View Full Version : Cultural appropriation and magic

05-26-2014, 11:10 PM
I'm drafting a YA magical realism book about a girl whose mother was taken away by the Northern Lights, which is a legend that's fairly common across many Northern/Arctic communities. I fell in love with Baffin Island as a setting, and because the vast majority of the population up there is Inuit, it made sense to make the characters Inuit as well. The main character is half Inuit, half American, raised in the US after her mom disappears, then she goes back to Baffin Island to look for her. I'm drawing on Inuit legends about the Northern Lights, and in the course of my research, I've also read stories about other mythical creatures that I'd like to work into the plot, as well. However, I'm scared that through picking and choosing bits of Inuit culture for the purposes of my own story, especially when they're "magic," this is cultural appropriation.

For the record, I'm buried in research about native culture and history and hoping to not really screw that part up (and would love to plan a research trip if it's ever economically feasible), but maybe fundamentally, this whole thing is a bad idea? Thoughts or tips?

05-27-2014, 12:59 AM
Maybe contact any tourism board you can find close by and try to open a dialogue with someone, or a few someones, who are local. If they aren't at all bothered about 'appropriation', then I wouldn't worry about it.

05-27-2014, 02:31 AM
I would absolutely worry about it and keep worrying about it. It's only by worrying about it that we can write respectfully rather than appropriate.

I encourage you to keep at it and not give up, and awareness that you are walking in dangerous territory is the first step of doing it right. :)

In the course of your research, my biggest suggestion is to always, always, always be highly skeptical of your sources. Seek our primary sources as often as possible, sources written by the people you are trying to portray. Take the firsthand accounts of indigenous people at face value, and be skeptical of the interpretations of European-American authors. Be aware that folktales and myths re-told by European-American authors tend to romanticize the originals; they very often introduce romantic language that doesn't accurately reflect the way people tell them. They may change significant details, but also be aware that multiple versions of most Native American myths and tales exist: read as many versions as you can find.

Check out the reviews of books about Inuits and other Alaskan Natives at American Indians in Children's Literature (http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com) , for a perspective of both the good and bad of what's out there. It's about children's books and YA, but the mistakes and pitfalls will apply to adult literature as well.

This is a collection (http://www.amazon.com/The-Alaska-Native-Reader-Politics/dp/0822344807/ref=tmm_pap_title_0) of Alaskan Native writings that I recently ordered.

The Alaskan Native Knowledge Network (http://ankn.uaf.edu) is the first place I'd look for further resources.