Native Cultural Appropriation

Vine Deloria Jr. marks the history of America’s obsession with appropriating Native American Culture in the first three chapters of his book God is Red: A Native View of Religion.

He starts by outlining the development of this obsession in chapter 3, titled “The Religious Challenge”. He states that Western culture and the meaning of the Christian worldview…were outrun by the events of the time (51). America, in the 1960s was bored with the “Civil Rights movement, the concern with Vietnam and the war, the escape to drugs, the rise of power movements” that it moved its gaze back to Native Americans. Instead of criticizing a war that America had no part in, citizens chose to focus back on Native culture as it “[held] the key to survival and promised to provide new meanings for American life” (51).  With the growing of white culture in pre-contemporary America, or the absence of culture within whiteness, the interest in Native Americans grew.


While Deloria establishes the politics involved with the growing interest in Native Culture, one aspect that he predicted was the rise not only in religion but the appropriation of Native American Culture. As the Native Americans were assimilated to ‘normalized’/’organized’ religion, whites were becoming infatuated with the ideas of Native Americans or what they call “Indians”. This lead to literature written by misinformed people who believe they were white and the authority to discuss Native American topics because they studied stereotypes and desecrated burial grounds of Native Americans.   With the growing of the religious aspect of Native American culture came those claiming to be daughters and sons of ‘princesses of some tribe’, being one-28th Native American from some fictitious tribe, or worse, donning and appropriating art of Native Americans. This has especially become more and more problematic in the twenty-first century as music-festival goers will regularly don Native American headdresses, ‘tribal’ dresses, and wear moccasins made not by Native American tribes but from a factory in a different country. Americans – similar to how Deloria argues they love the idea of Native American Religion – love the idea of Native American culture but are not willing to share, develop, grow, or support Native Americans. As white Americans gathered at Coachella or other music festivals, the same year the Dakota Pipeline protest was going on. Other it may be generalizing, those that attended Coachella did not attend the protests and if they did, they may have done so out of a sense of entitlement for themselves and not in solidarity towards Native Americans. Although we are year out from the protests, the pipeline did indeed burst and polluted Native American land, yet we still have music-festival goers, celebrities, and others who want to make celebrity lists wearing Native American Headdresses.


Similar to how Americans appropriate Black Culture, Americans, specifically white Americans continue to appropriate and ‘borrow’ from Native culture without supporting, understanding or standing in solidarity of these cultures.


Deloria Jr., Vine. God is Red:Native View of Religion. Fulcrum Publishing, 2003.


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