Monday, March 20, 2017

Plastic Shamans

I have been really trying to get back to reading and not letting the darkness consume me.  Last week I finished, "Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances: New Age Commercialization of Native American Spirituality" by Lisa Aldred.  Aldred examines why there is a persistent consumption of Native American Spirituality by members of the New Age Movement and how this group rationalizes their consumption, in particular, she is interested in how the focus on purchased identity is at odds with the good red road these people are wanting to participate in.  I was interested in this article given conversations I have had about consuming Indigenous identity and the perceived fear of non-Indians on my behalf about "going Indian".

Aldred begins by describing how this group, "...pursues(s) spiritual meaning and cultural identification through acts of purchase."  She argues that the New Age Movement relies on consumption to obtain meaning and connection to community and she wants to explore why this is so.  In particular, why is this romanticized ideal of Indigenous spirituality so powerful while the modern day reality of indigenous peoples is not of interest.

She outlines the fully immersive experience of Indianness that is possible for those who will open their wallets.  These people can drink, listen, smell, and consume the "Indian ways".  They can have an authentic experience without ever leaving the house or having to actually meet an indigenous person.  Any guilt related to consumption can be whitewashed through recycled packaging or token giving back or profits.  She names this consumption of the other as a false path and calls for an authentic engagement with indigenous peoples rather than a removed purchase of their "lifestyles".

She explores the theory of why the modern dominant culture has translated spiritual experience and community into commodities.  Why has purchase become a ticket to join a community?  Why are we trying to use consumer goods to recover lost meaning in our lives (here she is referencing McCracken)?  Why is the "good life" so far from the reality of our daily lives?  Why are we romanticizing another culture - wanting to consume "the other" and how does this consumption lead to our increasing withdrawal from the public realms? (Lauren Langmen)  Aldred provides some reasons for these kinds of changes, including the up rootedness that capitalism brought, which leaves us to find/purchase/steal roots however we can.  We were ripe for the marketing of the lives of others. 

She quotes Vizenor, in how this obsession with the authentic Indian undermines support for current indigenous people, especially when survival and ideas about authenticity may not be fully compatible.  The " Indian warriors must embrace the complexities of postmodern culture to help indigenous people survive, rather than play into notions of "Authenticity." Furthermore, this ongoing focus on authenticity preserves racist ideas of what real indigenous peoples should be, taking the focus away from the need for real supports for a healthy continuation of a culture.  This focus on what is authentic, policed by non-indigenous peoples continues the oppression of indigenous peoples.

Aldred then discusses Philip J Deloria's ideas about playing Indian.  Noting in particular, "...a change in focus from collective concerns with social justice toward a strong focus on individual freedom.  Deloria insightfully recognizes that this shift inward coupled with the idealization of Indian spirituality in the abstract has erased the complex history of Indians.."  This focus on the personal and positive aspects of indigenous lives blurs over the hard work of building a healthy future for indigenous communities and supports the fallacy that we can build a better society by working only on ourselves.  A concept which is really the antithesis of the good red road.

I geuss I see this piece as a reminder to myself and my journey.  This process of reclaiming was pretty personal as I started out not know where to go to find community.  This was a period of being worried about authenticity, wondering if people were going to reject me because I did not look, live, or seem Indian.  However, as I have walked on this path, I see that these things don't really matter, not to me and not to others in the community who are very welcoming.  I think that it is also a reminder that I have work to give back to the community and that I need to find ways to do that while raising these children.

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