Powwow

By Clyde Ellis; Luke Eric Lassiter et al. | Go to book overview

LISA ALDRED


13.
Dancing with Indians and Wolves:
New Agers Tripping through Powwows

The man announcing from the stage said that the next song/dance was
a national anthem or flag song and then they began. A couple of women
with a baby carriage pulled up into some empty space nearby me and the
one to my right said, “Is this a prayer song?” and I replied with what I
could remember of what the gentleman onstage had said. So she says,
“Oh, so it’s a prayer song. You know, she (indicating her friend) collects
wolves and Indians.” – as though it was their explanation for why they
were at a powwow. I wanted to say “So where does your friend KEEP
these Indians she’s COLLECTING?” but it was too hot outside already.1

This anecdote related by Priscilla Naungigiak Hensley, a Kikitagruk Inupiaq, epitomizes the New Age attitude toward powwows, not to mention toward Indian peoples and their spiritual ceremonies.2 Exactly what kind of Indians does the woman at the powwow collect? Are they Indian figurines like that in Indian in the Cupboard, exoticized fetishes to be played with at whim? Or are they imagined stereotypes of Indian peoples she amuses herself with in a mental curiosity cabinet? The woman at the powwow, like many Euro-Americans who romanticize Indian peoples, are filled with imperialist nostalgia, defined by anthropologist Renato Rosaldo as a romanticized longing on the part of colonizers for the culture they have destroyed. I consider it a tragic irony – a fetishization of a “noble savage” in mainstream popular culture after a massive genocide of indigenous peoples that is not recognized consciously by these “collectors of Indians.” Evidently that sublimated consciousness of history and politics is necessary for imperialist nostalgia. According to Rosaldo: “Imperialist nostalgia uses a pose of innocent yearning…to conceal its complicity with often brutal oppression.”3

Rick W. Powelson, a Commanche, aptly characterizes this imperialist nostalgia in his satire of the anachronistic romanticized Indians New Agers often seek at powwows:

What really drives me crazy about this New Age thing is that the majority

-258-

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