Dear J.K. Rowling: Wakanyeja Video Response to History of #MagicinNorthAmerica

When J.K. Rowling’s History of Magic in North America launched last week, many Indigenous fans like me were crushed.

Read my initial response here. Then be sure to check out Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, which has a nice roundup of Indigenous criticisms to Rowling’s phoned-in, bare-minimum, stereotypical depictions of Native wizards.

Since then, I’ve been asked to discuss my views specifically as a fan and Native mother. Check out my interviews with The Humanist, Native America Calling, NowThis and local newspapers.

But the most important interview I’ve done is with my daughter, Mimi. She’s 7 years old (well, 7-in-a-half!) and the light of my life. We tag team the Harry Potter fandom in our house. We’re reading the books together (again – this time around she helps read and instead of the paperbacks, we downloaded all of the illustrated iPad versions) and try to get a least an hour of book time in a few times per week.

Last week she jumped into bed, eagerly awaiting Chapter 10 in The Order of the Phoenix and I gave her the bad news (honestly – I’m too stressed to read HP now, a series that used to function as a comforting safe space to escape to when the real world was too much to mess with #microaggressionsFTW). I read Rowling’s first post to Mimi. After I finished, Mimi said, “What else?” She meant, what else did Rowling write? Where was the rest of it? I said, “That’s it.” Rightfully, Mimi was angry Natives rated just a few short paragraphs when things like snakes, tournament trophies and horcruxes get fully-realized story arcs. I also explained how some people were mad that Rowling was equating medicine people to mythical fantasy (code for medicine people aren’t real) and was taking stories that didn’t belong to her. Mimi: “Like land?” I could only snap.

Mimi is smart. She gets it without me having to lead her to conclusions. I’ve never done more than present her with (basic, age-appropriate) facts. With those, she’s given testimony at legislative hearings regarding mascots, marched in protests, advocated for survivors of domestic violence and has generally let her heart lead her. I can’t take credit for it; aside from giving her the information and space to process ideas and concepts like racism and sexism on her own, I’ve pretty much let her choose her own adventure.

The other day Mimi asked if maybe Rowling “just doesn’t know” about Native Americans and perhaps it would benefit the author and her legions of fans if she (Mimi) threw down some wakanyeja knowledge (I am constantly telling her the importance of speaking up as a young person – wakanyeja is a word often used for child in Lakota, but it literally translates to spirit being). On one hand, this made me even angrier at Rowling: In one of our conversations about this issue, Mimi equated Rowling to Columbus (the land bit), but where she wouldn’t give Columbus or his supporters any kind of excuse, she loves the world of Harry Potter so much she believes the author deserves a chance at redemption. How dare Rowling do this to my kid (I mean, anyone who has been or works with victims of abuse knows cyclical behavior begins with excusing the abuser #SheDidntMeanIt)! But… On the other hand, I was pumped: As someone who often functions in the realm of digital storytelling, you can imagine my elation to hear Mimi wanted to make a video letter to Rowling.

Remember: “IT TAKES A GREAT DEAL OF COURAGE TO STAND UP TO YOUR ENEMIES, BUT EVEN MORE TO STAND UP TO YOUR FRIENDS.” — Dumbledore (and we’re going to hope JK Rowling is a friend)

The video is 15 minutes long (yikes, I know). And, you guys, this is all ad-libbed. Obviously, we’ve talked about this a few times, but mostly we’re just riffing off each other (and tbh, I nearly cried a few times at the powerful words Mimi spoke). I thought about cutting it down into a digestible 3-minute trailer so more people would watch it, but the uncut, undiluted, stream-of-consciousness discussion that happens is, in a word, magical. It demands to be watched in full.

You can feel Mimi’s anger and frustration at Rowling, witness her obvious passion for her culture (and OMG you can’t imagine how it feels to know she actually retains what her father and I tell her about her heritage!), and recognize the desperation in her voice to simply be heard. Our hope in making this video is that J.K. Rowling will edit/redo her Fantastic Beasts promos and screenwriting. Native people – and fans worldwide – deserve better than what Rowling has offered. Mimi has some truly fantastic ideas on how to incorporate Native characters into magic (historical AND contemporary) and I’m working with some great (and busy) minds to try and recreate Rowling’s HOMINA into something both entertaining and respectful. Yes! It can be done!

But first, Rowling needs to listen. Start here:


18 thoughts on “Dear J.K. Rowling: Wakanyeja Video Response to History of #MagicinNorthAmerica

  1. Thank you so much for writing about this and speaking out. “It doesn’t matter what everybody else is doin’ , everybody else is takin’ dirty money” have discussed the blurbs about other schools, released on Pottermore, with other fanms and we were concerned about the homogenized/colonial tones in her writing–it’s nothing new, there are like smaller than nano-aggressions she’s done in the books but it’s hardly noticeable and not worth pointing out. However, it is one thing to write about ancient cultures/beliefs/history and another thing to try and draw parallels or reference existing ones.

    When I first read the passage about indigenous people, it didn’t quite click with me what was wrong (I am not a native), but I definitely thought “that’s it?” as well. I also read a very vague article talking about the twitter outrage around the topic, but I didn’t really “get” what the issue was until I started looking for indigenous ppl commenting about it on twitter and then I felt really heartbroken when I got a much better understanding of what JKR did.

    It is very sad to see a child get so hurt by something she loves so much, you both are obviously such huge fans, JKR should fix thing or listen to you all better. However I am really excited to see a HOMINA version from Indigenous people. I know many HP fans like to do their own versions of the schools, or have already written their own versions on tumblr and other places, or done a lot of their own ret-conning, but I will be especially excited to see/read Indigenous people’s American Wizarding World.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this, especially the video with you and your daughter. Though beautiful to see both of you talking about this together, I’m sure it wasn’t easy to share something so personal, or to expose such deep hurt.

    This is my first time visiting your blog, but I read a few other posts after reading this one, and I can definitely say I’ll be back.

  3. Thank you for the beautiful video! The Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – the North American wizarding school – is now “coming soon” on Pottermore. Let’s hope Rowling is doing something about this devastating mess.

  4. Before J. K. Rowling, I think half the fantasies for children had Christian underpinnings. I’m thinking of C. S. Lewis, Diane Duane, Madeleine L’Engle. Those writers deliberately use fantasy to talk about their own religions. But Rowling is very secular . . . intentionally secular . . . secular to the point that reading her books, you almost wouldn’t know Europe was chock full of Christian architecture and imagery. So the fact that she used NA religions and cultures as if they WERE fantasy is really, really . . . what Mimi said.

    Thank you both for making this video and putting it out there. You clarify the issue beautifully. Also, I hope my relationship with my daughter is half as good as yours is!

  5. I think to some point Mimi is right: Rowling doesn’t know about Native people, frankly because none of us do, and I suspect the problem is a lot worse in the UK. Unfortunately we aren’t educated about Native people. Those of us who don’t take a course specifically in Native history barely even spend any time on the horrible crimes committed against Native people when Europeans first came to this part of the world. And those of us who did take a course still only know about a handful of traditions from a handful of tribes because there is so much to study–and so much that has been lost. So I think that aboriginal people creating educational videos about their own culture using their own voices is incredibly powerful, both in and out of this context.

    However, as a writer, I believe it is your responsibility to research and thoroughly understand the people you’re writing about. I can see why Rowling’s white fans may not understand the issues here, but Rowling herself should have done the work to know why this is problematic. If she wants to include aboriginal people in her worldbuilding she should be taking the time to understand them and their traditions as deeply as possible.

    Please keep talking about this and teaching your daughter to be so awesome!

  6. I came across your blog in a round about way, but I am delighted I kept clicking on the links. I am an educator and librarian (older and European heritage) in Seattle who cringes when I think of all the misguided and inaccurate and down-right wrong teaching about Native peoples is done in our schools. As a librarian, I use Debbie Reese’s reviews to guide me in weeding out books and adding new books to our library.

    Thank you for your work.. I know blogging can be a full-time job, but I appreciate your writing and your perspectives.

  7. I’m British, born and grew up on the south coast of England. So I would never want to assume I know anything much about your culture (how could I?), and am aware I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s there. But I hear you, and your gorgeous little daughter. I’m sad that you’re sad. And I think you’re owed a huge apology. One reason I hear you (apart from the obvious) is I’m a pagan, an earth worshipper, a (literal) tree-hugger and people make fun of people like me, too. Most of it is light-hearted from people I know and trust, and some of them are just genuinely surprised that I actually hug trees, but the fact remains that people like me used to be cruelly persecuted and some of our festivals (Christmas, Easter, Halloween) have been claimed by a predominantly Christian culture, belittling the original festivals and the people who celebrated them in the process, making sure people forget. Many of us still mark these festivals in our own way. (They’re Yule, Oestre/Ostara and Samhain, by the way, though I would also never dare to assume you didn’t already know this). I’m not claiming it’s the same thing. But I do understand.

    I just wanted to say I’m… well, I’m embarrassed. I’m not a fan of JKR’s books, I’ve never read any, but I am a writer. One of my principal interests (obsessions) is Chinese culture and I’ve created, together with my man, a future culture based on those (many, as yours) cultures, and we’re writing fun SF tales. But the difference is that it categorically *isn’t* about the China we know now, or the contemporary Chinese. Another difference is that, as far as possible, we’ve put so much genuine affection for the Chinese into these stories that I hope it would be impossible for anyone to say we hadn’t done any research, or we were ridiculing the Chinese. We’re being careful, but even that isn’t something we think about all the time, because we love that culture so much that it would never occur to us to misrepresent or disrespect them in any way. It’s a genuine love and respect, that we really hope comes across.

    Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that. Thank you for posting your feelings. They matter.

  8. Wow! Very cool interaction – kind, clarifying-educational, done with such heart, such love and respect. Also much love and respect between mother and daughter – beautiful.

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