Tag Archives: inclusion

Magic & Marginalization: Et tu, JK? :(

Let’s establish something off the bat: I am a huge fan of Harry Potter.

  • I’ve written research papers;
  • I’ve written blog posts – heck the WordPress title of my blog is Walker Wrackspurt;
  • I collect books (paperback, hardcover, British/English versions, illustrated editions, digital books, audiobooks, coloring books) movie paraphernalia, costuming;
  • My daughter and I have spent the last year working our way through the series (we’re mid-way through Order of the Phoenix);
  • I spent way too much money at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida last year and REGRET NOTHING;
  • My friends and family know Harry Potter is a quirky but important part of my identity – many a HP-themed birthday party has been thrown in my honor;
  • I connect with people on the subject, even those who could care less or haven’t read the books/seen the movies, because it’s such an iconic pop culture topic.

Like most fans, I’m super-jazzed about the upcoming continuations on stage and in theaters.

But with this week’s release of History of Magic in North America, a collection of what will be four episodic essays as a lead-up to the Hollywood version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I’m having a serious crisis of fandom specific to the (mis)representation of Native people in Rowling’s new writings.

Here are some of the problematic passages released March 8:

In the Native American community, some witches and wizards were accepted and even lauded within their tribes, gaining reputations for healing as medicine men, or outstanding hunters. However, others were stigmatised for their beliefs, often on the basis that they were possessed by malevolent spirits.

And:

The legend of the Native American ‘skin walker’ – an evil witch or wizard that can transform into an animal at will – has its basis in fact. A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.

The Native American wizarding community was particularly gifted in animal and plant magic, its potions in particular being of a sophistication beyond much that was known in Europe. The most glaring difference between magic practised by Native Americans and the wizards of Europe was the absence of a wand.

OK so I pretty much copied and pasted the whole thing. It’s all problematic. Native women much smarter than me have already written the analytical whys and wherefores – please go read their criticism, as I totally agree with everything they say: Dr. Adrienne Keene on Native Appropriations and Dr. Debbie Reese on American Indians in Children’s Literature both give Rowling a piece of their amazing minds (my girl Johnnie Jae, founder of A Tribe Called Geek, has also been in the Twitter fray). And it being JK Rowling, you can imagine the kind of violent backlash these Indigenous women are receiving from fans who couldn’t care less about Natives or our issues (or our women, obviously).

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!!!

We’re marginalized in real life and we’re marginalized in media. To have a powerhouse like Rowling (though any non-Native author really) profit off our continued erasure and harmful representations is something I am totally not here for. The argument that it’s “fiction” is worthless to me. If we (as consumers) had diverse representation of Native people the same way white people do, Rowling’s latest wouldn’t be so problematic, because consumers would have other representations to base opinions off of. As it is, so much of the Native narrative is romanticized and fantastical and now one of the world’s most successful authors has thrown her mighty magical empire against our fragile reemergence from near-total cultural genocide.

And I write this knowing full well I’m also a fan of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, which I’ve written about here. However, unlike Rowling, Meyer’s Native fantasies were expressed at the outset of the series, not as an afterthought (so I had a trigger warning of sorts: bullshit ahead! Not so with the Harry Potter universe).

Beyond this, I’m writing because as a fan, I’m so… hurt and disillusioned to discover a world I escape to so often and with people I love like my young daughter is now an unsafe space that takes the very real cultural histories, practices, and belief systems of a hyper-marginalized group of people and casts them into the realm of myth and fantasy. Ironic, isn’t it, that I’m disillusioned with a fictional world based on magic? As someone who carefully curates the pop culture I promote and allow my child to consume, I can’t in good faith continue to support one of my favorite storytellers. If I want to read a misrepresentation of Native people, I’ll just pick up the nearest K-12 history book.

While I (used to) look forward to reading the series with my daughter at night, I’m not eager to witness the disappointment I’m sure she’ll feel when I tell her the author of Harry Potter has decided Natives don’t deserve dignity or respect and that the values of Native people can be torn apart and packaged as a fictional commodity for profit. And you might think: Well, you can still read Harry Potter and be a fan of that series and boycott FBAWTFT. To that I say, no, I can’t separate the Rowling who wrote the problematic Native prose from the Rowling who wrote HP1-7. It’s like making room for The Wizard of Oz‘s L. Frank Baum, who wrote in support of Native genocide, supporting President Abraham Lincoln (and other ethically questionable leaders), or being OK with American history textbooks because everything except the little bits about Natives and other marginalized groups is accurate.

 

When heroes disappoint, the letdown is very real heartache. Yep. It’s just a book. Got that. But a large chunk of my life has been utterly devoted to the story and characters and I simply can’t help the betrayal I feel. Coming off of her awesome pro “Hermoine as a Black woman” storyline for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I was sure Rowling would embrace creativity and leave her white-washed, European-centric version of Native culture out of the canon. Or perhaps she’d develop a wizard character who just happened to be Native. 

As a lover of pop culture, I often have to check my Lakota feminist lenses at the door, or else spend the whole TV show or movie being angry and dissatisfied (I’m thinking of “The Revenant,” right now as a for instance). Sometimes I’m able to get past the ignorance and marginalization. But… Rowling could have done this so much better. SO MUCH BETTER. I’m not willing to give Rowling a pass here.

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This Land Was Made For Decolonized Love

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A painting of my own creation.

Like a broken pipeline spilling sickness across the prairie, South Dakota lawmakers often pump out hateful legislation that marginalizes our most vulnerable citizens, including transgender youth.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard recently vetoed [sidenote: and the state legislature failed to override said veto today] a proposed bill that would have banned youth from using public school bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms that didn’t correspond with their “biological sex.” While we applaud the veto, this, unfortunately, will not be the final word from those encouraging discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community in South Dakota and the rest of Indian Country.

As members of the Očéti Šakówiŋ whose treaty lands are directly impacted by South Dakota law, we write this letter not only to condemn this kind of legislation, but more importantly to call fellow Natives to action to prevent this kind of colonial vitriol from further polluting tribal ways and governance.

Let’s start the conversation by discussing how we—the Očéti Šakówiŋ—remove ourselves from hateful and bigoted sentiments like those we see play out in mainstream politics. Too often, we see tribal leaders in South Dakota take similar stands.

We experience homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny not only by white settler culture, but also sometimes by our own Indigenous people. We see Indigenous Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ relatives attempt escape with suicide and self-harm, as well as fleeing reservation communities into perceivably more welcoming urban settings. This relocation disrupts sacred kinship relations with not just our people, but also our lands.

Recently, some Oglala elders came forward to dictate tribal tradition by saying same-sex marriage violates “natural law.” We don’t know what “natural law” means in an Očéti Šakówiŋ context, and homophobic attitudes like these must be addressed, if only to acknowledge and move past the intergenerational pain and trauma inherent within these statements.

We write this statement to honor all of our elders and ancestors. Some were viciously abused inside colonial institutions that were anti-woman, anti-child, and homophobic. Boarding schools, designed to kill our cultures, were filled with sexual abuse and torture. The system of individual land allotment tore our ancestors apart, denigrating extended family systems and collective landholding. Government-led Christian missions and Indian agencies further obliterated our spiritual and cultural identities with laws about how to marry and when, and with whom to have sex. Government-aided churches tried to force us to accept their rigid, unforgiving notions of love and relationships.

We write this statement to honor all generations. Even today, dominant colonial indoctrinations tell us to fear sexual differences and express that fear through violent control—from both the pulpit and the capitol—of our most vulnerable relatives. Sometimes Natives ourselves practice similar tactics of control and marginalization around sexuality. When we do, we are complicit in ongoing sexual violence against Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ relatives, the ground for which was prepared in boarding schools, religious indoctrination, and other assimilation programs.

The irony is clear: By defining marriage as between only a man and a woman and by saying our Two Spirit and LGTBQ+ relatives go against “natural law,” we perpetuate genocide against ourselves.

Intolerant and puritanical pronouncements such as those made by the Council of Lakota Elders only serve to further harm and divide our already dislocated peoples; therefore, we encourage tribal leaders to break from colonial limitations of love and family and discuss how to move forward. We must reevaluate how we relate to each other as tiwahe, tióšpaye and oyáte – together, not separate. Let’s shake the bonds of colonialism and instead reinforce or perhaps reinvent bonds of kinship and communal responsibility.

We write this statement as a reminder that the foundations for this change were set long ago. Lakota elders Robert Chasing Hawk and Joseph Marshall III recently told Native Sun News that “marriage”—as we know it today: between two people as a state institution—never existed historically in Lakota society. The sacred ceremonies given to our ancestors by Ptesáŋwiŋ—White Buffalo Calf Woman—never included marriage. Our views on romance respected individuals’ sexuality and were far more advanced when compared to today’s conservative Western standards.

Imagine if every time one of our youth, women, or Two Spirit relatives’ bodies were trespassed or their rights violated, we reacted like we did to stop Keystone XL pipeline. Our medicine societies prayed for the protection of the land and water. Tribal councils issued declarations of war. And it worked, the pipeline was halted, for now at least.

We must be careful to recognize ongoing colonial harms and remedy them in culturally-appropriate ways when we have the power to do so. In this case, too, it is possible to fight for more just and healthy relations, this time among humans. Our own tribal histories provide the path.

After all, we are all related, not just some of us. Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ.

Signed by Očéti Šakówiŋ Two Spirits, LGBTQ+, and supporters:

  • Alethea J. Rosales (Oglala Sioux Tribe)
  • Alfred Walking Bull (Sicangu Lakota)
  • Alicia Mousseau (Oglala Lakota)
  • Alli Moran (Wakpá Wašté Oyáte)
  • Allison Renville (Sisseton Wahpeton-Oyate Two-Spirited Society)
  • Angel Mills (Oglala Lakota)
  • Anna Brokenleg Keller (Sicangu Lakota)
  • Anna Diaz-Takes Shield (Oglala Lakota)
  • Ashley Nicole McCray (Oglala Lakota/Sicangu Lakota/Absentee Shawnee)
  • Ashley Pourier (Oglala Lakota)
  • Carrie E. Sitting Up (Oglala Lakota)
  • Chas Jewett (Mniconjou Lakota)
  • Corrine Sitting Up (Oglala Lakota)
  • Coya White Hat-Artichoker (Sicangu Lakota)
  • Dani Morrison (Oglala Lakota)
  • Darren Cross (Oglala Sioux)
  • Darren Renville (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate)
  • David Bender (Hunkpapa Lakota)
  • Davidica Little Spotted Horse (Oglala Lakota)
  • Dawn D. Moves Camp (Oglala Lakota)
  • Dawn Ryan (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Two-Spirited Society)
  • Deanna Stands (Ihanktonwan na Isanyati Dakota)
  • Doris Giago (Oglala Lakota)
  • Eli Conroy (Oglala Lakota)
  • Felipa De Leon (Oglala Lakota)
  • Jacqueline Keeler (Ihanktonwan Dakota/Diné)
  • Jaida Grey Eagle (Oglala Lakota)
  • Jeaneen Lonehill (Oglala Lakota)
  • Jedadiah Richards (Oglala Lakota)
  • Jenna Grey Eagle (Oglala Lakota)
  • Jesse Short Bull (Oglala Lakota)
  • James G. La Pointe (Oglala Lakota)
  • Joel Waters (Oglala Lakota)
  • Jonna Grey Eagle (Oglala Lakota)
  • Jonnie Storm (Ihanktonwan Dakota)
  • Juliana Brown Eyes-Clifford (Oglala Lakota)
  • Kim TallBear (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate)
  • Krystal Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota)
  • Lenny Hayes (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate)
  • Leo Yankton (Oglala Lakota)
  • Marie Giago (Oglala Lakota)
  • The Rev. Dr. Martin Brokenleg (Sicangu Lakota)
  • Mary Abbott (Cheyenne River Lakota)
  • Mary Baird (Oglala Lakota)
  • Melissa Buffalo (Kangi Okute/Kul Wicasa Oyáte/Meskwaki)
  • Monique Mousseau (Oglala Lakota)
  • Natasha Bordeaux (Sicangu Lakota)
  • Nick Estes (Kul Wicasa Oyate)
  • Sarah Brokenleg (Sicangu Lakota)
  • Ronya J. Hoblit (Oglala Lakota)
  • Sloane Cornelius (Oglala Lakota)
  • Tasiyagnunpa Livermont (Oglala Lakota)
  • Taté Walker (Mniconjou Lakota)
  • Thalia Wilson Ellis (Standing Rock Sioux Hunkpapa Lakota)
  • Theresa Halsey (Standing Rock Sioux Hunkpapa Lakota)
  • Tom Swift Bird (Oglala Lakota)
  • Valerie Jean Collins-Siqueiros (Cheyenne River Lakota)
  • Vernon Renville (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Two-Spirited Society)

… And many more who choose to remain anonymous because they face the real possibility of retaliation as LGBTQ+ or Two Spirit.