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Indians. We are talking here about an absolute ideological/conceptual subordination of Indian people in addition to the total physical subordination they already experience. When this happens, the last vestiges of real Indian society and Indian rights will disappear. Non-Indians will then "own" our heritage and ideas as thoroughly as they now claim to own our land and resources." [Pam Colorado, quoted in Wendy Rose, "The Great Pretenders: Further Reflections on Whiteshamanism," in M. Annette Jaimes, The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance, (Boston, South End Press, 1992), p. 405. Original quote in Ward Churchill, "A Little Matter of Genocide: Native American Spirituality and New Age Hucksterism," Bloomsbury Review, Vol. 8 #5, Sept/Oct 1988, pp. 23-24, Her tribal affiliation was mentioned in Indigenous Woman magazine.]

Examples of Cultural Appropriation


Let me present another example to help distinguish cultural appropriation from appropriate cultural sharing. This example is from European history and may speak to White women interested in feminist criticism of male-dominated spiritualities. Cultural appropriation is one of the ancient tools of domination and colonization. It has been going on throughout history, whenever one culture has attempted to conquer another. Battles are not fought only by the force or arms, but also by images and ideas. Any context of domination will include such cultural imperialism.

Many feminist scholars have pointed to evidence suggesting that there were early female images of divinity throughout "pre-historic" Europe. According to some scholars, the Catholic church took the image of the great mother goddess, and incorporated it as the virgin Mary, Mother of God. It used her early sacred sites for building its shrines to Mary. The church absorbed many such pagan symbols, yet distorted and transformed their meaning and their impact on the lives of the people.

The shift of context, control, and usage created important shifts of meaning and power. The conquerors took what had been an image of empowerment and valuing of women and turned it into an image promoting female acquiescence to male pre-eminence. They were able then to redefine female goodness as obedience, humility, and renunciation of sexual energy. To capture and transform the image of goddess in this way served to further solidify the subjugation of women and undermine ideas fostering resistance.


How is this similar to the cultural appropriation of Native images and practices by the New Age movement? I will use the example of one practice, the "vision quest," 8/18/01