March 9th, 2016 Last Updated on: March 9th, 2016
Confession: I have not read of the Harry Potter series, nor do I know any of the movies in depth, so I can't speak to the “Potterverse” like some of you can. However, I am very intrigued by J.K. Rowling's latest writings. And when I say intrigued, I mean very curious to see how much research she has done on this very touchy subject.
In case you don't know what I'm alluding to, Rowling recently released a video which gives us a taste of what she'll be covering in her four-part series on North American magic.
The wizarding world is much larger than you imagined. Learn more about J.K. Rowling #MagicInNorthAmerica now. #FantasticBeastsFind out more: http://tgr.ph/fNIE9B
Posted by Telegraph Culture on Monday, March 7, 2016
Did you guys catch that? Skinwalkers.
In the first installment from History of Magic in North America, titled “Fourteenth Century – Seventeenth Century”, she talks about Native Americans and the wizard community:
The legend of the Native American ‘skin walker’ – an evil witch or wizard that can transform into an animal at will – has its basis in fact. A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.
The Native American wizarding community was particularly gifted in animal and plant magic, its potions in particular being of a sophistication beyond much that was known in Europe. The most glaring difference between magic practised by Native Americans and the wizards of Europe was the absence of a wand.
A lot of vocal writers in the Native community have spoken out about the writings saying this hits a little too close to home.
One such critique comes from Native Appropriations. We first learned there might be some Indigenous shout out last summer and Dr. Adrienne Keene covers that in her first post “Dear JK Rowling, I’m concerned about the American Wizarding School.”
The problem, Jo (can I call you Jo? I hope so), is that we as Indigenous peoples are constantly situated as fantasy creatures. Think about Peter Pan, where Neverland has mermaids, pirates…and Indians. Or on Halloween, children dress up as monsters, zombies, princesses, disney characters…and Indians. Beyond the positioning as “not real,” there is also a pervasive and problematic narrative wherein Native peoples are always “mystical” and “magical” and “spiritual”–able to talk to animals, conjure spirits, perform magic, heal with “medicine” and destroy with “curses.” Think about Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas, or Tonto talking to his bird and horse in The Lone Ranger, or the wolfpack in Twilight…or any other number of examples.
But we’re not magical creatures, we’re contemporary peoples who are still here, and still practice our spiritual traditions, traditions that are not akin to a completely imaginary wizarding world (as badass as that wizarding world is). In a fact I quote often on this blog, it wasn’t until 1978 that we as Native peoples were even legally allowed to practice our religious beliefs or possess sacred objects like eagle feathers. Up until that point, there was a coordinated effort through assimilation policies, missionary systems, and cultural genocide to stamp out these traditions, and with them, our existence as Indigenous peoples. We’ve fought and worked incredibly hard to maintain these practices and pass them on.
So I get worried thinking about the message it sends to have “indigenous magic” suddenly be associated with the Harry Potter brand and world. Because the other piece I deal with on this blog is the constant commodification of our spiritual practices too. There is an entire industry of plastic shamans selling ceremonies, or places like Urban Outfitters selling “smudge kits” and fake eagle feathers. As someone who owns a genuine time-turner, I know that marketing around Harry Potter is a billion dollar enterprise, and so I get nervous thinking about the marketing piece. American fans are going to be super stoked at the existence of a wizarding school on this side of the pond, and I’m sure will want to snatch up anything related to it–which I really hope doesn’t include Native-inspired anything.
So, any Native Potter fans out there? Would love to hear your thoughts on this.
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