Cultural appropriation and writing from a NA POV

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HalaxyGigh

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Thanks for all replies, really, appreciate it. And for the links, Star-child.
I should clarify that I meant historical fantasy-horror, not just straight historical, and even include some alternate history elements in the form of fictional public figures, recent events, etc. It's just the setting and background that is ground in reality.
I guess if I have one rule going ahead then that is simply that every character is fully fleshed out as an individual, not just as a set of cultural traits, and this applies to ANY demographic, racial or cultural.
If you're telling a historical adventure story where some characters are NA, and you don't shy away from the ugly realities of the era but don't dwell on them too much because the adventure is calling, you probably won't attract too much controversy unless you manage to hit every bad stereotype going. I'm not saying there won't be any, there's a wide range of people out there, but most aren't hard obsessed with "nobody shall portray/represent us but us". At least, that's true of 99% of people from most walks of life.

If you're telling a historical story that aims to focus on and show the truth of what was really happening in terms of the racism, then you are inviting controversy, because that's a lot closer to the identity and mistakes will be all the more glaring.
I guess I plan to do both: without giving too much away, while the plot is largely driven by fantasy elements, elements of social realism and grit are used to reveal character (by how characters react to them) and demonstrate the nature of the world: cruel and cynical, mostly.
I guess if there is a major underlying theme, it is that historical reality is complicated and the truth is not what it appears in literary and pop cultural terms, since one objective is to address and dispel stereotypical myths such as both Noble Savage and Bloodthirsty Indian, as well as other romanticized images of the old west - and I know this is hardly a new literary objective, but IMO still a worthwhile one. The main plot, meanwhile, is still basically good-ish guys vs bad guys, or bad vs even worse, and the main objective is to make an interesting story.
 
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Phyrebrat

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Do you have a JSTOR account? I read a lot of their articles esp on cultural appropriation (from an Afro-Caribbean perspective, though, not indigenous American) and they can be very enlightening on how pop culture uses their cultural capital poorly.

pH
 

HalaxyGigh

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Do you have a JSTOR account? I read a lot of their articles esp on cultural appropriation (from an Afro-Caribbean perspective, though, not indigenous American) and they can be very enlightening on how pop culture uses their cultural capital poorly.

pH
No, but I've got an Academia one (Academia.edu - Share research). That sites contains a wealth of info, pretty invaluable.
 

Star-child

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Yeah, sorry, that's just wrong. Especially in the era asked about, though it even holds true today dependent upon where it happens (prejudice and violence near reservations can be open and blatant). More so, how a Sioux member is treated by another nation/tribe--in the era or even today to a much lesser degree--will depend on which tribe they encounter.



K2

For any given scene, the writer can present all sorts of amplifying details, and I have been pointing out that you can write NA scenes without going into culturally specific details about why the NA character does what he/she does. This is essentially no different than writing a character who's actions and speech are gender neutral - it isn't that the character doesn't have a gender, but that gender doesn't need to constantly inform their actions. This is the same problem - a NA doesn't have to have tribal specific conflicts or dote on their own cultural pre-occupations. They can simply do what they do and the conflicts they come into can be of the more general white invader type instead of inter-tribal or specific white groups with strong opinions about particular tribes. That stuff isn't necesary to tell most stories that are intended to be SFF.

Your demand that the minutia of inter-tribal conflict is about as necessary as talking about Lando Calrissian's high school experience: He still gets to be black.


If that is still unclear, suggest a simple scene and I will write you one that shows a NA without requiring an ethnographer.
 

The Big Peat

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I guess I plan to do both: without giving too much away, while the plot is largely driven by fantasy elements, elements of social realism and grit are used to reveal character (by how characters react to them) and demonstrate the nature of the world: cruel and cynical, mostly.
I guess if there is a major underlying theme, it is that historical reality is complicated and the truth is not what it appears in literary and pop cultural terms, since one objective is to address and dispel stereotypical myths such as both Noble Savage and Bloodthirsty Indian, as well as other romanticized images of the old west - and I know this is hardly a new literary objective, but IMO still a worthwhile one. The main plot, meanwhile, is still basically good-ish guys vs bad guys, or bad vs even worse, and the main objective is to make an interesting story.
Well, more power to your arm as it's a noble aim but yes, you may attract some controversy and some criticism from those who feel that only Native Americans should be writing those stories. Right or wrong that's how it is. Which isn't to say you can't succeed in making a story that people, including Native Americans, love and admire. Go for it! But know it is a difficult course.
 

CTRandall

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if there is a major underlying theme, it is that historical reality is complicated and the truth is not what it appears in literary and pop cultural terms, since one objective is to address and dispel stereotypical myths such as both Noble Savage and Bloodthirsty Indian, as well as other romanticized images of the old west
This is where it could get tricky. Trying to address the complexities of history while confronting stereotypes and myths means it will be pretty much impossible to keep everyone happy. You'll have to live with the fact that some people will not agree with everything you say and some may be vocal in their disapproval.

That's fine. That's one of the things that good art does.

But if you are drawing closely upon history, you are going to have to research carefully and thoroughly. As a quick example, throwing around the word "Sioux", as several others here have done (not you, @HalaxyGigh), is immediately problematic as it is a French term used to describe a large number of tribes, each of which have their own names in their own languages. Missing a simple point like that will tell readers you didn't do your research and any point you want to make will be immediately dismissed.

Is it possible for you to play up the fantastical elements and distance the story from the historical elements? I don't mean get rid of the historical setting completely, just make it distant enough that no one is worried if you blend aspects of Hopi culture with Tlingit or even Sami (to spread the net wide) and even make up aspects of your own (as The Judge mentioned). Broad themes can be painted with a broad brush and focusing too much on realistic cultural detail might get in the way of the story you want to tell.
 

Star-child

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As a quick example, throwing around the word "Sioux", as several others here have done (not you, @HalaxyGigh), is immediately problematic as it is a French term used to describe a large number of tribes, each of which have their own names in their own languages.
You'll have to pardon me. I chose "Sioux" for the same reason I used "French" - because it is recognizable and 5 letters. That's all.
 

OHB

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A Native American/Amerindian character's POV, particularly when issues of racism and social realism come up. I'm wondering how people feel about white or non-NA authors doing this, how is it received in the media and amongst NA communities today? Does it immediately invite controversy? Does anyone have experience with this?
I ask because from what I know, aspects of NA representation in pop culture is still a sensitive issue in the US. I'm in the UK, working on a couple of pieces of historical fiction in the old/wild west, but with NA lead characters.
I'll weigh in here since I am Native American (Chahta/Choctaw).

If you're going to write anything with a Native American character, you need to first know which tribe specifically you're writing about. We are vastly different from each other in terms of languages, religions, clothing, etc. Each tribe also has a different history with European settlers. Some tribes formed alliances with certain Europeans and aided them in fighting other Europeans as well as fighting rival tribes. My tribe got along fairly well with the French to the point that we intermarried with them and now have French-derived words in our language. Most of these alliances fell apart after the War of 1812 because the United States government had pretty much secured its claim over the lands, forcing the other European governments out of the area for good. Some tribes have had violent conflicts/battles with the U.S. government and state governments; others haven't. Some tribes have treaties with the U.S.; others don't. And others have treaties that the U.S. government reneged on after the tribes had already upheld their end, leaving those tribes completely screwed. Almost every tribe has been victim to at least one form of genocide perpetrated by the U.S. government or state governments (death marches, bounty killings, massacres of villages, kidnapping of children, forced sterilization, forced starvation by slaughtering all food sources, environmental destruction, etc.), but which forms depend on where the tribe is located.

In other words, you need to research the ever-loving hell out of that tribe--their culture and their history. And I don't mean just read things written about them by white people, because white people are outsiders and have an outsider's perspective on the culture and history that will be very different from the perspectives of people within that culture. And once you have written the story, I'd recommend finding someone from that tribe to act as a beta reader for you. They can tell you better than anyone where you're going wrong and how to correct it. Erroneous portrayals of Native Americans can be dangerous because most people don't research our cultures; they get their knowledge of us from pop culture. And if pop culture gets it wrong, there isn't much we can do to fix it. Due to decades of TV shows, movies, and books portraying Native Americans as practicing "magic" and having supernatural abilities, the U.S. government regards our religions as mere superstition and destroys our sacred sites almost daily. People have had to watch tribal burial grounds containing the remains of their ancestors get bulldozed by government contractors. Those who try to stop the destruction are arrested and/or physically attacked. I'm not telling you this to discourage you. I'm just telling you so you know what is at stake. How you portray us affects how we get treated, so you need to make sure you do it accurately.

I may be able to help you track down resources you can use in your research, but I'd have to know which tribe(s) you're looking into first. There are over 500 tribes with federal recognition (i.e. they have standing treaties with the U.S. and are recognized as sovereign nations) and many, many more that aren't federally recognized. Tribes with recognition are usually larger and have more documentation, so they're easier to find info on.

I hope that helps you.
 

Star-child

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I'll weigh in here since I am Native American (Chahta/Choctaw).

If you're going to write anything with a Native American character, you need to first know which tribe specifically you're writing about. We are vastly different from each other in terms of languages, religions, clothing, etc.
OHB,

What is the potential downside to writing a character that is recognized as ethnically Native American by other characters, but chooses to not reveal their specific heritage to others and the narrator does not comment? Clearly, such a character would have to be wearing something other than typical tribal clothing and speaks more than one language to make their origins obvious to others.

I'm taking it for granted that Native Americans do not generally have tribal phenotypes that can be read by others to classify their affiliations, even if there are regional variations that might allow someone to guess which part of the continent they are likely from.
 

tinkerdan

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I think it might be wise to first look at the era in which your character lives, whether they are 8% native american or 100% or somewhere in between.
I have about 8% and that doesn't make me qualified to really know the culture-however that also means that I don't have to reflect any of that culture.
I"m much more Slavic; however since my grandpa came over here I think the family was trying to forget it's cultural roots and that worked quite well in two generations. My other large portion is French-likely French Canadian and that side is likely where the native american blood mixed in.Once again there is this distancing from culture that makes me more a product of US culture. The point is that I'd be written as one with a US background rather than all the other pieces.

Are you necessarily in need of someone being full blood within the culture.

I have known a number of full bloods whose lives look as US American as mine although they engage with more Native American functions than I do; though I have been known to accompany some in those excursions.

This is why my characters, even ones that claim to have some native blood of any sort are written as people and not caricatures that try to stick ethnic pins into actors. However that is because it's all in the future and who knows exactly what could be in the future; beyond possibly someone who has felt most of their life that they have no culture--beyond something thinly defined around US-melting-pot of A.

That said there is always the disclaimer in the beginning that vilifies(verifies)the whole thing as being a farce or fiction and that there is no intent to cast aspersions upon any culture or people or places or legal entities.

However, if you are doing historical fiction or using a character that is supposedly largely influenced by the culture then you have an obligation to try to get that as close to reality as possible.

That much said: I once tried looking into the subject of Native American Culture and found it a difficult task as there are more obtainable documents written by Caucasians than Natives and if anyone who happens upon this knows of sources of good information, perhaps they could give us a list. Or Message me a list.

I have found that at some point any research about cultures falls askew of things that cultures tend to not want to share with outsiders, making it near impossible to get things 100% accurate--and that includes discussing with natives who range from those who don't want to discuss and those who simply don't know their culture as well as they should..
 

-K2-

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Hesitantly, I'm going to mention this again.

If the story is written in a historical setting, in the U.S., fictional/fantsay or not... as the OP mentions:
A Native American/Amerindian character's POV, particularly when issues of racism and social realism come up. I'm wondering how people feel about white or non-NA authors doing this, how is it received in the media and amongst NA communities today? Does it immediately invite controversy? Does anyone have experience with this?
I ask because from what I know, aspects of NA representation in pop culture is still a sensitive issue in the US. I'm in the UK, working on a couple of pieces of historical fiction in the old/wild west, but with NA lead characters.
Racism to extreme degrees--not just racial bias, but 'up to' government promoted extermination--is unavoidable.

For a little comparative context for those unfamiliar with much of U.S. history... consider the African/Black American experience in the U.S. you've heard about, the racism, segregation, and violence. Now ramp up that prejudice from not just a few but the vast majority of European Americans. Then ramp it up again, where the goal is not just containment and segregation, but government and societal promoted eradication.

Yes, if you have the character wearing a suit and top hat (attired like everyone else), walking around New York City in 1870, they'd likely encounter little direct aggression, more curiosity and offensive probing. Take that same person and put them in the thriving, civilized, and advanced capital of California in 1870, Sacramento, and they'll likely end up dead. Same thing if they're just walking along a road in Wyoming, minding their business in Montana, catching butterflies in the Dakotas, etc..

I really don't want to go into personal experience, but the open bias, sometimes aggression, still happens in this nation dependent upon where you are at. Look at the 'current' comparative statistics for violent crime against Indigenous Americans--if it's even reported--around reservation areas. A 100 years ago, it was much worse.

Point being, if you want to place this story in a historical time and place, a little historical perspective/investigation will need to happen. The reason is, to have someone of an Indigenous race be treated better than what they were (as though everyone is colorblind and contemporarily PC)... does an injustice to what Indigenous Americans experienced.

It's not as simple as, 'no one would know unless they tell them.'

I'm not saying 'don't write it.' I'm saying, 'do so, understanding what you're writing about and wanting to present.'

Anywho, I'll leave the discussion to those who know better...

K2
 

Star-child

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Hesitantly, I'm going to mention this again.

If the story is written in a historical setting, in the U.S., fictional/fantsay or not... as the OP mentions:


Racism to extreme degrees--not just racial bias, but 'up to' government promoted extermination--is unavoidable.

For a little comparative context for those unfamiliar with much of U.S. history... consider the African/Black American experience in the U.S. you've heard about, the racism, segregation, and violence. Now ramp up that prejudice from not just a few but the vast majority of European Americans. Then ramp it up again, where the goal is not just containment and segregation, but government and societal promoted eradication.

Yes, if you have the character wearing a suit and top hat (attired like everyone else), walking around New York City in 1870, they'd likely encounter little direct aggression, more curiosity and offensive probing. Take that same person and put them in the thriving, civilized, and advanced capital of California in 1870, Sacramento, and they'll likely end up dead. Same thing if they're just walking along a road in Wyoming, minding their business in Montana, catching butterflies in the Dakotas, etc..

I really don't want to go into personal experience, but the open bias, sometimes aggression, still happens in this nation dependent upon where you are at. Look at the 'current' comparative statistics for violent crime against Indigenous Americans--if it's even reported--around reservation areas. A 100 years ago, it was much worse.

Point being, if you want to place this story in a historical time and place, a little historical perspective/investigation will need to happen. The reason is, to have someone of an Indigenous race be treated better than what they were (as though everyone is colorblind and contemporarily PC)... does an injustice to what Indigenous Americans experienced.

It's not as simple as, 'no one would know unless they tell them.'

I'm not saying 'don't write it.' I'm saying, 'do so, understanding what you're writing about and wanting to present.'

Anywho, I'll leave the discussion to those who know better...

K2
No one suggested that a Native American in Western garb would avoid racism and violence. Why bring that up?
 

pyan

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I think that the OP has had sufficient replies and links to answer the question posed, and I see no reason to let this thread descend into potential ad hominem argument.

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