The following is a post about Woo.
…So I find myself arriving at a place where I have way more resentment for the kind of appropriation that looks like this:
than I am of hipsters in warbonnets. Not because it’s in any way objectively worse- it’s not- but because it’s so much harder to address and because it wears a body down.
For those new to the party, Woo is the set of stereotypes that says that NDN people are Spiritual and Earthy and One With Nature. It’s the source of Wolves in the Sky paintings. It’s what allow plastic shamans to be a thing. And lots of NDN communities survive by peddling it to white people, because it is so fucking marketable. I cannot fault anyone for selling woo; my family did when I was a kid, selling dreamcatchers and shoddy ‘as fast and simple as we can make it’ beadwork and painted feathers and feathered hairclips and shit like that to folks at powwows. I definitely had one of those ‘braided leather headband with one goose feather stuck vertically into the back of it like Tiger Lily’ deals as a little girl, because that’s what people expected to see, and when they got what they expected they bought our beadwork and that’s how we made ends meet. I am not happy or proud about this time in my life, or about the occasional drive to go back to selling woo because -it is so easy- and -it is so profitable- and white people -want it so much-. Because when they buy it, they make themselves characters in stories like this. Because they want to see themselves as the good guys in The Great American Indian Novel.
And what hurts me most is that so many -actual NDN kids and adults- buy into Woo because genocide and diaspora has left them so disconnected that they reach for the romanticism as a coping technique. Like… my mom loves dreamcatchers. She has those plaster figurines from the 70’s of Stoic Dudes With Bear Skin Robes. She has paintings on velvet of Beautiful Indian Maidens Communing with Wolves. She likes new age music that samples flutes and drum singers.My mom fucking -loved- Disney’s Pocahontas and was SO PROUD to hear me sing Colors of the Wind in middle school chorus.
Because for the first time in her life, it was a mainstream and wildly popular NDN movie that wasn’t about scalpin’ savages. Because she grew up on Westerns and Peter Pan. Because the racism she suffered was a different and harsher flavor.
Meanwhile I hated Pocahontas because it was released well into the ‘NDNS ARE THE SPIRITUALISTEST PEOPLE EVAR!’ post-new age phase of Hollywood Indian. I’d already been growing up with presumptions that I was Of The Earth.
And she loves me and I love her but she doesn’t understand, sometimes, why I’m so upset because at least the stereotypes now are positive, right?
And I feel brittle and broken and commodified and exotified and dehumanized.
And I don’t even know how to tell the happy shiny new agey well-meaning white people who totally bought their Powwow Bling from actual Native Artisans that they’re STILL FUCKING HURTING ME.