Wednesday, April 18, 2007


A Distinct Way of Life

An associate of mine recently drew my attention to a weblog discussion of neocolonialism that compared the Native American with the Islamic experience. To initiate discussion, the host noted that, "Imperialism does not only attempt to conquer land and resources--the culture and religious values are also targeted for colonization."

In this brief discussion, it was observed that while neoliberals expect both Muslims and Native Americans to assimilate by adopting Western values and customs, few white people actually attempt to become Muslim, as distinguished from New-Age Indians who exploit indigenous knowledge for commercial and spiritual purposes.

Coincidentally, one of my colleagues at the Center for World Indigenous Studies, Rosalee Tizya, coordinates the New-Age Indians Study, a continuing research effort that examines the abuse and misuse of ceremony and ritual by non-tribal native people who have not been properly trained by spiritual leaders. While the study focuses primarily on Canada, I think we can apply some of the concerns to the US.

From my own personal perspective, I think what is important to remember is that the cultural property of indigenous peoples is the culmination of living a distinct way of life, an architecture of conduct and behavior that represents a unique philosophy acquired through collective endurance, communal forbearance, and personal discipline over millenia. It is an achievement of humanity that can be shared, but should not be taken.

Looking at the sentiments of non-tribal peoples seeking spiritual inspiration lacking in consumer societies, I think the best advice is to be respectful. Celebrate the common wholesome values you find. Practice the law of generosity. But be yourself. If you are Euro-American, you can enjoy learning the lessons from Native Americans about how to live on this land while still nurturing your own Irish or Portuguese heritage. You don't need to become an Indian to be a friend to Indians--in fact, it's better if you don't.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?