Contemporary Realities

ethmsm3The fascination with, appreciation of or interest regarding Native Americans is noticeably high in Germany. In fact, Germany has one of the largest populations of natives outside of US and Canada in Europe, primarily due to US military presence past and present. Compared to other ethnic populations of the US, a high percentage of Native serve in the US military.

Bringing their families or intermarrying with Germans, some chose to reside following their service, or formed an attachment so that visitation and social networks continue. Although there is still racism and xenophobia throughout Germany, many natives have expressed a sense of relief at not having to face the brutal, “in-your-face” daily abuses and microaggressions suffered in North America.

Native visitors often remark on the warm welcome they receive, the eager curiosity with which they are greeted as German native enthusiasts are thrilled to meet an actual “real” Indian. However, many of those same go on to express increasing ambivalence, concern and eventual objection as they witness the reenactments, playacting and adopting of “native” identities, lifestyles and personas by German hobbyists. Another fact is, the warmth can quickly fade if and when a native objects or refuses to participate further or at all, let alone criticize such practices.

While German native enthusiasts go about their appropriation with the fervor and attention to detail seen as a national trait, most ignore or do not comprehend the fact their play involves another form of racism. Why? Because it involves the dominant power-holding majority who are effectively “controlling, exploiting and subjecting” native identities for their own gratification and benefit. Some, however, are simply ignorant of native feelings and had been mislead by white American fabrications.

So, on one hand you have Germans who read about natives, study photos and material mostly produced from European standpoint interpreting native narratives and peoples. They use flawed information to “perfect” their appropriation. In turn, some proclaim themselves experts or teachers of native cultures, or accept the role from peers, while almost always excluding natives and without native consensus.

On the other hand, you have those who have majored in degrees like North American or American Studies, all which have comparatively little information on indigenous history or people except in relation to Europeans or which written from European viewpoint. Oral traditions, elder wisdom, actual native perspectives  and insights are ignored, minimized or misinterpreted, and even unintentionally doing so can cause the same harm. Besides promoting native stereotypes proven to be harmful.

New Agers, Fakes & Frauds

But the sense of entitlement, the presumed right to take whatever one wants with little or no regard for the marginalized people they are stealing from goes further still in Germany,  just like in North America. In the USA, native nations and tribes are inundated with fake shamans, medicine men and women, New Agers mixing native beliefs in their activities, both as individuals and groups.

Some claim native identities or heritage, while others simply say they are honoring or were inspired by native cultures to become spiritual leaders, selling and/or misusing sacred ceremonies. When confronted for their fraud, theft and unethical behavior, aggressive denial, attacks and harassment are launched at natives and their knowledgeable allies who try to protect their cultures and beliefs. White privilege and the racist structures, policies and laws designed to protect and facilitate European interests enable even more non-natives to take, misuse, and rewrite native narratives. Ethnocentrism and egocentrism, envy and posessiveness of “nativeness”.

In Germany these attitudes are also present along with resistance to change their native appropriative ways. There’s no surprise meeting disdain or disbelief that native nations object to such activities. Without direct historical context or knowledge, the propensity to debate whether or how it can be harmful to native cultures is also problematic. Attempts to educate on acceptable practices become even more difficult when opportunistic natives use European desire for an Indian connection to validate or support sellers of ceremonies, “New Agers”, “Pretendians”, and “Wannabes”. Their betrayal of native values is a deep sadness to their tribes, misinformation yet again, and negatively impacts growing movements  of native revitalization and resurgence that are reclaiming their stolen identities and misused heritages.