Dealing With Cultural Appropriation – My Personal Take

Currently, I am going through a “dry” period of coming up with what to write about. Thankfully, a few folks have offered up suggestions on what to write. This weekend’s blog post is courtesy of a question from Ashlynn G. in Washington state. Ashlynn had read my earlier post on cultural appropriation and wanted to know how I approach others on that perspective when I encounter it with them.

This is a bit of a tough area for me. I am not the kind of person that goes around looking for other peoples’ approaches to blow up. I have never found approaching others over their approaches to Spirituality to be a comfortable topic. Even as a friendly discussion. I have my own way of going about my Spirituality and have never felt a need to judge someone else’s approach. There are those that I find distasteful from my own perspective, but I am also not in their shoes. To judge another’s approach beyond how it would or would not apply to myself…well, that’s just not me nor is it something that I feel is a necessary thing for me to do.

Yes, I get the cultural appropriation charge leveled against me because I do have close relationships with two First Nations Gods. However, it has been made very apparent to me that I am not of “the People” (First Nations’ folk). That specific Path is not mine, as I was told. My Path and working with Crow and Coyote is different than that of “the People.” Pow-wows, sweat lodges, vision quests, and the such are not on my Path. I have never been invited to any such thing either. And to be honest, I am not sure I would accept if I were invited. The perspective of a Shaman would never apply to me. I work with Crow and Coyote because They called to me. I can’t control that. But I can ensure that I am not trampling into areas I should not tread.

The same holds true when being provided a description of someone else’s Path. What Gods that they work with is not for me to denigrate. Even the rituals, spell work, and the such is really none of my business. My place is not to be the judge of how others conduct themselves on their Path. I do not know what agreements, contracts, and what-not they have bargained with their Gods. Nor do I need to be privy to that either. My footfalls are the steps that I can control. Those are the steps that I need to concentrate on.

Occasionally, I will run across Pagan folks that feel it is their duty to battle Christians over perspectives, actions, and what-not. Way back when I was a far more zealous Pagan, I would wade into these “battles” on Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs – and yes I am dating my fifty-five-year-old self here) for prolonged ‘warfare”. Looking back, I must ask myself a few questions. What did it accomplish? What image did it portray to those not involved in the “discussion”? What did I really intend to have occur? The answers are simple, and not very pleasant to my ears. These accomplished nothing. Essentially, to others, I came off as a very angry, preachy Pagan. Unfortunately, my desire was to try and get folks on the other side to admit to the hypocrisy that I saw in their beliefs.

Much of where I am now on stuff like this comes down to boundaries. Boundaries that I have set myself – for myself. Words do not have to be answered with zealotry and misplaced passion. Words need only be answered with truth and answered only once. Prolonged and protracted arguments will do nothing to establish “right” or “wrong”. Plus, words are only words. When someone takes those words a further step with action – things change a bit. Answering the actions of zealotry requires action in return. Hurt those I love and care about, and that crosses another boundary I have set. I am not an individual of violent reaction. I prefer discussion over fists and weapons. I prefer common ground over battlefields. But my preference can sometimes not be the vanguard of the day.

Hypothetically, how would I approach someone whose personal practice is crossing into the territory of cultural appropriation, blatant or otherwise? Well, as I said before, discussion is my preference to any approach. I would prefer to be as courteous as I could, not come in with guns blazing. The reason is extremely simple. I have no idea why they are doing things the way that they are. I don’t know the bargains that they have made. My assumption may be false, and I am assuming. Even with people I have known forever. My preference is to tread lightly just in case I am wrong. If they don’t listen? Well, in that case, I have done what I can. Forcing people to see a potential error in their ways brings me back to those protracted “discussions” on the BBSs. Arguing for the sake of making noise, essentially. I am no longer that Pagan. Thirty-plus years has softened my approach to such things. Besides, I would prefer to let the Gods and karma do that work. Both are far better at it than I could ever imagine I could be.

So, Ashlynn, I hope this answers your question in a way that is helpful and informative. There are others that will disagree with my approach, and prefer the guns blazin’ approach. I understand how they get there. I was there once myself. This; however, is the way that I believe would be best…if I was to approach someone over such things. As I said, the Gods and karma are far better at responding to such things that I could ever be.

–T /|\

Before We Make Changes, We Need to Change

If we hope to turn for help to Native American people, we have to understand that we have always been guests in their house. For a long time, we forgot that or we denied it. But, finally, we’re beginning to realize what that means. Now, we all find ourselves standing in the middle of a battle over our relationship with the earth—and whether we can even survive on the planet. We know this because, over and over again, the earth is slapping us in the face. And, at last—after centuries of demonizing and destroying native peoples—we realize that we need their wisdom to help save us all. The genius of native peoples is that they know how to walk humbly on the earth. But the question is: Can we humble ourselves and listen to them?  -Kent Nerburn

I find this quote rather interesting…at least for my mind. Not so much from a perspective of trying to save the planet, as Nerburn is noting here. Rather, for how Nerburn points to a way of utilizing the ways, thinking, and to a large extent the relationship that First Nations peoples have with their environment.

At times, thoughts of how that might be useful seem at odds with the typical outward look at life on the various reservations. Back during my trip to Glacier National Park, I drove through the middle of Pine Ridge reservation – and right through the start of a protest just across the border (literally) in Whiteclay, Nebraska by First Nations peoples from Pine Ridge. The living style that you could easily see from the highway was one of abject poverty. In some instances, which I found out to be true, it seemed that some of the homes didn’t have a front door, but rather just a screen door. I knew winters could be bad with high snow drifts, and found out that in most instances, the screen doors are replaced with another door from within the home. The screen doors are in place during the Summers because the homes have no air-conditioning, except for an occasional window unit which would cool specific rooms.

So how would these people who seemingly couldn’t find their way out of poverty enough know a better way to live closer to our Mother Earth? Single-wide trailer homes that looked to be from the 1970s, surrounded on all sides with detritus that made you wonder if Fred Sanford lived here….how could these people know about a way to find a better relationship with our planet? Its not because of the way some of these folks live. Its not because some of these folks are trapped in a never-ending cycle of alcoholism and dependency. These are some of the First Nations people, but these are not all of them. These are the ones that the public eyes of the over-bearing white society see – and the image that is used to repress these First Nations people. An image used to “keep them in their place”, if you will. But dig deeper. Dig beyond this stereotype, and you will find people who cherish their families, help their neighbors, understand the true concept of “tribe”, and have a strong Spirituality that is connected directly with their environment.

Mother Earth, Father Sky. Bear. Coyote. Fox. Crow. Eagle. Buffalo-woman. Their myths and stories showcase deep connections with the Earth, with the rhythms of the seasons. If you look closely enough, you will find deep, grooved parallels between this and other beliefs around the world. The cycle of the Seasons are there. The reverence to the Gods and Goddesses are there. Deference to the Spirits of Place. Respect and Honor to one’s Ancestors. Its all there. Letting all of that become deeply ingrained into who you are, why you are, and how you are…it can be there as well. With time, patience, and practice.

But we, the mainstream society, have left that behind. Our gods have become those of Fashion, Consumerism, Hero-worship of celebrities, and politics. And all of that is not centered around our environment, but rather around money. If we were to ask the Gods what happened, we might hear the answer of “you forgot where you came from, and how you were placed within the world.” Human beings have a place within the complicated web of relationships we have with everything here. But when we forget how we are a part of everything, and place everything beneath us; see the world as a resource placed here for us to use – we run the risk of losing that balance, and finding ourselves at odds with our planet.

What is Climate Change? My perspective of that is that its our planet trying to bring back into balance. In essence, our existence – the overuse of planetary resources, our inability to dispose of our waste in a manner that continues to find balance with our environment, our over-population of areas that forces wildlife to migrate to other areas and adapt to new environs….all of that destabilizes our planet’s delicate balance and intricate web of relationships with everything. And our planet responds. Because we refuse to accept our place within that balance.

Nerburn is right. For us to achieve what we need to, to try and relocate that delicate balance; we – as a collective society – will need to reach back into our human past, and reconnect with our environment. And in my nos-o-humble opinion, we will need to reconnect with our collective Spirituality. We all connect to the Gods and Goddesses in unique ways, each of us forming a unique bond with Those that call to us. If we are going to find a way to achieve balance, to find respect for other aspects of this delicate balance – we will need to achieve a similar bond among ourselves.

…and to be honest, with our current societal setup, I don’t see that happening. And it just so desperately needs to.