Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling has run afoul of political correctness enforcers who accuse her of engaging in “cultural appropriation” because a newly-released fictional history of the Potter universe references American Indian culture.
The seven-book Harry Potter series takes place entirely within Rowling’s own United Kingdom. But, as part of the run-up to the release of the movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which will take place in a magical version of 1920s New York, Rowling is releasing four short works that flesh out the fictional world of North America’s witches and wizards.
The first story was released Tuesday, and almost immediately some people became irate because Rowling’s description of North American magic references the culture of the continent’s Indian tribes. In particular, they are angry over Rowling’s incorporation of Indian “skin-walker” legends into her own magical mythos.
“The legend of the Native American ‘skin walker’ – an evil witch or wizard that can transform into an animal at will – has its basis in fact,” Rowling writes. “A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.”
It may seem innocuous enough, but plenty of people are flipping out on social media, accusing Rowling of “appropriating” Indian culture for her own purposes.
Leading the charge was Adrienne Keene, a Cherokee nation member who authored a blog post ripping apart Rowling’s misdeed. Notably, Keene expresses outrage that Rowling’s work could spark interest in Indian culture, when such culture should only be known or discussed by Indians themselves.
“[W]e as Native people are now opened up to a barrage of questions about these beliefs and traditions … but these are not things that need or should be discussed by outsiders. At all,” she said. “I’m sorry if that seems ‘unfair,’ but that’s how our cultures survive.”
Keene also complained that Rowling was “re-writing these traditions” by turning Indians into “misunderstood wizards.” Not only that, but on Twitter she appeared to fault Rowling for taking the imperialist approach of suggesting skin-walkers are not real.
You can’t just claim and take a living tradition of a marginalized people. That’s straight up colonialism/appropriation @jk_rowling.
— Dr. Adrienne Keene (@NativeApprops) March 8, 2016
Keene finds a lot of other things to complain about besides mere appropriation. She faults Rowling for calling America “America,” for saying that the magic wand was invented in Europe (a show of “Eurocentric superiority”) and for using the term “Native American community” instead of subdividing them into tribes (even though Rowling also refers to Europeans collectively).
Keene made some of the most visible and lengthy complaints, but she certainly wasn’t the only one to bash Rowling online. Many others faulted Rowling for encouraging incorrect beliefs about Indians, and some even suggested Rowling was inviting attacks from skinwalkers.
@jk_rowling except skinwalkers are a part of real Indigenous knowledge. I am disgusted and disappointed by your lack of respect for us.
— Angela Semple (@andshereads) March 8, 2016
@NativeApprops @jk_rowling If you were actually a Navajo writer you’d heavily criticized by your elders for writing about them. 2/2
— Jacqueline Keeler (@jfkeeler) March 9, 2016
Imagine how many Native Americans are going to be gaslit about their own culture under the guise “well in canon it’s actually like this…”
— Fangirl Jeanne (@fangirlJeanne) March 8, 2016
Rowling, thus far, has not commented on or apologized for her alleged appropriation.