Imagining them, reimagining ourselves : a case study of cultural appropriation and the politics of identity Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/hx11xk080

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  • Several popular cultural movements emphasizing indigenous spirituality have arisen in the United States and Europe within the past thirty years. Spiritual discourses attributed to Native Americans, among other groups, are borrowed by Euro-Americans in search of alternatives to dominant ideologies. In such a circumstance, Native Americans become part of a constructed and colonized homogenous category of indigenous people, considered by Euro-Americans as naturally close to the earth and essentially spiritual. The so-called New Age movement has, within it, several sub-movements, which are particularly noted for their emphasis on perceived Native American spiritualism. The Red Cedar Circle, made up primarily of white Americans, focuses on the Si.si.wiss Medicine of the Pacific Northwest Coast, and can be described as falling under the definitional heading of the New Age. The suppression and transformation of the heterogeneous reality of indigenous societies by the imaginings of the Euro-American dominant, has many ethical implications, as does cultural appropriation in a situation of major power differentials. Native communities are becoming increasingly outspoken in their opposition to the practice of Indian, or pseudo-Indian, religions by non-Natives. Many consider such practices to be morally suspect. Both Native and non-Native social critics feel that New Age practitioners involved in appropriated and popularized versions of indigenous religions, are interpreting and using aspects of traditionally subjugated cultures to meet their own needs. What may appear to be a harmless search for enlightenment by Europeans and Euro-Americans might have very real negative consequences for actual Native American lives. This study is based on participant observation of the Corvallis, Oregon Red Cedar Circle, and interviews with its members from June of 1991 to April of 1994. Analysis of data from New Age literature was also conducted, as well as an historical overview of the 'Nobel Savage' myth in Western cultures. Interviews with members of the local Native American community were carried out for feedback on how a given population of Native Americans perceives the Euro-American practice of Native spirituality. The data supports the supposition that cultural borrowing, or appropriation, is both a cause of, and a reaction to, the instability of cultural identity in late twentieth-century America.
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