Misappropriation of Native Cultural Traditions
by: Donna Smith

I am honored to be asked to write to you, to express some thoughts about the continuing (and growing) problem of bastardization and exploitation (also known as misappropriation) of native cultural traditions.

Let me introduce myself to you: my name is Donna Smith. Originally I am from the southwest but now live in Tennessee. I am an adoptee who's found her birth family - both indian and non-indian. Although I am now "found", who I am was never in question. I grew up in Costa Rica and in Colombia, South America but have lived in the US for the last 32 years or so. I am a 9th grade drop-out who is a simple housewife, married with four sons (2 are grown).

Why am I speaking out on the subject of protecting native cultural traditions? Over the last few years, it's become very obvious how rampant exploitation and bastardization of native traditions, cultures, languages, and most importantly ceremonies has become in non-indian societies. To say that it's reached a critical point is an understatement. It seems that anywhere one turns these days, a person can find someone 'performing' an imitation (re: bastardized) form of a sweatlodge or sundance. Those two particular traditional ceremonies have become the favorites of people claiming indian descendancy or who "feel indian". There are people who claim to be Cherokee, Delaware, Hopi, and other Nations who are participating in the traditions that are not traditional to their own People. And of course, there are non-indians who also participate in the imitation ceremonies; mostly in a vain effort to try and be something else or to try and find something they feel is missing in their lives.

The protection of any Nation's traditions is vital to its cultural survival. As has been well documented over the last several centuries, when a culture is invaded by outside forces - be they materialistic forces, military forces, or forces that claim to speak on behalf of a religion, which is not the same as a spiritual force - the original ways can and have been lost. Forever. When an old way is blended with anything foreign, it is no longer an original way. It has become bastardized - mixed, blended......forever changed.

Traditional ceremonies include spiritual rites, methods and items (sometimes referred to as "artifacts"). Each Nation's People were given specific Sacred Laws for living. The duty of caring for the ceremonies has been handed down through time to individuals through the traditions of each Nation. In other words, persons were traditionally acknowledged for possessing and caring for the knowledge and understanding of each rite, song, and other ceremonial item in a sacred way. When outsiders are allowed to participate in sacred ceremonies that are not of their origins, many times it's often difficult for the outsiders to grasp the full meaning of the ceremony and its purpose(s). If simply imitating a ceremony was sufficient to making it 'work', then leaders wouldn't have been traditionally chosen/selected, ceremonial items wouldn't be important and handed down, and neither would it be important to preserve the ceremony as it has always been done traditionally.

Those with an understanding of the importance of protecting spiritual ways know that there is no halfway mark. If there is a real belief in the traditional ways of one's People, one knows things were done deliberately and with purpose. There was meaning behind each ceremony; there was a purpose for each ceremony. With that also comes the understanding that there can be harmful consequences for those who participate in and allow the perpetuation of bastardized, imitations of sacred traditions.

Hate is a wasted emotion that serves no good purpose; it only serves to destroy one's spirit. It has never been traditional to tell another what to do or how to believe. Cultural traditions and the respective ceremonies do not belong to the person(s) who is/are traditionally responsible for their preservation and continuation, they belong to the Nation. There is a difference between teaching respect for each other through the sharing of basic cultural traditions such as the sharing of food, material items such as clothing, housing, horses, a way of living in a good way with each other in spite of differences, etc - and taking what belongs to the People as a whole and 'sharing it' with anyone and everyone. Simple honor and respect are also basic traditions to almost all peoples but those important and basic traditions seem to have been forgotten along the way.

When traditions of a Nation are stolen from the People - even by one of their own - it hurts the person and the Nation. Is it any wonder why non-indian society is so confused about Native Peoples? Is it any wonder why the Nations are in turmoil, why the planet is being destroyed, why our children's future looks bleak, why so many are committing suicide, taking drugs and drinking, etc.? The list goes on.

It has to stop. Many traditional people are working together to spread understanding of this particular and important issue - to try and somehow make a difference. Unfortunately there are some 'leaders' who've become well-known in the new-age circuits, whose followers will defend the right of their 'leader' to perform imitation ceremonies. What is not seen or understood by the people participating in such things is that the supposed benefits of/in the imitation ceremonies do not exist - all that exists in such a circumstance is greed and ego, in direct opposition to anything dealing with spiritual issues.

I do not expect that my thoughts make much of a difference. It's not my intent to 'convert' anyone or force my beliefs on anyone else's way of believing. I merely want to provide an 'outsider's' view on this important issue and also lend support to the traditional leaders who are actively trying to protect the cultural and spiritual ways for their People - on behalf of all Native People. I believe we can all reach a level of respect, knowledge, and understanding for each others' cultures and traditions without crossing the lines of misappropriating what does not belong to the other.

Thank you for your time in reading this and any considerations you may give to my thoughts.
with respect,
Donna Smith

There are too many to list but these are some websites about Native cultural misappropriation:

Wall of Shame - Long List of Fakes and Frauds http://iktome.freewebsites.com/offenders.html

Help Stop the Exploitation of Indian Ceremonies and Culture http://www.canku-luta.org/oldnews/exploitation.html

Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality http://puffin.creighton.edu/lakota/war.html

Lakota Oyate http://www.lakotaoyate.com/declaration.htm

Shamanism: It Ain't Native American Religion! http://www.metista.com/starrhawke/Aint.html

In Sacred Integrity - The Need for Cultural Integrity in the New Age http://www.metista.com/insacredintegrity/need.htm

A wellknown Fraud, Brooke Medicine Eaglehttp://www.sonomacountyfreepress.com/features/brooke-edwards.html

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