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 appropriation and misrepresentation.

The living Celtic cultures are not as well known to Americans, but they do exist and we are committed to protecting what survives. When outsiders to both of our communities misrepresent their racist appropriations 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 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 newagers like James Ray (who killed people in his attempts to appropriate the Sweat Lodge). Like those of our Indigenous allies, 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.

Recently there is a movement on the part of some non-Natives - Americans, Canadians and Europeans - to identify as "Indigenous European." The first people to use this phrase were white supremacist groups - including Neo-Nazis - who are appropriating the term "Indigenous" to make it seem like white people are somehow an oppressed minority. Other non-Natives are appropriating it because they have racist stereotypes of Native people as all "mystical" and therefore white folks who call themselves "Indigenous" are somehow more mystical too. We have seen non-Natives using this cloak of "Indigenous European" in an 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.

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 states.

Some of the Americans and Canadians who are calling themselves "Indigenous European" are actually claiming to be allies of First Nations Peoples, but our non-Native members have found that these non-Natives act very differently when they think no Native people are listening. Some of them have confided in our white members that they are supporting ceremony-sellers and are themselves involved in appropriating from Native Peoples. 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; rather, all the ones we have met are Wiccans, newagers, pretendians, or racists who are not following a spiritual path of any kind.

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" or "Indigenous European" 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. From this point forward, if you are a colonist or a descendant of colonists 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.

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 tribes on the "American" continent each have their own languages, ceremonies and customs, so did 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 Celtic ways that survive and respecting the sovereignty of the Celtic Nations. Just as CAORANN strongly opposes any appropriation or dilution of the ways of our Indigenous allies, 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 allies. We have members and advisers from the Celtic Nations, the First Nations and the Celtic diaspora. We stand in solidarity with our Indigenous friends, relatives, council members and allies. Those of us who are non-Native, who are Modern Celts in the diaspora, 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!