I was reading an article on Roanhorse, an author who writes with a sci-fi story that is based on a Pueblo story. The article wasn't very flattering by it made me angry as well. As one of the invading colonial horde I am constantly confronted by how twisted my background is. When it comes to cultures the British and other super powers of the time had a rather typical MO. They would sweep in offering wealth through trade and when they weren't making as much as they wanted they would use war and oppression to get what they wanted. The world is still reeling from that and some cultures and people came off worse than others. Not having any strong ties to land or culture I've always wondered what drives people to be so adamant over land or culture. Don't get me wrong I think it is a source of power and identity. Just that my family gained and lost land and power rather routinely - on both sides of the family. One thing that stayed true was all my ancestors cultivated what they thought was important - though that also changed every generation or so. Did you know that cultivate and culture come from the same root word. Latin for grow. Culture isn't something in the past. Culture is something that is currently alive and is either thriving or dying. When we moved from South Africa to New Zealand we very consciously decided what parts of our culture we wanted to keep and what we wanted to get rid of. So we literally pruned and then grafted a new culture into our root stock. Are we wrong to do this?
But let's approach this from another direction and this might seem left field for some. I'm a big fan of creative commons. Yes, it is a fairly modern concept but the underlying idea behind it has been around for a very long time. A society will prosper and grow if they are able to graft in new cultures to their own. They will be more tolerant and accepting of others and more likely to trade far and wide. To aid in this governments around the world has basically said that if the original creator is long dead that their work can be used to create something new based on these older stories.
Back to the article about Roanhorse. You see Mrs Roanhorse is not on any register - I shudder at the thought that a register is the only way to prove your cultural connections. She is native American on her mother's side (FYI for the article that means not her maiden name either but rather her mother's maiden name - whoever wrote the article is clearly not someone who does family history). She is also married to a Navajo. But she was ridiculed as having no right to write her stories with a native America MC and based on old native American stories. They said she hadn't gained permission from their elders. They basically compared her to Elizabeth Warren. I have a lot of issues with this article. If someone with such close ties isn't allowed to write stories based on their culture then who is? They are basically telling her she can't tell her own story. And then I look at myself and I have shed so much of my original culture and picked up new ones - what exactly am I allowed to write about if this is the standard authors are being held up to? But the bigger question is. What is going to happen to a culture that is being actively horded? I can tell you right now based on several cultures that it will die. Some places are trying to bring back their culture. I've seen it here in New Zealand. But let's look back into my own past.
My grandmother was welsh. Do I know Gaelic? No. Do I even know how to pronounce any word at all in Welsh? No. But then I don't think my grandmother did either. That is because by the time she moved to South Africa there was a history of eradication of the language in her home country - FYI also suffered cultural appropriation until most of it is gone. Few knew how to speak it at all. Wales in their wisdom revived their language by being proud of it and sharing it. They taught it in schools - regardless of the student's nationality. They put it on sign posts and have it in their TV shows - for anyone to see and read. New Zealand is doing the same but they aren't as badly off as Welsh was and they are also not as far down the path as Wales is. They offer free courses to anyone who wants to learn the language and they are making it compulsory for primary schools to teach it. To ANYONE. Anyone who has a burning need to add to their culture can now speak in fluent Te Reo Maori and speak to the native people in their own language. This is beautiful. But is it cultural appropriation?
No, because it empowers the native people. Cultural appropriation was always designed to dis-empower the Native people. By brutally taking down anyone willing to write stories based on their OWN heritage just because they didn't ask permission is a death knell of that culture. So I beg people to write their own stories. Go into your history and revitalise the stories of the past. Tell them so we can grown and share and be better off because you were willing to share. I'm not talking about people taking your culture I'm asking people to share their own.
We don't have the gatekeepers we used to have for minorities to publish books that we had in the past. But there are still barriers. Poverty is one of them. Art in general is reserved for those who have the resources to create it. Unfortunately many minorities just don't have the resources to create art like they used to. But the one barrier we should really get rid is the Karens who think that someone should have asked them permission. If it is anything like New Zealand, where there are multiple tribes who don't really have a unified body to make these decision, then that permission will never be enough because while one person will say it is alright another will disagree. And in the meantime the story never gets told. Never gets cultivated and instead dies out due to neglect.
We need to give native stories presence and power by retelling them over and over again so one day we aren't making another remake of Robin Hood but rather about Maui and the Sun. As allies we might not be able to write these stories by we can support them by reading stories by minorities or oppressed groups. I really do look forward to the day when people can barely remember stories like Beauty and Beast but rave about the latest version of the Tokoloshe (that was my favourite horror story from South Africa).