Pretendians, Native Culture Theft, & White Privilege

I heard a new word this week, that I’d never heard before. Are you a “Pretendian”? I like it. It describes people who essentially pretend to be native, although they really aren’t. They adopt a Native identity in order to appear more exotic, but they instead just appear moronic. I think what these people are doing and the general opinion by the actual native community is well justified, and if you happen to be a clown who dresses up as a Native war chief to go to your friend’s Halloween party, no doubt you’re a fool. However, in my opinion, you would still be a fool even if you were a registered Tribal member.

We got a hate mail from listener Kevin in South Dakota a few weeks ago with the opinion that Brandon and I did not know or understand what is really important to real Native Americans, so this week we invited Ruth Hopkins to the podcast to set us straight. Ruth was born on the Standing Rock reservation and her articles have been a featured in Indian Country Today, and co-founded lastrealindians. She has been featured in Gawker, the AP, the Washington Post, MTV, and many others. She is well versed in the native world, and we were glad she was able to take the time to come on and let us know what Natives face today in the face of those who co-opt native culture. She talks a bit about white privilege and what it is. True we don’t always agree 100%, but we certainly share the same goals in promoting and protecting native culture, and continuing the fight to bring more respect for Indian Country across the nation.

Click here to download the podcast directly and listen to our discussion for yourself

In this installment we speak primarily from her article which appeared in The Guardian – “my native identity is not your plaything”. She believes that anyone who is a non-Native that adopts Native culture as their own is dead wrong. In general I agree with this statement, but I definitely place a high priority on respect. If I as a native who has never stepped foot on a reservation suddenly begins behaving in the same manner as a pretendian, I believe I am behaving in just as wrong a manner. In the podcast, Ruth explains this is simply reclaiming a culture which was lost to you, and to this I agree only if done in the correct way with the utmost respect. I believe it is just as possible for a non-Native to respect native beliefs, as it is for a true Indian to disrespect them. They may not be on quite the same despicable level as the pretendian who for some reason feels the need to justify his position with a story about how his great grandfather was a great Cherokee warrior, but they are still less than respectable.

The part that prompted me to contact Ruth about this article was her example of white privilege. Ruth cites a person with a particular opinion who references his mythical heritage to help validate his position. Regardless of where you stand on that position (or any position), your heritage does not matter in the slightest.

When someone is making a point, no matter if it is raising children, Native issues, or the state of the union – concentrate on what they say. Arguments should stand or fall on their own merits, and no mans race, creed, or ethnic background should come into play in any way shape or form. It is quite true that a person’s background shapes their viewpoints, but that only means they may be speaking out of ignorance. Whatever the case, argue the point not the person. An Indian may be just as wrong on Native issues as a non-Native may be correct. Statements are either right or wrong, and the person expressing that opinion has no bearing on its validity.

Either way we have a great discussion and hopefully it will be informative and enjoyable!

Cliff is a registered member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and hosts a Tribal Podcast with his brother Brandon with a variety of episodes available online. They talk about native issues in the news and anything of interest to Native Americans! Join us in listening each week and write in with your opinions anytime.

Thanks for listening!

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