I have been stewing about something for a while and I’m hoping that by writing out loud about it I may be able to come up with a solution. I’m a non-native person who tries to walk what is know as a “red road,” live in a spirit oriented, earth centric, native influenced way. I have received approval, acceptance, and guidance from various individuals within the community of natives that reside in the area I live and around for my actions. But as a person of European extract (Polish, Romanian, Scottish, Portuguese) I feel sensitive about the issue of cultural appropriation.
This is especially relevant to me because I’m a writer. A number of themes that I write about are inspired by my beliefs, beliefs that have been formed by the spiritual path that I follow. Accompanying this path are various rituals and figures of import who are central to the native belief system. The stories and figures out of native teachings that have enabled me to grow as a person and an inhabitant of this planet. Where things start to become problematic are the times I want to incorporate these figures into my own work.
Recently I published a poem that featured Coyote. He has a variety of roles through out the nations of North America. For some he is a creator, for others a prankster whose contrary nature teaches lessons in behaviour. Modern native writers like Thomas King feature him predominately in their work. He’s not some dried out dusty idea in a book — for many people he is real and alive.
The last thing I want to do is insult the very belief system that has freed me to become a better person. But Coyote is important to me. He’s the best weapon we have against the stupidity of the world that is imposed on us on a daily basis. I only have to sit through some bullshit new age ritual to see his snout breaking into a wide grin. Listening to the justifications for the invasion of Iraq I could hear his snicker as the laugh track for the world.
Maybe I worry too much, or even think too much of myself — who’s going to read my books anyway, let alone publish them — but at the same time for me what has always mattered is intent. Coyote showed up on the side of the road in the novel I’m working on and is worming his way into the story.
He waited until chapter 13 until he made his appearance but he looks like he’s there to stay. I don’t seem to have any control over his actions; he does have a life of his own you know, so I can’t say for sure what he’s going to do or who he is going to piss off but I’m hoping it will be all the right people.
I don’t care if liberals and Politically Correct types are upset, but I care about stealing someone else’s stories, someone’s else’s history, to use for my purposes. I worry about looking like another damn wannabe white guy ripping off the Indians. Is this genuine belief or I am doing it because it’s neat and different? I really hope it is for real, but I guess those are my equivalent of a Christian’s doubts.
If you’re wondering why I just can’t be happy with my own so called cultural traditions, well I’ve got a problem with the whole Judeo-Christian outlook on the world. Starting with Genesis. The whole being given dominion over everything instead of being part of everything, on down to original sin, gives me the willies.
But I’m not one of the those folk who believe they are in any way superior because of what they believe. That’s just so much bullshit. You have to follow the path that gives you the most comfort and that rings true for you. I don’t believe there is any “right” or “wrong” way to have faith. What’s important is that you have faith at all. So I’m not about to put anybody down who accepts and believes in Christ or is a follower of Judea. My rejection is not a denial of their validity. They just don’t work for me.
As I live in North America not Europe it made no sense for me to try and adopt the old ways of Europe (Druids, Wicca etc.) which were also earth based. Their traditions were based around the harvest life cycle of ancient times in the relevant countries. It seemed they were more appropriate for people living in those countries.
It’s like I said before: I don’t really care what my fellow European descendants think. Most of them are the ones responsible for driving me to this path anyway. I just hope that I can prove through the sincerity of my depiction that I am incorporating Coyote out of devotion, not greed.
These are the types of thoughts that contribute to writer’s block and migraines. You find yourself hunting for distractions so you don’t have to write what’s really important. Instead you spend your time whining about your personal shit in public. Oh well, hopefully I got it out of my system and can get back to writing now.
If you would like to read the poem mentioned in this post, this is the link to the page it is published on. The illustration is by my wife Eriana Marcus.