Natives in Germany


(Deutsche Übersetzung noch in Bearbeitung)

The 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 also 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. Anti-Native Racism in Germany is more subtle. It comes through expectations, agendas, desire for “feather and leather” fantasy fulfillment, for personal enlightenment, through mythic medicine men, and always the craving for what people think natives are, without consideration of what they are not and don’t want to be.

Oh, you’re Native American? I didn’t realize!” said the German, an assumptive mistake likely stemming from stereotypes of how natives look. Native Americans are not homogenous. There are over 500 federally recognized tribes of the USA, and hundreds more throughout the Americas, most with their own languages, traditions and beliefs.  One of the experiences each share is the disasterous results of European invasion. Also, this is ignorance of the systematic usage of rape as a weapon, of “watering down” native bloodlines. Rape as an assimilation tactic, a violent means of disrupting native societies at their very heart: the women, the children, their hope for the next generation to continue their culture and beliefs.

“How did you get here?” Asked the German. Nonsensical perhaps, but natives are allowed to leave reservations without approval and written permission, though once they were wrongfully restricted. And most natives no longer live on a reservation, if they ever did as some were allotted land (from all that was stolen) in communities based on affiliation. Especially with relocation schemes by the US government, particularly during the 1950s, more and more natives moved away from home in search of work.

“Where are you performing? I’d love to come see you dance!” Friendly interest that on the surface seems innocent, but the problematic issue is: It’s based on stereotypes, ignorance and misinformation. While many natives learn to dance, sing and drum as part of a healthy community, tribal and spiritual life, these things are simply another part of living, and rarely a sole profession. That is assigning European definitions to native societies and life, another long-standing tendency that has caused and exacerbate misunderstandings for centuries.

Though each year there are Native Americans who visit and work in Germany for a variety of venues, many performing as dancers and singers, it seems a difficult concept for Germans to realize that these people also have jobs back home to support themselves and their families. There are also Native Americans who live and work in Germany, absolutely working other industries and professions, but are often overlooked as native because they do not fit the stereotypes: long braids or hair, the profile of a native mascot or dressed in leather and fur with feathers in their hair.

There are Native American journalists, students, doctors, cooks, sportsmen and women, and professionals of all kinds in Germany. Even with a haircut, in jeans or business suit, some are traditional, speak or know their languages and remain in contact with their tribe and family roots. They don’t look the stereotype, so often their native identity is invisible or disbelieve, erased in favor of stereotypical fantasies German crave or accept as reality.

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.