Sunday, April 24, 2005

It's ours, and you can't have any

Sabina Magliocco (her last book mentioned here) has a good piece on "Indigenousness and the Politics of Spirituality" in the American Anthropological Association newsletter.

Some quotes:

Cultural tradition is a process, rather than a product; the key quality of many indigenous spiritual practices is their variability and adaptability to different contexts, depending on the needs of their practitioners. Copyrighting spiritual practices would involve freezing them in time, rendering a living tradition static, unchanging, dead and preventing its adaptation by other group members. Not only is this anathema to many practitioners; it is also not how religion works.

My emphasis. And she points a finger at anthropologists who aid and abet the process of limiting spiritual material to only the "right people," which practice is itself a form of reverse racism.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! That's one of the most cogent defenses of cultural imperialism I've ever read! Of course copyrighting (or trademarking) a religious tradition is ridiculous - but does that mean we must condone it's wholesale appropiation?

I can only point out that most native (of course, I prefer the term 'heathen') traditions are deeply involved with ancestor worship, and with communication with the ancestral beings is best done in a manner that they can understand - would you call your Russian mom up and speak Lakota to her? Not if you wanted to be understood!

Be well,
Dave H.

6:40 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...


I don't see "cultural imperialism" in Magliocco's article. I see a simple fact: cultural boundaries and religious boundaries are porous. Borrowing and adapting occurs all the time, something which she as a folklorist has explored quite a lot.

By the time Ward Churchill or some other member of the Culture Police arrives, the change has already occurred. That's the trouble with the Culture Police: their squad cars are slow, their radios are poor, and they really have no authority to arrest anyone.

As for the ancestors, are you sure there is a language barrier on the Other Side? Do the Mighty Dead have such limitations, or are we placing our own limits on people who are in another state of existence?


4:35 PM  
Anonymous rosewood said...

I read "Witching Culture" a few months ago and loved it. I'm a witch, but not a anthropologist. I enjoyed reading about my spiritual community through her eyes. I thought she was learned, curious, and thoughtful. What did you think of it Chas?

Regarding the porousness of cultural boundaries: A example of how dangerous this is is the peyote use of the Native American Church. Why is it that some people, who have a certain genotype, have the legal right to eat a plant, and people without the required amount of particular genes are arrested? This is racism. The gifts of our planet are for everyone regardless of "culture" or "race." But some people go to jail, and other people live in heaven for a few blessed hours.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

Witching Culture is on my summer reading list. I had a copy, but it was the review copy sent to The Pomegranate, and I had to pass it on to the actual reviewer.

9:58 PM  
Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

Why is it that some people, who have a certain genotype, have the legal right to eat a plant, and people without the required amount of particular genes are arrested?

This is simply not true and encourages stereotyping and ignorance. One must be a member of the Native American Church, *not* a Native American, to consume peyote legally, and even then it must be under prescribed circumstances.

8:20 AM  
Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

I'll go back and read the article, but what I see missing from your quote is an acknowledgement of the specific circumstances of the history of Native religious practices in the US. It's all well and good to make some generalizations about how religions do and do not work, but not much is said about governments actively making some religions illegal, having concerted efforts to destroy one's culture and religion, and the subsequent appropriation and marketing of one's religion to the guillible and spiritually hungry.

I don't support the culture cops because they don't allow for diversity among a people and tend to reinforce the stereotypes they think they are trying to fight (clever analogy btw), but I also think history and context matters, and just because you want something doesnt mean you have a right to it.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

Regarding the NAC: wasn't it the Utah Supreme Court that overturned the drug-use conviction of someone who was a church member but not an enrolled tribal member?

On the federal level, however, don't you have to be enrolled to be covered legally?

You're the law student, Marigold: do enlighten me.


11:06 AM  
Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

I'm not a law student yet. Still just a theologian by training. But ask me again one classes start in the fall. ;)

I'm not sure about the state level re: Utah case you mention. I'll look it up though.

These two articles deal with the federal regulation of Indian religions, including the amendment that deals with peyote.

- American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978
- American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendment of 1994

What I disagreed with in Rosewood's comment was the implication that any old Indian can consume peyote whenever they want just because they are Indian. The fact is the consumption of peyote must be an established cultural religious practice already present and proven and the participant must consume it only under prescibed ceremonial circumstances. I can't just go acquire some peyote and eat it for weekend fun just cause I'm Indian, and certainly tribes that have no tradition of peyote consumption would be hard-pressed to justify any participation.

The idea that Indian traditional religious were illegal until 1978 is racism. The idea that the Courts would support the religious traditions of some Indians by allowing them to continue their practices without government interference is not.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...


"The idea that Indian traditional religious were illegal until 1978 is racism."

You will have to unpack that statement, since I am not sure who advocated such a position here. And perhaps "ignorant" is a better word that "racism." When one uses "racist/racism" all the time, the word loses all force and definition and simply means, "I don't like it."

8:52 AM  
Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

My use of the word "racism" was an allusion to Rosewood's original use in his/her post, which wasnt a problem and did't need unpacking, I noticed. :)

I was trying to make the point that a gov't making an entire culture's religious practices illegal is what I would consider racism (see first article I posted), whereas making peyote legal is more like a correction of that racism (see second article I posted and Rosewood's original assertion that it was racism <--his/her word.)


5:26 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...


I could understand Rosewood's referent, but I was not clear about yours.

However, I think that her comment was directed at the federal govenment, not at the NAC. But I could be wrong. That was how I read it, though.


7:15 PM  

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