This week in #SettlerNonsense: Fantastical Natives and where to find them or WHY JK ROWLING WHY?! WHYYYYYYYY!
I promise you this whole thing is not going to be about #MagicInNorthAmericaGate but a lot of it will be. This week in #SettlerNonsense JK Rowling forces me to revisit my love of Harry Potter through a critical scholarly lens (HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO ME JK ROWLING) and other people prove that in the public imagination fantastical creatures exist all around us, and they are usually Native Americans who are so "other" to us y'all.
What is #SettlerNonsense you ask
Settler Nonsense is dehumanization and dismissal of Native knowledges so prevalent in discussions about Native people. It is the ever present "vanishing Indian" story where we all just up and disappeared one day and NOBODY KNOWS WHY (it was genocide. Yep. Genocide.) Natives are always vanishing, dying or losing something, our languages, our futures, our health, and our cultures. In this story, if we haven’t lost these things, we are on our way to losing them, one step away from an extinction that often feels inevitable and in many ways, improbably, accidental.
#1: JK Rowling published some short (short) stories about the history of #MagicInNorthAmerica and there were Natives mentioned in it and it was not good. It was mostly 1. Natives are magical 2. But they don't use wands cause all the good wand makers are British (touche) 3. They do know a lot about plants though 4. Skinwalkers aren't bad. The people who said they were bad are just jelly. 5. When the wizards immigrated here they were like "where's the apothecary?" And Natives were like "walk 1/2 a mile up that way and get the stuff yourself. We are busy." 6. So the poor British wizards were like "It's a mad wilderness here. There are few amenities." And the Natives sat back in their cities and villages and went "sure, no amenities. You are right. Stay far away from our amenities-less villages."
I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time going through the stories because once they came out several really fantastic writers and bloggers put on their capes and used their non-wand filled hands to do what needed to be done. Here's an excerpt.
Dr. Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations.
This whole wandless magic thing is bugging me. So Rowling has said multiple times that it takes a lot more skill to perform magic without a wand (Dumbledore does it at several points in the books), but points out that wands are what basically refines magic. Wands are a European invention, so basically she’s demonstrating Eurocentric superiority here–the introduction of European “technology” helps bring the Native wizards to a new level. AKA colonial narrative 101.
Dr. Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature
What J.K. Rowling did yesterday (March 8, 2016) in the first story of her "History of Magic in North America" is the most recent example of white people misrepresenting Native people. Her misrepresentations are harmful. And yet, countless people are cheering what Rowling did, and dismissing our objections. That, too, is not ok.
Simon Moya-Smith at Indian Country Today
“I’m saying American society hasn’t evolved. Its conception of us and our spiritualities remains seriously antiquated. People all across this fading country still believe Native Americans cast curses, heal with magic potions … I’m saying there’s very little difference between what a 3rdGrade teacher will fleece to students in November about Native American spirituality, and what J.K. Rowling scribbled about Native Americans and magic.”
Over on Righting Red
For me the representation issue boils down to this: The mass media narrative around Natives is intensely problematic; if we’re mentioned at all, it’s within a stereotypical or fantastical sense, and very rarely goes beyond 1 or 2-D. Many consumers of this media have no idea we still exist as contemporary, multi-dimensional individuals, which makes these fantastical/fictional perpetrations very much a part of the problem in that NO ONE knows or cares to know any of the very real issues our communities face. Who cares about the epidemic levels of Native youth suicide when OMG JK ROWLING IS WRITING ABOUT MAGICAL INDIAN SKINWALKERS!!!
I also really liked what author N(ora). K. Jemisin wrote
It would’ve taken some work for her to research Navajo stories and pick (or request) some elements from that tradition that weren’t stereotypical or sacred — and then for her to do it again with the Paiutes and again with the Iroquois and so on. But that is work she should’ve done — for the sake of her readers who live those traditions, if not for her own edification as a writer. And how much more delightful could Magic in North America have been if she’d put an ancient, still-thriving Macchu Picchu magic school alongside a brash, newer New York school? How much richer could her history have been if she’d mentioned the ruins of a “lost” school at Cahokia, full of dangerous magical artifacts and the signs of mysterious, hasty abandonment? Or a New Orleanian school founded by Marie Laveau, that practiced real vodoun and was open/known to the locals as a temple — and in the old days as a safe place to plan slave rebellions, a la Congo Square? Or what if she’d mentioned that ancient Death Eater-ish wizards deliberately destroyed the magical school of Hawai’i — but native Hawai’ians are rebuilding it now as Liliuokalani Institute, better than before and open to all?
You're welcome Internet. Now that we have covered all the bases I'm sure we can all agree that what JK Rowling wrote was problematic, dismissive and hurtful to Native peoples. Also, ill-informed and contributes to continuing issues that face Native peoples who are just trying to get some good literature written about them so that kids/ students will stop writing book reports about how nice it was that Columbus brought some Natives back to Europe with him when he left so they too could visit the apothecary (I am guessing here. I know for a fact that some students write that Columbus was nice enough to run a quick cruise line back to Europe because nowhere do any children's books call it a SLAVE TRADE).
Except we can't all agree. The backlash was swift. There was a lot of "it's only fiction!" or "Stop being so PC!" or "You should just be grateful someone like Rowling even mentioned you!" or "Stop being such a cry baby!"
jSo here's my two cents.
$.01: Here are some times where things that JK Rowling wrote in Harry Potter really super mattered and also were more than just fiction.
$.02: JK Rowling has a lot of money. This does not mean I think she owes me anything but I think she owes herself to really take some of that money and enroll in a Native American Studies class. Heck, at least a Native American literature class. It is there that she will start to see how the language of "fantasy" and "magical realism" and "magic" is part and parcel to language of vanishing, pretend Indians. Like if we can make Natives kind of foggy in our imaginations it just feels a little bit like millions of people being killed or displaced isn't all that gut wrenching (it happened a long time ago in a land far far away you know?) We have to be real as well as fantastical. Because you know what, I'm not going to argue that we aren't fantastical. But we are fantastical and magical not just as wizards but because of the sheer strength and power that comes from our cultures, stories, songs and ceremonies.
Also we can be wizards and have an awesome wizard school and teach all about why magic with no wand is so much better but our schools would not and should not be divorced from our histories in the "no-maj" world as well. You know why? Because our wizards would not turn their backs on their no-maj family. And we would want even the newest wizard immigrant to know that.
P.S. Listen. If you're gonna do a whole boarding school thing with the magical school in the U.S. that has a background in Indigenous magic (which you said before) you really need to read up on the history of boarding schools in the Americas and be very conscious of that as you move forward. Please. Please stop what you are doing and do this right now. Please.
#2: Some girl on Instagram put up a photo of her "hot boxing a hobbit house" which just so happened to be her hitting a bong in a traditional Northwest California home in a State Park.
I'm not going to put up the photo of this girl that she posted publicly to Instagram and then let people make a bunch of comments and like it a lot before finally deleting it because many Native youth were all "excuse me?"
Her defense was that 1. She's native? And 2. It just looked like a Hobbit house because of the hole or something and she didn't mean to be disrespectful. Okay.
The reason why I was struck by this particular instance is the mention of Hobbits. It was the second time in a number of weeks that I had seen someone say these were "hobbit houses" or refer to Native people from the Northwest of California as possible hobbits. I don't really feel the need to correct that we are in fact, not hobbits because hobbits aren't real and if anything hobbits probably stole their ideas from us when we were exchanging ideas with Maori's from New Zealand long before Columbus got lost and thought he found India. Because hobbits are from New Zealand right? They were in the movie.
Somebody's going to write me a letter now explaining it's fiction and hobbit's are from MIDDLE EARTH to which I say, yes, exactly.
Why does it matter that some people refer to our houses as hobbit houses? It's just more nonsense really. I often explain that these houses were very well designed homes and in fact draw on principles that are now being used as part of sustainable building design. They were made from redwood planks, they were sturdy, they were warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They were energy efficient. Also, they were permanent structures (so all those things you hear about Natives being nomadic wanderers... nope). And they survived. In some places in Northwest California Natives were living in homes like this through the 1920s. They were holding steadfastly to their village sites despite pressure to move and to destroy or build over those sites.
The particular site that the young woman was at is a recreational site in a state park meant to educate people about the Natives of the area called the Yurok. After she posted the photo a young woman posted a response to her trying to explain why the photo is so infuriating. That posted letter got the young woman who wrote the letter temporary blocked from Facebook for not meeting Facebook's standards? AND THAT ladies and gentlemen is why Facebook wins the #SettlerNonsense badge of the week.
Here is the letter for everyone to read.
*Update* The young woman who had her account banned from Facebook for a while posted a statement on her own website which you can read here. https://sineadtalley.wordpress.com/
So that's it for this week folks. Enjoy your #SettlerNonsense
I'm going to go and see where all my Fantastical Natives are at. #WhereMyFantasticalNativesAt
Palate Cleanser: The opposite of #SettlerNonsense is
My friend Morning Star Gali got awarded a Leading Edge Fund fellowship so that she can work on restoring justice for Native Peoples.
Gali will document the crisis of mass incarceration among Native Americans in the state. Using her extensive network, organizing and community-based and engaged research background, she will mobilize Native nations, incarcerated Native Americans and their families, allies and policy leaders to address and shift the tide of over-incarceration and human rights violations within corrections institutions. She also aims to build solidarity and power among Indigenous Peoples throughout California, enabling them to restore sovereign rights and to heal, care for and resolve differences among their people on their own terms and by their own tribal governments.
Here she is in a video. #AwesomeNativeWomen
This week in #SettlerNonsense: Federal Indian law is a really badly written fiction story, Kevin Bacon is afraid of dirty handprints, Formation is cool but hmmm, and no Vanessa Hudgens... no.
This week in #Settler Nonsense (2/18)
It's the end of the week which means time for a new edition of "This week in #SettlerNonsense" a weekly review of some of the things that are just plain #SettlerNonsense.
#1: Antonin Scalia admits that the Supreme Court is just making shiz up as they go... in Federal Indian Law.
This article -- written by April Youpee-Roll about her experience meeting now deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia highlights one of the things that we've been saying about Federal Indian Law for a long time. It's just sort of made up based on whatever #SettlerNonsense happens to be in fashion at the moment. In her article she talks about meeting Scalia at one of his book signings. (Read her whole article. Seriously. Do it.)
As I handed over my book, I decided to go with, "I just wanted to thank you. When I was 10, I came to watch oral arguments in my family's case, and you joined the majority in our favor."
Take Sovereignty for instance ---
First Indians are sovereign because THEY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN SOVEREIGN.
Then Indians are sovereign because "help we need you to help us cause we don't know how to help ourselves."
Then Indians are sovereign because "you're obviously sovereign governments, obviously. I mean you were making treaties with other countries long before the United States became the United States."
Then Indians are sovereign because "that's what the damn treaties say!"
But then people are like "but having sovereign nations within our nation is hard. Also we want all the land. Boo hoo."
So then the Supreme Court one day says that Indians are not sovereign they are "domestic, dependent" sovereigns and everyone who reads the Supreme Court decision goes "wait? What is that?"
They don't know. They just made it up.
We can play this game all day with Federal Indian Law. Like the freedom of religion. EVERYBODY has freedom of religion. Until one day the Supreme Court goes "except. Well not Native Americans. Okay, really it's not anybody. Because really the government can do whatever it wants with its land so long as they aren't directly targeting a religion." And the people go "wait? WHAT?" #TheyDontKnow #TheyJustMadeItUp
Argument for arguments sake. I guess the Supreme Court is supposed to make stuff up, that's kind of what they do. However, in the case of Federal Indian Law there are actually MANY MANY texts and ideas they could pull from that aren't just "made up" but instead are based in legal precedent. They don't have to make it up. It's just they ignore and/or don't know any real information about Native people, their histories, and their continuing societies and cultures. Why don't they learn about that in school? College? Law school? Clerking? #SettlerNonsense
#2: Kevin Bacon's new move is about a kid who steals haunted Indian artifacts from an Indian site and then the whole family has to put up with the scary Indian spirits that are coming to get them because...
WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP TAKING SHIZ THAT DOESN'T BELONG TO THEM? #SettlerNonsense that's why. This belief that all those things are yours for the "taking" because they don't belong to anybody anymore right? All the Indians are dead now, at least all the Indians that had cool rocks.
WHY ARE INDIAN SPIRITS ALWAYS SO MAD AND SCARY? #SettlerNonsense because they know deep down that Indians are just sort of pissed about all the #SettlerNonsense. This makes our Indian ghosts scary beings that want to come and make little kid's lives miserable. Also, in a world ruled by #SettlerNonsense Indian spirits tend to overreact, the way all Indians did back in the day. [sarcasm ahead!] GEEZ SORRY okay, we made you move out of your house, Cherokees. SORRY okay, we tried to take your children away from you and put them into schools where they were often abused. The whole "you guys are so sensitive" that even after you die you over react to things like some kid taking a rock is #SETTLERNONSENSE
WHY IS THIS THE FILM BEING MADE BY HOLLYWOOD? When there are so many other films that could tell much better stories? We can make a move about scary Indian spirits that haunt rocks but they don't make movies about scary white spirits trying to come in to some Indian families house and tell them they live there now. That's some real #SettlerNonsense
In Hoopa some of our First People who prepared the world for us went into the rocks/rivers/trees etc. This is a good thing. They are always with us. And they provide for and care for us as we provide for and care for the earth and all of its beings.
NOT-- "ooooo scary spirits in the rocks."
I feel like someone needs to make a trailer for what this movie would be with a Native family instead... The spirit shows up and makes dirty hand prints everywhere and the Native grandma is all "who's been touching my couch with dirty hands!" And then the kid gets in trouble and the spirit is all "aren't you freaked out now? I have dirty hands." And the Native kid is like "not really. I'm pissed. Stop getting me in trouble dude." End trailer. #MakeBetterMoviesHollywood
#3: Everybody is talking about Beyonce and how they are gonna get their behinds in Formation and I'm just over here like "wait, the director of Formation was also the director of No Doubt's WTF Native Appropriation video?"
Maybe you don't remember that video? It was ALL KINDS of #SettlerNonsense. Gwen Stefani was dressed up as an Indian. She then gets kidnapped by white lone ranger kind of dudes? And they drag her around, tie her to a wall, and threaten her with guns. All the time she is singing "do you think I'm looking hot?" #NotReally
I wrote about it here. http://www.cutcharislingbaldy.com/blog/an-open-letter-to-no-doubt-not-so-hot
What I said then was something like:
The video also features a tee-pee village, Gwen doing some sort of smoke signals dance and sending up red smoke, scenes of cowboys getting drunk and heading out to the tee-pee village to shoot point blank at Indian people. It features Gwen in a weird swimsuit thing dancing in front of a bonfire in combat boots while telling us that we can go ahead and check out her ragamuffin. There's a lot of feathers, a red dress, a tee-pee hideaway which is for some reason filled with a hookah, an African mask and a bunch of other vaguely ethnic looking stuff. And a dog.
Turns out the director of this No Doubt #SettlerNonsense video was Melina Matsoukas and she is also the director of Beyonce's new video causing all this conversation. And this conversation. And this conversation.
One of my favorite Hupa's in the world texted me the day that Beyonce dropped her Formation video and was all "I LOVE THIS VIDEO."
Me too, It's pretty awesome.
And then I find out that it's directed by the same person who thought that No Doubt's video was okay? How do you not walk off that set? How do you not go "listen, this whole part where we have Gwen Stefani dancing around in a Tipi that includes a Hookah and some African masks. It's like Cultural Appropriation threw up in there and she's dancing around in it. I JUST CAN'T. "
There is so much vision in the Formation video. The song is one thing (I love the song) but the imagery that is put along with it, the celebration, the modern nod to a rich and deep culture. It is not Beyonce dressed up in old timey clothes playing -- it is saying "this is a part of who we are and a part of who I am and I am proud."
So what does this mean? I haven't decided yet. There is something to be said about how the appropriation of Native people is so accepted. Also, how little regard there is for how their culture also builds who they are as strong people in modern times. I just haven't been able to really put it in to words... yet.
#4: Vanessa Hudgens and her boyfriend carved their names in Red Rocks in Sedona, AZ
And the world went "Stop with your #SettlerNonsense Vanessa Hudgens."
#5: The Bundy Militia literally pooped all over Native American artifacts
Sometimes people say "Cutcha, what is #SettlerNonsense" and instead of trying to write some kind of eloquent explanation like:
Settler Nonsense is the narrative of loss that is so prevalent in discussions about Native people. We are always losing something, our languages, our futures, our health, and our cultures. In this story, if we haven’t lost these things, we are on our way to losing them, one step away from an extinction that often feels inevitable and in many ways, improbably, accidental. Natives are always in the last stages of their existence. We have long past the time of the last Mohican or the last of our tribe. This is to solidify the settler colonial desire for an eventual inheriting of this land, a rightful, uninhibited, ahistorical passing of ownership from the poor, dying Indigenous to the stronger, healthier, more vibrant settler colonial society.
But instead I'll just say: #SettlerNonsense is a bunch of white dudes taking over some federal land and demanding that it be given to them because they have "rights" to it and then digging a trench and pooping all over it. Also it's kind of #SettlerNonsense that they couldn't just go "discover" it in the first place because, and as we come full circle, our own legal system says that the United States owns the land by "right of discovery."
The head of the militia keeps going on about how the land belongs to "the people" and you have to laugh because in his #SettlerNonsense he's partially correct.
The Burns Paiute tribe are "the people" of that area. The land was never ceded to the government. So if that land should be returned to anyone it's the tribe. Anything else is just flights of fancy, like you're making it up as you go along. Which, as we have established from the beginning is exactly what they are doing.
Palate Cleanser: The opposite of #SettlerNonsense is
Thank goodness this movie doesn't have Kevin Bacon in it because otherwise Zambo Dende would just be wandering around leaving dirty hand prints everywhere and acting like that's doing something. #MAKEBETTERMOVIESHOLLYWOOD
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, fan of "The Good Wife" and "The Walking Dead", who likes to go for long walks on long piers...
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