For Indigenous People’s Day, I want to speak about the appropriation of a major part of many Native American traditions.
Dream catchers are more than just a cute decoration for your room. The first dream catchers were made by the Ojibwe and placed on cradles as a form of protection. Now, a dream catcher can be seen as a symbol of unity between individuals and tribes.
Many natives see them as a connection to their culture and a common sense of identity. When a person doesn’t understand or respect the meaning of a cultural symbol, using it becomes offensive and belittles its cultural importance.
As a white person, I can only speak on this issue from the perspective of an outsider but growing up near a reservation with many Native American friends, I have been able to hear their own opinions. Although I have always rejected cultural appropriation, it wasn’t until this summer that I realized how many non-Native American people are making and selling their own versions of dream catchers.
Of course, I should have noticed this years ago. Think of all the dream catchers you’ve seen on clothing and jewelry. I’m pretty sure I even had a dream catcher keychain at one point.
Over the summer I worked as an editorial intern for a group of crafting sites. One of our main responsibilities was to diversify the crafters we featured and to ensure there were no instances of cultural appropriation on our sites. While working on this, one of my coworkers found a collection of dream catcher tutorials. After thinking about it, the company decided to move away from all Native American content that wasn’t created by a Native American.
I was disappointed in myself for never realizing this issue before. I probably would have been happy to see a dream catcher tutorial on the site and counted it as cultural representation. My eyes were opened through that experience and I hope I can open some of your eyes here.
Later in the summer, I went to a friend of mine who practices her Native American culture to ask her opinion on the matter. Through her eyes, I was able to understand how awful this practice really is. There are non-natives appropriating the culture by making money from selling their dream catchers.
But there are also so many non-natives throughout the country who are warping the idea of a dream catcher in order to make a cute decoration. These are not the traditional dream catchers made from a willow hoop, a web, beads and feathers.
Recently at a craft show, I saw a booth full of decorative “dream catchers.” These were made with fabrics and ribbons and one was even in the shape of a moon rather than the traditional hoop. The hoop itself is important since it’s said to represent the shape of the earth.
One of the other big issues with a non-native person buying a dream catcher is the romanticization of the culture. Romanticizing a culture can be super detrimental to the people who practice it. They often aren’t looked at as “real” people, but as an interesting other. People shouldn’t be placed on a podium to be inspected as if they are a part of a zoo.
Buying a dream catcher only increases the romantic view on the culture and encourages those non-Native sellers to make and sell more.
There was also a time when Native American’s were not allowed to practice their religion freely. Until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978, many religious symbols and objects were illegal. Now that Native American’s are finally able to practice their culture, how can we belittle the importance of one of their most important cultural symbols?
I think this is an easy issue to rectify. We can simply stop decorating our cars and houses with dream catchers. We can stop adorning our ears and our belly buttons with dangling dream catchers. We can stop getting them tattooed, stop buying clothes with them, and respect them as the cultural symbols they are.