Ethnic Impostors (cultural appropriation)

Beware of Ethnic Imposters does seem to go unchallenged and accepted for a White person to impersonate a Native American. New Age “spiritual” Native Americans, shamanism, and cultural appropriation are just a few examples of modern ethnic imposters. There is an obvious monetary gain for those that exploit Native culture in this way.
There is another, more sinister, type of imposter. In many communities ethnic imposters are often mentally ill people who have borderline personality traits that adopt values, habits and attitudes of the Native people that they spend time with. There may or may not be a monetary value in this practice but there is something else to be gained by these ethnic imposters. These individuals have a significant and persistent unstable self-image or sense of self and present as righteous avengers of past mistreatment. Nobody has been more mistreated then Native Americans (in the individuals thinking) and so these individuals take on the persona, often change their name to something Native sounding and reinvent themselves. Soon the individuals are assuming leadership roles in the political or activist realm which takes away from legitimate Native voices which are often ignored or silenced by the media.
Traditionally Native American people don’t challenge others’ claim to be Native as it is thought to be harmless but it is important that ethnic imposters be challenged on cultural appropriation on all levels because culture is the only thing remaining after colonization has stripped everything else away.

Native American wannabes: Beware the Weasel Spirit

by Lou Bendrick

I once stayed at an upscale spa that had a Native American theme. We padded around on Navajo rugs, awoke to morning drumming and disrobed in locker rooms referred to as kivas. At night, instead  of finding a chocolate on my pillow, there was a woven dream catcher. This failed to soothe my Spirit Self. In fact, I fretted: Was that dream catcher made by an impoverished person on a reservation while my fat ass was at a spa?

I've always been the guilty type. This guilt is why I'm unable to retain an open mind when it comes to my town's latest craze: Native American spirituality, known widely as the Born-Again Navajo movement. (Okay, I just made that term up.)

Although Telluride, Colo., is not approaching Sedona-like sensibilities (as far as I can tell, no one has sent an energy cone up to the mother ship), former dentists here do rename themselves Moonfeather She-Wolf and Blackcloud Dancer. Peruse the local newspaper and you might find Shamanic Healers listed next to Windshield Repair Services in the classified ads. Moonlight drumming is the second-most popular activity after golf.

Amid Born-Again Navajos (most often New Jersey-born Caucasians), spirit animals, or totems, are the latest trendy pets. I thought totems were carved things sold next to the rubber tomahawks. Of course, I also thought a sweat lodge was pretty much the same thing as a Swedish sauna.

This cultural ignorance is why I have chosen the spirit name White Dork. True, I could have picked Rainbow Claw Warrior or Crying Sunshine She-Bear, but White Dork seemed somehow more fitting. Most Born-Again Navajos have spirit animals, charismatic megafauna such as wolves, bears or eagles. I think I've finally found my own spirit animal, too: The weasel. Small and beady-eyed, symbol of irritation.

Like many Americans, I found myself "questing" for life's deeper meaning, attempting to find a less patriarchal, more nature-based spirituality. This is why I recently participated in a ceremony that involved a new moon (that is, no moon), chanting, drumming, singing off-key, rattles, water bowls, feathers and several New Jersey-born women huddled around a lump of charcoal in lieu of a campfire on the deck of a condo. (Let me remind you, I have chosen the name White Dork.) While parts of this ceremony were beautiful and meditative, I felt something was missing. Namely, a Native American.

True to form, I felt guilty, too, like I'd performed a Japanese tea ceremony at a backyard barbecue or received holy communion at Wal-Mart. I felt like a White Dork who was taking the best of another culture's spirituality without earning it, looking for a New Age quick fix instead of doing the long, hard work of self-exploration. I was a hypocrite, conveniently adopting values but not living them - communing with animal spirits and buying shrink-wrapped beef.

While much of this cultural co-opting is at heart very well-meaning, Native Americans are getting weary, if not pissed off. Members of the Lakota tribe have declared war on exploiters of their ancient spirituality. Their declaration states that they have "suffered the unspeakable indignity of having our most precious Lakota ceremonies and spiritual practices desecrated, mocked and abused by non-Indian "wannabes," hucksters, cultists, commercial profiteers and self-styled "New Age" retail stores and ... pseudo religious corporations have been formed to charge people money for admission into phony "sweatlodges' and "vision quest" programs ..."

Born-Again Navajos - if they're devout - must take this declaration of war seriously. After all, among its soldiers are White Dork and her Spirit Weasel, pathfinder of cynicism and King of the Rodent World. Together they will rain on the parade of any Rainbow Spirit Journey - and then go take holy communion at Wal-Mart.

Lou "White Dork" Bendrick is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( She lives in Telluride, Colorado.

Top Ten Ways to tell if you are from the Wannabi (want to be) Clan

By Dr. Coyote (borrowed and adapted from an earlier posting)

10. You were born white but just realized that there was a possibility that you are native, you just don't know what tribe, and so you joined AIM or you know you are native because of your cheekbones or feel it in your soul.  And dang I just enjoy buffalo burgers or jerky so I must be….

9. You think Russell Means is a god, and he can do no wrong, or support Leonard even though you are not quite sure if he is innocent or guilty or what exactly the particulars are of that case?

8. You think Fry Bread is traditional food and smoking a cigarette or using commercial tobacco outside your tipi/tent counts as a prayer.

7. Protesting for Indian rights (doesn't matter what tribe) means a sit in or holding a sign while trying to wear your new ribbon shirt you bought from the white guy at the local "trading post".  Well only if it fits in your schedule and you happen to be in the area (within a 10 minute drive and there is free parking)

6. You go to the local Indian bar and buy the ndns drinks cuz you want to talk about their customs and "culture” and sing pow wow songs like the old times and just hang with the skins, but cant stand the idea of a warm tall bud at 10 AM on the side of the road after sawing up firewood or being up all night hunting or fishing

5. You try to date an ndn girl but you decide she's too round and rugged for your tastes (and her name wasn’t Running Deer) and her hair wasn’t jet black anyway and it was short so you decide to date the hippie wannabes with the hemp jewelry and long hair instead, plus she has a dog that is part wolf and your think you are wolf clan ennit.

4. You get the pre-requisite tribal tattoo placed where everyone can  see it, so they can ask you what tribe you are, but no one ever  does OR your car is carefully calculated to look “NDN” (i.e. dream catchers or safety pin headdresses on the mirror or bumper stickers bought from a vendor at a pow wow) OR the more tacky beadwork the better and  you wear your hair long for no particular reason and braid it because it looks cool, and hey doesn’t the smell of burning sage in your clothes make you smell Indian?

3. You find your beadwork for your regalia in a pawnshop and  proudly wear it at every powwow not knowing that everyone who is a  serious powwow person knows where you got it from and you've only been to contest powwows and no traditional powwows  because they don't run them on time and every one shows up late.  (ndn time) Besides going to every Pow Wow in every small town is what it really means to be on the red road right?  Traditional ceremony, isn’t that a pow wow?

2. You had a vision or sweat and found out you were Indian all along but just separated from the people and need to reconnect with the blood…What live on a reservation(or urban relocation area)  with no electricity and get paid $9 an hour if you can find a job , commodity cheese what is that?  Get all my health care from the IHS Clinic????

And the Number 1 way to tell if you are from the Wannabi (want to be) Clan DRUMROLL…

1. You use phrases like ennit and NDN cause you are a true skin and you are easily offended and whine about this post because while some of it is true about others….HEY, who in the hell does that Dr. Coyote thinks he is judging me as a Native if he ain’t walked in my moccasins…

(just laugh!)