“Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has come under fire for appropriating Native American culture in recently released stories that build on the mythology she created. A recent entry examined the history of magic in North America. Rowling drew on Native American legends, practices, and cultural beliefs to accomplish this, which is hardly surprising. Is something wrong with this…No.” R. Soave, Reason.com.
Excerpt: Harry Potter and the Pointless Outrage… by Robby Soave, Reason
“There is an entire genre of fiction, in fact, built around secret histories where authors use real historical events or legends but retell them with revisionist or fantastical elements.
But Rowling has run afoul of the people who shout “cultural appropriation” whenever someone borrows from an ethnic tradition to which they do not belong. As was the case with Renee Bierbaum—the yoga instructor who was shut down by the county government after a Native American activist accused her of culture theft [using a sweat lodge in her practice] —a militant defender of Native traditions is asserting that Rowling is taking a living tradition of a marginalized people.
That’s straight up colonialism/appropriation,wrote Adrienne Keene…a member of the Cherokee Nation.
Keene was particularly perturbed that Rowling had referenced skin walkers, [from the Navajo people] an actual Native American legend. In Rowling’s fictional universe, skin walkers were just normal magical folk who could turn into animals. Non-magical people created myths about evil skin walkers in attempt to demonize the magical community. In Keene’s mind, not only are non-Natives forbidden from adapting Native stories, but they should be kept in the dark about their ignorance!
It would be one thing if Rowling’s depictions of Native Americans were offensive, or racist. But merely drawing inspiration from Native American culture is not the same thing as marginalizing it.”
Comments from various readers regarding Rowling’s writings about Native magic:
RidersGuide: Being Native i find this hilarious. Let the woman write her fictitious story about our fictitious story.
bantership: Cherokee here…It’s kind of like white people obsessed with Japanese culture. They’ll get parts totally wrong, but outright condemnation for doing that is not really merited, in my opinion… storytelling should always be encouraged and facts gently set straight, without condemning people who live thousands of miles away and yet still think you’re pretty interesting.
SaraBellums: I really don’t get it. It’s like you’re excluded if not addressed, but appropriated if you’re included. As a minority myself, it sometimes feels like people just want something to be offended about, and news outlets are more than happy to have some conflict to cover.
green_meklar: The reaction from christian fundamentalist groups to the original Harry Potter series doesn’t seem to have discouraged her, I don’t see why this would. :P
Ger Graves: Manager at Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians
As a “native american” (although I prefer “american indian”) i think its awesome for J.K. to attempt this. As a reader of science fiction/fantasy these stories will be well worth checking out.
William Searle: stories like this one crack me up… It’s FICTION people… A story. Not a history book, not a scholarly study of magical realism of indigenous people.. It is fiction. And entertaining.
Amanda D. Gondick: Since when has she ever claimed that anything she wrote was true to life?!?! Never. She is a FICTION writer. Take her stories in the way she intended them to be…She can invent a character in anyway she sees fit to represent her story.
Mark Boyle: Rather than a Native vs. non-Native thing, perhaps it is a “people who overreact to fictional children’s stories” vs. “people who don’t” thing? She’s not interpreting any tradtions here. The wizards she’s referring to are her own creation. She can make them be whatever she wants.
Patrick Lewis: This is the marketplace of ideas. . .if you don’t like the characterization of Rowling or any author of Native Americans or any other people. . .you are free to write your own book. . .fiction or non-fiction. . .to compete with the information you find objectionable.
dyadyavanya: The only appropriation going on here is the appropriation of Rowling’s well-deserved fame by a bunch of obscure philistine pedants trying to make a career out of the historical sufferings of the people they claim to represent.
Jonathan Burns: As for the Professionally Offended idiots, JKR has written a short fictional magic history of North America, as a teaser for the Fantastic Beasts movie later this year. So she should have just ignored Native Americans or said none of them had magic ability? If she had did this her critics would be accusing her of whitewashing history.
P.S. When Ms. Keene (and other critics) have a moment from chasing “fantasy” stories perhaps they can focus on “real” Native issues that truly warrant our concern:
Indian Country Today
The Need for Substance Abuse and Alcohol Prevention, by Tanya Lee
Living the Life: Sex Abuse Leads to Sex Trafficking, by Mary Pember
The Washington Post
The hard lives — and high suicide rate — of Native American children on reservations by Sari Horwitz
Younger Native Americans Face High Suicide Rate by R. Dotinga
The New York Times
Higher Crime, Fewer Charges on Indian Land by Timothy Williams
“Keep in mind: they’re arguing over the details of a story that features a magic boy who talks to snakes and rides a broomstick and battles dragons.” ~Robby Soave~