Re: interest in history vs. imitation

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Posted by Dana S. on October 06, 1999 at 13:58:49:

In Reply to: Re: interest in history vs. imitation posted by Dana S. on October 06, 1999 at 11:34:25:

: : : Petra,

: : : You made an interesting observation about so many whites imitating American Indians. It brought to mind something I saw at the Feast of the Hunter's Moon this past week-end. Three boys, maybe 10 or 11 years old, walked past me all talking excitedly about what they had at home that they could add to their costumes. They were already dressed to the hilt in what looked to be their entire collection of American Indian ragalia. Each of the three boys looked completely different... had his own distinct personality. To me, these boys seemed to have the most "authentic" costumes of the day. They reminded me of descriptions of soon-to-be warriors I have read about in Eckert's books. This scene made me wonder the same thing, albeit in a slightly different context. What is the draw for these young ones? What is the draw for me. I'll admit, when I was young the whole thing was very romantic. As an adult, though, I think I'm trying to "catch up". I'm trying to fill a void left in my education. I hope that what I learn about American Indians historically will help me understand American Indians today. Do I want to be a "faker"? Nope. Do I want to be an imitator? In the Means interview on this site, Mr. Means told what he thinks being an American Indian is about. He said its not just pow-wows and such, but about community and family. THIS I would like to imitate.

: : : Dana

: : Hi Dana,

: : I don't think interest, especially in history, would make you an imitator. Interest is the best thing anyone can offer for a start. And I haven't met anyone in any country yet, who wouldn't be delighted if others are honestly interested in their history. Now, with interest in culture it seems to be slightly different, there are some things about certain cultures that some people don't like to share and talk about (and you may notice that I'm trying real hard not to generalize because attitudes seem to vary extremely in that regard), and that often comes as a surprise to those of us who were raised in Europe (like I) or mainstream America. Examples: Beliefs (after all, Christian churches and many other religions welcome any "newcomer" and are more than happy to share their views, but in some cultures, that's extremely personal and non-public) and - big surprise - even some languages. So, I've seen some generally well intentioned people receive not too friendly reactions if they came with that idea of "I just want to understand you" and asked questions or did things that by different cultural standards seemed insensitive.

: : Sure it's not just about powwows, that would be like saying we Germans are just about Oktoberfests. (Hey, do I see a nod there?? Stop grinning and giggling, all of you!!! ;-))

: : About those boys you mentioned, were they Indian and wearing regalia (then they might not exactly favor the term "costume", by the way), or were they white boys "dressing up"? When you asked what is the draw, that sounded like it might have been the latter. Okay, now at this point I will confess something that I only tell under the greatest embarrassment: I used to own a cheap "Indian costume" at the age of about 7 or 8. It was for "Fasching", the German mardi gras, and included a wig with braids and a headband with a feather. (Hey, Rebecca and Elaine, did you just spit your coffee on the keyboard? :-) It was handed down from a cousin, but I loved it. I had short, mud-color hair and felt much more boring than this exotic girl that I could impersonate for once. Nowadays, I wouldn't let my kid dress up as someone from another culture, as the likelyhood to offend and look like a mockery is just too big (even if it's a carefully done outfit and not just the Halloween costume from WalMart).

: : What else draws people? Maybe the idea that other cultures might have answers that people think they don't find within their own? Or the stereotype of the heroic, mystical warrior combined with a feeling of support for the oppressed?

: : Seriously, I think it's great that you are interested in history!

: : Petra

: Hi,Petra! Thank you for responding! I HOPE I didn't offend anyone with my use of the word "costume". I will have to plead ignorance. I have absolutely no clue as to what the correct term IS for "costume" in this context. My dictionary was of no use in this case, I'm afraid.

: You'll have to bear with me, Petra, as I have not written anything more challenging than a "short note" for fifteen years. Posting has been quite a stretch for me, but I'm catching on. I obviously didn't state my point clearly.

: All I was really trying to say,was imitators, fakers, or whatever you want to call them, may be (and I would even go so far as to say, probably are) simply expressing an admiration for American Indian culture, past and present. What's wrong with that? As I see it, This is a departure from the not so distant past, when many would not even mention their American Indian acestry out of shame.

: Dana

: PS You mean I can't wear those suspender/shorts thingys anymore? Darn! My husband loves me in those!


I would like to apologize for my PS. I hope that didn't offend. I have friends (not close) from Germany. We joke about things like that. It was wrong of me to assume you would find it humorous.


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