survival is a spirtual discipline

April 25, 2009 § 6 Comments

this was written back in 1994.  i know that andy smith has also written passionately about the co-optation and appropriation of native spirituality by white feminists…

anyways, i found this article as well and thought that it was powerful.

It should be a given—undisputed—that Native communities are the authorities on their own religions / cultures. If they challenge Andrews’ exposition of their culture, it means something—whether or not it is customary in the United States to consider Indian people’s feelings or opinions. In last month’s article, the writer worried that criticism of Andrews “may be hurtful to her and may be depleting to her creative energy.” It may well be that Andrews feels hurt, but what about the injury expressed by so many Indian people? Does she respond, or does she dismiss them? What about the depletion of their energy, as they are forced to explain over and over to white people why we are not entitled to appropriate their culture?

Even if Indian people were not denouncing her portrayal of their religions, there would still be a problem. Privileged whites such as Andrews get lionized by the publishing industry, which treats the rightful exponents of Native culture as if they don’t exist. This is injustice, and Andrews does profit from it. But worse, in a period of cultural genocide, when Indian societies are under unprecedented assault by the mass media, her portrayal of their traditions threatens to drown out authentic expressions. It’s as if she’s addressing a stadium with a mike and heavy amps, while the Indians trying to have a say about their own culture are being kept off the stage by security. Few in the crowd can hear them shouting, just as many women buying Lynn Andrews’ books are unaware that Indians are challenging her representations of their culture.


True honor and respect would include using her privilege to support First Nations’ sovereignty. When did Lynn Andrews ever use her media platform to stand up for Shoshone land rights, or call for the release of Norma Jean Croy or Leonard Peltier? Or if that’s too “political” for you, she is in a position to call white Americans’ attention to First Nations fight for their religious rights. In the last decade the Supreme Court struck down Indian rights to practice the peyote religion in Oregon, and overruled an appeal for the right to preserve Doctor Rock and other Karok sacred sites threatened by the Gaskett-Orleans road in northwest California. These would all be ways of “giving back.”

but that is the point.  lynn andrews and her plastic medicine women ilk are not interested in giving back.  because in their minds there is nothing to give back to.  in their minds there are only a handful of native peoples left, they are the always disappearing, always dying, peoples who need white folks to ‘carry on their tradition’.  in their minds folks like peltier and aim, native folks who are fighting for the rights of first nations are not *really* native.  how could they be *native*and not be tragically disappearing?  how could they be *native* and be fighting for the survival of their people?

survival is a spiritual discipline.  and we need our spirituality in order to survive.  this is why i write so many poems and letters and essays about survival, community, love, generations, and loss.  because so many want to claim to be the expert on my people.  and im not just talking native but also black.  so many folks want to claim to be an expert on sacred ceremonies and gospel music.  claim that they understand the hidden meaning in hip hop songs and woven blankets.

and yet for all of their ‘knowledge’ what these white experts cant see is that their claims of expertise on other people’s cultures, on our cultures, is jeopardizing our very survival.  the perpetuation of white expertise on ‘anti-racism’ on ‘native spirtuality’ on ‘black cultural expression’ is racism in and of itself.  and racism (benign or not, intentional or not) is always a threat to the survival of poc.

If “many people who might first be deaf to the words of an old Native North American woman” [in the words of the earlier article which argued that Andrews was actually performing a service] cannot open their minds to her words, then they are not ready for her deep spiritual teachings. They need to start at the beginning, learn to sit up before they try to fly. Catering to prejudice does not “neutralize” it. (Being deaf or blind, by the way, should not be equated to spiritual obtuseness.)

this is what i have been trying to say about the whole white anti-racist phenomena.  the argument that white folks need to talk to white folks about racism because it is easier for white folks to hear and respect the words of their fellow whites rather than the words of poc.

‘catering to prejudice does not neutralize it’

if white folks need to hear the analysis and words of poc from other white lips in order to give those words value.  then nothing that the white person says is going to dismantle their personal racism because they are using their racism as a boundary as to who is worth listening to and who is not.

in other words the medium is the message.  and if the medium is ‘i can only respect it when a white person says it’ then the message is clear from the get go.

and so we must be clear with whom we are building community.  we dont need experts on us.  we dont need to convert people to seeing us as human and alive and loving and not disappearing.  our survival is a spiritual discipline.  our spiritual discipline is radical love.

it aint for sale.  you cant get a degree in it.  and we aint trading it for trinkets or 40 acres and a mule.


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