J.K. Rowling’s Latest Writing Criticized for Appropriation – Your Thoughts?

Posted By Toyacoyah Brown 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.

Home » Native American Articles » Native American Issues » J.K. Rowling's Latest Writing Criticized for Appropriation – Your Thoughts?

About Toyacoyah Brown

Toyacoyah Brown is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation, currently living in Chicago. She received her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an M.A. in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. When she's not scouring the Internet for fun things to share with PowWows.com readers you can find her digging for vinyl in her local record store or curling up with a good book.

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Susan Havens

I find this interesting….say in the last 20 yrs….since it became a box on the Census….everyone and their damn uncle is either an Indian princess or related to a medicine man…..oh for crying out loud…..my family had to be silent for who they were. It wasn’t discussed and lots of sacrifices were made and I know many more like my family……soooooooo I am in agreement that her research be accurate……exact in fact…..and that she and anyone else who writes about the culture……be respectful of those who had to die and not always an honorable death for the 500 Nations to get where they are today….and instead of buying a book donate to a reputable Native American Indian cause that promotes the culture. And for crying out loud stop walking around with your pipe in your hand calling yourself a Pipe Carrier……have some respect for the sacrifice of those who have that priviledge.

Manuel Hastiin

Well said…..


Another white European stealing our culture and trying to feed it back to us as though they know us and they know us better than we know ourselves! Same old crap!


When I read the four articles, I had no problem with anything J.K. Rowling wrote. My mother, who is very quick to judge anyone who misappropriates or misrepresents Native American culture, read them with me and she didn’t see a problem either. We didn’t see disrespect, misrepresentation, or misappropriation. We saw inclusion. We are both very happy that J.K. Rowling decided to include indigenous peoples in her worldwide magical community. Honestly, we would have been offended if she HADN’T included us. What she did was acknowledge that there are magical people all over the world and throughout time, while also taking history into account. Every work of fantasy needs to have some basis in reality and it makes more sense to work with the people who were actually in North America prior to European immigration as characters than trying to create a completely different race of people. Doing that would have been taking the easy route and highly offensive. Representation in popular culture is one of the biggest steps towards further inclusion, understanding, and shattering of stereotypes. This is a good thing and I support it. I look forward to further writings by Jo.

Delonigi Anichiyo {Golden Eagle Kituwah> forgive white name Cherokee}

I was raised started at age seven to do path finders’ work for our spiritual pathology for person seeking native spiritual walks. To put it shortly! Many people are taught unwisely about their paths in life. I’m here to hopefully help them to understand the correct line of sight. This Does have a translation to Magical happenings in one’s own life. But this is not Harry Potter’s kind of magic. Rather a form of seeing one’s self life going to good events and not to bad. To speak of my schooling years or teachers for public general knowledge is not good for all concerned. Story telling is good and instructive at times but must see the difference.

Anon E. Mus

Having done a lot of reading and research when it comes to Indigenous people, I’m more concerned with the idea of those traditions being made into fiction. Harry Potter was a great series and for me it was more than just about magic. It was about relationships. JKR is a great writer and I’m hoping that she will do some research and speak to people who can give her guidance. of course, I hope she will also cite all the research she does. If her efforts are to make America a no-maj place (btw, I don’t like that term) I will be interested in seeing how she accomplishes that without damaging the great traditions of the Indigenous people. I hope I’m not wrong in this.


I read the piece and didn’t have any problem with it. I thought it was a nice reimagining of reality through a magical fantasy perspective. She didn’t say all Indians are magic or anything like that. The story referenced a Navajo belief but many of the natives speaking against it aren’t even Navajo. Dr. Keene (Cherokee) from Harvard says JK is wrong to refer to a Native American community because there isn’t one community. But Dr. Keene is speaking as though she is the representative for the NA community. She can’t have it both ways.

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