The commercialization of Native American Culture
Popular culture has seen push back from “Indian Headdresses” and games like “Cowboys and Indians,” yet all over Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Buzzfeed ‘spirit animals’ are blowing up. Scrolling down your newsfeed will expose you to online quizzes that tell you what your spirit animal is, or maybe a new coffee mug exclaiming “My Spirit Animal Is COFFEE” being sold by an Etsy artist.
Each and every one of these things is cultural appropriation. Spirit Animals is a bastardization of a collection of traditions among some Native American tribes. The use of spirit animal in popular culture infantilizes and patronizes a long standing indigenous belief system and contributes to the religious and cultural oppression of indigenous peoples.
When European colonizers arrived on American soil, they were escaping religious persecution at home. The United States of America was a land of religious freedom, but this freedom is continuously denied from its first inhabitants.
“Ridicule of one’s spiritual beliefs or cultural teachings wounds the spirit, leaving anger and hurt that may be masked by a proud silence.”
Tribal belief systems vary from group to group like all other religious sects and by grouping all indigenous religions into a broad and incorrect stereotype, you erase the damages done to indigenous peoples for the last 525 years.
Dear NonNatives: Nothing is your spirit animal. Not a person, place or thing. Nothing is your spirit animal. You do not get one.
— MARI, OJIBWE WRITER (@CyborgN8VMari) July 28, 2016
Claiming spirit animals is not only cultural appropriation but it also normalizes the idea that all tribes hold the same belief systems that can be commodified. This objectifies an extremely diverse and deep culture into dream catchers and clay pots sold by non-native people to road-trippers and tourists that romanticize a return to a “traditional” Native American culture.
The most common misconception about spirit animals is that it is not cultural appropriation because of the Celtics, Vikings, and several other cultures, have totemism and animal guides. To further confuse the issue, both totemism and animal guides appear in some indigenous religions. There are two issues with this defense of religious appropriation, first, neither totemism or animal guides fit the concept of a spirit animal as it is represented in indigenous spiritual practices. Second, the ‘spirit animal’ is an extremely sacred tradition, due to its nonsensical image in pop culture, many young natives know little about the tradition and it is being forgotten over time.
Even if you don’t believe that idea of a spirit animal is exclusively Native America because the appropriate is deeply connected with a New Age return to indigenous culture, it continues to perpetuate misinformation and erasure of indigenous populations.
There are fewer Native Americans than J.K. Rowling has twitter followers. Unlike the Big Three Religions, indigenous peoples rarely get religious exceptions in school or work. This means they must either give up on the pursuit of harmony or face consequences and punishments for their observance of religious activities. Religious oppression is a unique form of torture that is quickly invading America’s Land of the Religious Free, but before we introduce this oppression as a new trend in American media, remember, our nation’s first people have been oppressed and persecuted since the first colonizer set foot on American soil.
The internet has taken the religious practice of indigenous peoples and turned it into a collection of every absurd image it can create.