Saturday, February 16, 2008

Readings on Cultural Respect

This essay by Andy Smith challenges the anti-Indian racism that underlies cultural appropriation by white, feminist new agers - a category that fits the majority of Tamarack Song's female customers.

Readings on Cultural Respect

Andy Smith is a Cherokee woman, a co-founder of Women of All Red Nations (W.A.R.N.) and is active in the anti-sexual assault movement. This article appeared in the Winter 1991 issue of Women of Power. Other versions have appeared in various places. It is hoped that those of male gender reading this do not feel excused because it speaks only to "feminists" and white women. This version was written for a feminist publication; however, Ms. Smith did not intend to exclude anyone.


By Andy Smith

The New Age Movement has sparked new interest in Native American Traditional spirituality among white women who claim to be feminists. Indian spirituality, with it's respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all things, is often presented as the panacea for all individual and global problems. Not surprisingly, many white "feminists" see the opportunity to make a great profit from this craze. They sell sweat lodges or sacred pipe ceremonies, which promise to bring individual and global healing. Or they sell books and records that supposedly describe Indian traditional practices so that you, too, can be Indian.

On the surface, it may appear that this new craze is based on a respect for Indian spirituality. In fact, the New Age movement is part of a very old story of white racism and genocide against the Indian people. The "Indian" ways that these white, New Age feminists are practicing have little grounding in Native American reality.

True spiritual leaders do not make a profit from their teachings, whether it's through selling books, workshops, sweat lodges, or otherwise. Spiritual leaders teach the people because it is their responsibility to pass what they have learned from their elders to the younger generation. They do not charge for their services.

Indian religions are community-based, not proselytizing, religions. There is not one Indian religion, as many New Ager's would have you believe. Indian spiritual practices reflect the needs of a particular community. Indians do not generally believe that their way is "the" way, and consequently, they have no desire to tell outsiders about their practices. A medicine woman would be more likely to advise a white woman to look into her own culture and find what is liberating in it.

However, white women seem determined NOT to look into their own cultures for sources of strength. This is puzzling, since pre-Christian European cultures are also earth-based and contain many of the same elements that white are ostensibly looking for in Native American cultures. This phenomenon leads me to suspect that there is a more insidious motive for white "feminists" latching onto Indian spirituality.

When white "feminists" see how white people have historically oppressed others and how they are coming to very close to destroying the earth, they often want to dissociate themselves from their whiteness. They do this by opting to "become Indian." In this way, they can escape responsibility and accountability for white racism.

Of course, white "feminists" want to become only partly Indian. They do not want to be part of our struggles for survival against genocide; they do not want to fight for treaty rights or an end to substance abuse or sterilization abuse. They do not want to do anything that would tarnish their romanticized notions of what it means to become an Indian.

Moreover, white women want to become Indian without holding themselves accountable to Indian communities. If they did, they would have to listen to Indians telling them to stop carrying around sacred pipes, stop doing their own sweat lodges, and stop appropriating our spiritual practices. Rather, these New Agers see Indians as romanticized gurus who exist only to meet their consumerist needs. Consequently, they do not understand Indian people or our struggles for survival, and thus they can have no genuine understanding of Indian spiritual practices.

Read on....



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