The Matriarch, Harry Potter, and Native Appropriations

There’s been a bit of flack surrounding the previews on JK Rowling’s Pottermore website regarding “magical” North American history, specifically in the way it includes Native American culture. If you weren’t aware, this is all advertisement for the new Harry Potter film entitled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them arriving in theaters November 2016; the Pottermore website has published four installments of the abbreviated “History of Magic in North America.” While there are many issues pointed out by various news outlets, this is the one that hurts the most and that I’m most familiar with.

The Problem With Magic Folk

“So what?” people post online. “It’s fiction. She can make up whatever she wants.” None of this is real, so who does it hurt? The actual people, for one thing. Native Americans are real people with a real culture; they haven’t died out or ceased to exist. It’s not just one culture, either; there are currently 562 federally recognized Indian Nations (source: ncai.org), and their uniqueness is hanging on in spite of centuries spent actively destroying it. No, not just the English colonists; the French and Spanish both had equal hands in it.

LoneRangerJohnnyeppTontoIn Hollywood, there has long existed a trope of “the helpful Indian who appears from nowhere,” so clearly they must be magical. Think Peter Pan and The Lone Ranger; help is needed, the indigenous mystics appear, do their thing, then conveniently disappear. It’s a plot device: deus ex shamana. Like faeries, trolls, and goblins, the truth can be lost to legend. Using Britain’s own fables as an example, there were reportedly a dozen Robin Hoods who all became one man, and King Arthur’s stories can be traced to several individuals who were embellishment through oral tradition.

Native Americans do exist and want to keep their cultures and traditions alive. Learn about it all you like and tell others, but embellishing the facts — changing them — and attributing details to all tribes as a whole dilutes its uniqueness. Like a game of telephone, the truth is being lost because the details are wrong.

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