• reconciliactionyeg

Native Hobbyism

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Today we are going to continue the theme of cultural appropriation or as some like to call it “cultural inappropriation”. Cultural appropriation can be defined as people adopting cultural elements of a certain group or culture and exploiting that culture in a disrespectful or stereotypical way. [1] Culture is not something that you are born with but is that which is learned from living within a specific community that has their own knowledge, belief systems, art, laws, and customs. [2] Cultural appropriation often leaves behind a negative impact for people who identify proudly as being part of that culture.

During my search to discover what I could find about this topic, I came across a CBC documentary that highlighted the issue of cultural appropriation. The film is narrated and directed by an Anishinaabe man, Drew Hayden Taylor, from Curve Lake First Nation. It is called “Searching for Winnetou.” Winnetou is the fictional Apache warrior protagonist from German author Karl May’s best-selling western novels. When the character of Winnetou hit the big screen in the 1960’s, cultural fetishism of the North American Indian swept through Germany and can still be found in all corners of the country today.

In the town of Bavaria, Germany, there is a small Wild West theme park resort by the name of Pullman City. This is a place where Native Hobbyism becomes a lifestyle. Here one can find a strange obsession with Native American Indigenous culture. German enthusiasts dress up like Indians from the previous century wearing buckskins, headdresses, jingle dresses and beautiful beaded regalia. The place is littered with multiple Aboriginal items which creates a Pan-Indianism atmosphere whereby the Aboriginal items that can be seen in Pullman City are representations of one Indigenous culture. [3] For example, Buffalo can be found grazing in the fields but not all Indigenous peoples hunted buffalo. I question whether these German enthusiasts can tell the difference between a Mohawk custom and Navajo art.

Photo credit: https://www.pullmancity.de/de-DE/uebernachten/tipis/

A featured annual event in Pullman City is “Indian week”, where many Germans come from all over the country to bring out their “inner Indian”. While it would not occur to most people to dress up as a marginalized group of people, this type of behavior takes cultural appreciation and crosses the line into cultural appropriation. The concern does not lie in the fact that Germans have an eagerness to learn more about Indigenous culture and a yearning for a better understanding.

The issue lies with the ways in which people and the Resort choose to participate in these events, and the Eurocentric white-washed misinterpretation of Indigenous traditions. [4] The video shows German participants wearing headdresses. A headdress is a culturally sacred item. It has significance in the ways turbans and hijabs have significance. A headdress must be gifted, there are protocols involved in the ceremonial gift giving of a headdress. [5] The headdress is usually given to a leader and is tied to responsibilities. A headdress that is gifted to a Chief does not make the Chief the owner of the headdress. The headdress belongs to the community because it is a representation of the people belonging to that community. [6] It is an honour to wear a headdress and that honour must be earned, not bought.

In Pullman City, you can stay in one of their wooden tipis for one hundred and fifteen Euros a night. These wood cabins in the shape of tipis are also inappropriate because tipis are a proud link to Indigenous history and should be respected as such. [7] The formation, the function, the design, and the patterns of the tipi have significant meaning. [8] There is a deep appreciation for the sacrificed life that was given to erect this sacred structure which supported the physical and spiritual needs of Indigenous peoples. [9] The trees provided structural support, and an average tipi would need about twenty-eight buffalo hides to enclose the space. [10] The circular shape symbolizes how life is connected, and the earthen floor represents the connection to mother earth. [11] Even the smoke seen rising out of the top from a warm fire inside represents the prayers of Indigenous people being carried to the Creator. [12] These wooden tipi-like cabins take away from the values that the sacred tipi represents.

We all have a duty to speak up when we see cultural appropriation in action, but please keep in mind that “correcting behavior can only come from a place of love and understanding.” [13] If you are non-Indigenous and have beaded merchandise created by Indigenous artisans that are not sacred or for ceremonial purposes, wear them proudly! Showcase the beauty of the culture. If you are ever in a situation where you feel like you might be getting close to the line, seek the knowledge of an Elder. They would be honoured to share their wisdom and knowledge with you.

Until next time,

Team ReconciliAction YEG

[1] Encyclopedia Britannica, “What is cultural appropriation?” (last visited 27 October 2022), online: Britannica <https://www.britannica.com/story/what-is-cultural-appropriation>

[2] Ibid.

[3] CBC Docs POV, “Searching for Winnetou” (last visited 31 October 2022) at 00h:09m:35s, online (video): CBC Gem < https://gem.cbc.ca/media/cbc-docs-pov/s01e12>.

[4] Ibid at 00h:38m:54s.

[5] Lenard Monkman, “Behind First Nation headdresses: What you should know” (26 March 2016), online: CBC News <https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/behind-first-nations-headdresses-1.3506224>.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Supra note 3 at 00h:41m:52s.

[8] Lee Orlion, “The History Behind Teepee Dwellings” ( last visited 29 October 2022), online: Teepee Joy <https://blog.teepeejoy.com/teepee-history/>.

[9] “The History of the Tipi is fascinating” (last visited 29 October 2022), online: The Tipi Company <https://thetipicompany.com/2019/07/29/the-history-of-the-tipi-is-fascinating/>.

[10] Supra note 8.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Kyle Campiou, “Tipi Teachings” (11 July 2016), online: The Vital Beat <https://www.thevitalbeat.ca/news/tipi-teachings/>.

[13] Supra note 3 at 00h:42m:32s.

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