9 January, 2013

On Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenous Identity

For decades now, Indigenous people have responded to non-Natives who want to practice Native religion by telling non-Natives to look to our own ancestors, our own earth-based traditions. Those of us who have taken this challenge to heart, and implemented it in our lives, have learned that the surviving lifeways of our Celtic ancestors are also endangered by misappropriation and misrepresentation.

The living Celtic cultures are not as well known to those outside the Celtic Nations, and sometimes not even well known in the urban areas of the Celtic Nations themselves, but they do exist and we are committed to protecting what survives. When outsiders to all of our communities misrepresent their racist misappropriations as "Celtic," it does harm to the cultural survival of the Celtic nations as well as to the cultures Indigenous to the "American" continent. It also damages our anti-racist and decolonization activism, as it sows mistrust and confusion between our communities. Sadly, it has become very common for exploiters of Native and First Nations traditions to try to disguise their thefts as "Celtic," so we must also examine the claims of anyone who claims to teach Celtic ways.

Like our Indigenous (Native American and First Nations) members and advisers, with whom we stand in solidarity, we also oppose "pay-to-pray", even when it is offered at a lower fee than that of crass newagers like James Ray (who killed people in his attempts to misappropriate the Sweat Lodge). Like those of our Indigenous relatives, traditional Celtic lifeways are communal. They are based in our extended families (of origin and affinity), have checks and balances on who can lead ceremony, and must be learned in an appropriate cultural context, not offered for sale to strangers or acquaintances.

In recent years there is a movement on the part of some non-Natives - Americans, Canadians and Europeans - to identify as "Indigenous European," or some regional variation thereof. The first people to use this phrase were White Supremacist groups - including organised Neo-Nazis - who are misappropriating the term "Indigenous" to try to make it seem like white people are somehow an oppressed minority. Other non-Indigenous people are misappropriating it because they have racist stereotypes of all Indigenous peoples as "mystical" "noble savages" and therefore white folks who choose to call themselves "Indigenous" could somehow become more mystical too. We have seen non-Indigenous people, almost always white people from the dominant culture, using this cloak of "Indigenous European" in an aggressive attempt to colonize councils of actual Indigenous people, and to even lead and pretend to speak for real Indigenous People. This is an act of racism and attempted cultural genocide.

Any white person who chooses to name themselves this should know, this is who they stand with.

White Supremacists identifying as Indigenous Europeans and Indigenous Whites demonstrate in London, 2015
White Supremacists identifying as "Indigenous Europeans" and "Indigenous Whites" demonstrate in London, 2015.
The Confederate flag has become a stand-in for the swastika flags they are forbidden to display.
They also are flying it in solidarity with racists in the USA who are angry that this symbol is now
being removed from institutions in the Southern US states. However, some of the white people calling themselves
"Indigenous Celtic" and "NeoIndigenous" in other countries have been seen using the swastika.

Some of the people calling themselves "Indigenous European" (or a local variant) are boldly and blatantly lying with claims of being allies to First Nations and other actual Indigenous Peoples. They have attempted forced-teaming and photo-bombing on some of our Native friends and relatives. Our non-Native members have found that these non-Natives act very differently when they think no Native people are listening. Some of these white stalkers have confided in our white members that they are supporting newage ceremony-sellers and are themselves involved in misappropriating from Native Peoples, and attempting to sell what bits of knowledge they can steal. They are involved in pay to pray and plagiarism. The white, self-proclaimed "indigenous"[sic] people out there that we have encountered have now been banished and blocked on social media by the very same First Nations people they are still attempting to claim they are allied with. It would be funny if it wasn't so disturbing. What we have seen so far with the Americans and Canadians who are claiming to be pursuing "Indigenous European Knowledge," is that they have never lived in Europe and, in every case we are aware of, they are not rooted in any European or Celtic Earth-honoring tradition at all; rather, all the ones we have met are Wiccans, newagers, pretendians, dillettantes, and/or racists who are not following a spiritual path of any kind. Surprisingly, though, some of the more persistent and pathological scammers have been able to fool people who are new to the field. Perhaps, those who are also looking for something superficial and racist, and who also like false advertising, will stick with them.

Neo-Nazis identifying as Indigenous Europeans and Indigenous Whites demonstrate in Europe
White Supremacists identifying as "Indigenous Europeans" and "Indigenous Whites" demonstrate in Europe.

We are shocked and appalled at these attempts by non-Natives to displace and disappear Native Peoples, and we strongly advise non-Native people to shun the use of "Indigenous", "Indigenous European", or obvious derivatives,* for ourselves or our spiritual traditions. We already have terminology, in our own languages, for our ancestral, earth-honoring ways; we don't need to steal terms and identities from brown people. We don't need to further offend, colonise, disappear and denigrate those with whom we should be co-conspirators in this work. From this point forward, if you are a colonist, a descendant of colonists, or in any way a product of the ruling class, who insists on calling yourself "Indigenous" or "Indigenous European" (or the ridiculous oxymoron, "Neo-Indigenous") we will assume you are an appropriator and a racist and that you simply don't care that you are being seen as hateful and harmful by actual Indigenous people.

Just like pan-Indianism can lead to the erasure and forgetting of the unique, diverse Native cultures, so can attempts at pan-European or pan-Celtic inventions erase the unique European and Celtic cultures. Just like the hundreds of tribes on the "American" continent each have their own languages, ceremonies and customs, so did (and in some cases still do) all the "European" tribes and those of the Celtic Nations. Many of those diverse ways of old Europe and the Celtic Nations still survive. We are committed to preserving and protecting the authentic Celtic ways that survive, debunking the fabrications, and respecting the sovereignty of the Celtic Nations. Just as CAORANN strongly opposes any misappropriation or dilution of the ways of our Indigenous relatives and friends, we are just as strongly opposed to the misrepresentation, merging, and dilution of our ancestral Celtic traditions.

The CAORANN Council is a multi-ethnic, multi-generational collective of Celtic spiritual people, Gaelic Polytheists and Native American relatives. We have members and advisers from the Celtic Nations, the First Nations, Indian Country and the Celtic diaspora. We stand in solidarity with our Indigenous friends, relatives, council members and advisers. Those of us who are non-Indigenous, who are Modern Celts in the diaspora as well as those of us born and raised (like our ancestors before us) in the Celtic Nations, affirm that we are not Indigenous People, and we will not pretend to be so. We stand opposed to any efforts to damage or misrepresent our cultures.

The CAORANN Council,
Celts Against Oppression, Racism and Neo-Nazism

For more links and discussions among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about Indigenous identity, and the difference between the Indigenous roots of our ancestors - which we all have, just as we all have ancestors and ancestral ways - and how having roots is different from being an Indigenous person, see also these blog posts: Colonists, Descendants of Colonists, and "Indigenous" Identity and This is About Mother Earth (and Indigenous Sovereignty). Go raibh maith agaibh!


*Obviously derivative terms such as "Indigenous Scottish" when one is just a regular Scottish person, or "Indigenous Celtic" when one is simply a white person with an interest in Celtic spirituality. Even if we were born and raised in the Celtic Nations. Because "Indigenous" has a much deeper meaning than that, and those who are misappropriating the term know it. The only recognized Indigenous people on what is generally considered the European landmass are the Sámi. And our Sámi relatives can speak for themselves about whether or not they want to be included with any Europeans. As land-based people still maintaining their pre-contact, Indigenous culture, they are in no way like these newagers, neopagans and hippies who are trying to redefine the term "indigenous" to now include white people who are bored with being seen as the privileged people they actually are.

Becoming a hippie does not make someone no longer a product of the ruling class.

Those new to things like genealogy and Celtic mythology often think it's really, really special to find out that they have ancestors who belonged to a Highland Clan, for instance. But guess what... so did everyone else who lived there at that time, and that ancestry is shared with all the other descendants. If that person is not involved in accurate cultural preservation, it doesn't matter at all. And if they are one of the fantasists spreading misinformation, as so many adopting this fake "indigenous" terminology are, it is actively harmful to Celtic cultural preservation. Joining an ancestry website (or getting your DNA done) does not instantly make someone part of a cultural community, or make someone a spiritual leader or, worse, suddenly "Indigenous," any more than reading one website suddenly makes a person a scholar. This is the identical fantastist behaviour that has been damaging Native American and First Nations people and tribal sovereignty for generations now, as white people with blood myths, rejected from intact Indigenous communities because they are not Indigenous, form fake tribes and then try to scam people for grants, scholarships and other monies meant for actual, culturally Indigenous communities.

And sometimes, due to racism, they succeed. How about being one of the people who makes sure they fail?

We are mostly seeing this offensive and alienating terminolgy among white people who only ever interact with other white people, who are taking money from white people and governments, and for whom real Indigenous people are myths and stereotypes. So, as a group with diverse families, networks and alliances, it falls on us to say something. Over the years we have been met by quite a bit of hostility from white supremacists for speaking out about this. And not just the neo-nazi kind. Some of the most hostile ones show up with matted hair, patchouli and tie-dye.