each other’s tribes. They were not and are not saints.

I am picking up complaints about cultural appropriation of tribal customs, beliefs, and mores by the white man. Sacred ceremonies and spiritual customs are being embraced by populations outside of the First Settlers creating a resentment. Copying, imitating, and mimicking are really the highest forms of flattery. So what’s the real issue? Non-First People pretending to be First People, claiming powers and visions associated with sacred animals? Disagreement over what First Settlers’ healers are to be called. The words shaman and shamanism are resented by some tribal members from the east coast to the west coast of the United States. Derogatory terms such as Plastic Shaman applied to non-First Settlers who have attempted to copy what they view as the best in those cultures to heal others. Maybe it’s the pretense of doing the actual healing? As a white man who is a healer, I understand those feelings. I call myself shaman because people understand that word. Years ago automobile was the word; now it’s car and everyone understands what is meant. Cute and pretty have so many uses they no longer have real meaning. Yet we understand the phrase, “pretty neat.” How about the word love? Love my car, love my dog, love my shirt, love burgers and fries. The point being, we tend to use those words which convey current meaning. Cool is a classic example. When it is used it seldom refers to the weather.

Are not the names Sioux, Mohawk, Hopi, Creek, Lakota and the rest of the 568 tribes in the United States each viewing their customs and beliefs to be the one to follow? And isn’t that divisive? With 50,000 Christian churches in the United States, each claiming their version is the right path to the kingdom of Heaven I wonder if they are not divisive. Whenever one group claims superiority over another we have discrimination, the rise of bigotry, and prejudice.

Is it not a sign of acceptance that various groups begin to assimilate each other’s ways? Are not the First Settlers dressing in blue jeans, eating spaghetti, using a white man’s invention to travel in? Should the black man, yellow man, or white man be disgruntled because people like and copy their food, music, and names? A big deal is made about having corn beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day even if one is not Irish and Catholic. I wonder if we can begin to accept the notion that each culture, no matter how big or small, has things to contribute to the whole community. Can we come to understand and to accept that there is but one race, the human race? Can we get by the really out of date notion of one is better than another? I surely hope so.


Source by Norman W. Wilson, Ph.D

Don Ma

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