The beautiful green land of North America once hosted many dreadful battles between Europeans and native Americans. Despite the beauty of the land, it will always be tainted by the injustice Native Americans had to face. The battle being fought today is centered around cultural appropriation. It is our duty to explore this topic to understand why it holds so much significance. Shari Huhndorf argues that “The attempted conquest of native peoples did not end with white America’s triumph.”
In the 20th century, white America has continually present rites of conquest to represent their power over Indians. This is achieved through the theft of tribal lands and appropriation of Native culture and identities. A pertinent aspect of cultural appropriation is the portrayal of Native Americans in history, media, and film. How do native peoples claim their rights as sovereigns to reverse the harm cultural appropriation has caused? For Native Americans, having monarchs was an important structure in overriding the rule of the federal government and the urge to have the rights of citizens protected while developing the Indian nation’s right to practice jurisdiction. The concept is that Indian nations are divided political sovereigns that are working with the United States to maintain a government-to-government relationship. Because Indian nations are considered to be domestic and dependent nations, their rights to their lands are described as the “right of occupancy”, as the federal government holds the right to cease their land by purchase and conquest. As said by Rebecca Tsosie, “Under the sovereignty doctrine established by Chief Justice Marshall, Indian nations were held to have the full range of sovereign powers at the moment of European contact.” The concept of dependency was utilized by the supreme court to limit the rights of Indian nations claiming that the by “virtue of conquest” and incorporations into the united states nations.
Indian nations have been deprived of all governmental powers that are not consistent with their dependent status. The cultural significance of sovereignty lies within the effort of Native Americans to practice their own cultural norms and values that develop their futures. Therefore, cultural sovereignty is a phenomenon within itself, and the native understandings of this concept are ingrained “within the way of life from which each of us emerges.” (Tsosie, 2002). Their sovereign status opened a door to the potential appropriation of their culture. With both tangible and intangible aspects of culture, Indian nations are required to exercise jurisdiction over both. When exercising cultural sovereignty, native peoples have control over intangible aspects of culture, this includes tribal songs, stories, and the tangible aspects of culture (land and natural resources). If the meaning and importance of the intangible aspects of culture are lost, the importance of tangible aspects is also lost. To non-Indians, this did not make sense. It was unclear to them why native land claims were important to their culture. This ignorance caused non-Indians to treat controversies over tribal lands as property disputes. An example of this would be the controversial case of Black Hills. The united states supreme court justified the native peoples’ claim that the Black Hills was illegally appropriated by the united states. However, in Crow V. Gullet, it was found that the native people’s rights were not infringed upon because they were not prohibited from entering the sacred site within the black hills, Bear Butte, which is now a state park. It is clear that the cultural appropriation of Native Americans is always centered around the Native people’s sovereignty. Not taking land disputes into consideration, cultural appropriation highlights native Americans’ sovereign nature and politics and culture.
Robert Allan Warrior reasons that Indian people need to develop intellectual sovereignty that allows them to work both within traditional systems and outside of them to evaluate the multiple experiences they have has as distinct nations and cultures within a colonial structure (Warrior, 1996). It is truthful to state that non-Indians have zero regards for what Indians have to say about global or national issues. “The place of Indians is in a mythical past, painted in cartoons like Pocahontas, John Wayne westerns, or the plethora of western romance novels” (Tsosie, 2002). In the media, Indians play the role of two stereotypes, either noble individuals, or heartless savages. In a clearer sense, non-Indians do not care what Native Americans have to say unless they are able to morph their words into something they see more fit. Non-Indian people handle culture as a metaphysical concept that can be autonomous from everyday life. To non-Indians, tribal sovereignty is a part of the USA’s “multicultural tradition”. They are able to show countenance to the status of Indian nations up to the point that they would appear to give them rights that are relished by other citizens. Cultural appropriation is defined as “the taking from a culture that is not one’s own—of intellectual property, cultural expressions or artifact, history and ways of knowledge. This can occur even in the absence of profit-taking” (Tsosie, 2002).
The appropriation of Native people’s culture by the non-Indians is a way to keep the same supremacy and authority that was used to colonize and eradicate Native Americans, alive and effective. Cultural appropriation comes in many forms in the new society, with individuals seeking to learn Indian traditional spirituality with intentions of creating a business off of the knowledge they gain. Religious native symbols are also often appropriated in art with artists ignorantly adding tribal symbolism in their paintings, jewelry and pottery. Examples of new age appropriation include the Homell Brewing company’s “Crazy Horse” beer, the Jeep “Cherokee”, and the use of native Americans as team mascots in sports. Pharmacy companies go on endless endeavors trying to elicit traditional native medicine and knowledge to market products founded on traditional healing practices.
Substantially, native American culture is a product to America that can be sold, exploited, probed, cataloged, and controlled by individuals who remain unenlightened to the significant meaning the native American culture holds to them. The first attempt to annihilate native culture occurred when non-Indians tried to appropriate the culture for their own motives.
Since the 19th century, until the Indian reorganization act of 1934, government officials worked to actively quell Native languages, ceremonies, and any traditional practice in order to colonize, civilize, and engulf Native Americans. In the media, Native Americans were continuously depicted as noble savages who suffered hapless deaths due to advancing civilization. White authors such as Oliver La Farge portrayed the Indian struggle to mold into a white world that destroyed them. White people were given power and strength in these stories while natives were displayed as sad and weak victims who had no voice or influence. Contradictory to the prognosis of the of these writers, Native Americans have lived on to survive to witness the new Millennium. Native nations have prospered while being aware of economic realities. They are dedicated to strengthen and continuing their belief systems and will be fighting against those who appropriate their culture for profit.
There have been many injustices’ in this world but the one constantly occurring is cultural appropriation. Native Americans are facing this issue daily. A pertinent aspect of cultural appropriation is the portrayal of Native Americans in history, media, and film. How do native peoples claim their rights as sovereigns to reverse the harm cultural appropriation has caused? It is our duty as humans to put an end to the ignorance and fight alongside the natives in their battle to reclaim their culture.
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