The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

Cultural Appropriation, Plant Relationships, and Nature Connection March 31, 2019

As a druid, someone who connects to the local landscape spiritually, I’ve gotten my fair share questions about cultural appropriation and druidry’s relationship to indigenous practices, particularly traditions indigenous to the USA. The conversation may go something like this, “So druidry, is that like Native American?” My response is, “Druids and Native Americans both honor and respect the land, and see spiritual significance in nature.  However, Druidry comes from a different cultural tradition (the British Isles, particularly Wales) and our relationship with the land, spiritual practices, and celebrations are completely different than indigenous peoples in North America”  Another thing that happens with some frequency is that I describe something on this blog, like land healing, building sacred spaces, or other such spiritual work. And someone who has never commented before leaves a comment that says something like “You don’t have a right to do that, this land belongs to Native Americans” or “You need to ask permission from those who used to live here to work spiritually with the land.” I usually delete these comments because they seem more concerned with virtue signaling than about honoring and healing the land and building bridges or building understanding.  But in my time in druid leadership in various places, I see a lot of white druids seriously grappling with these same kinds of questions and issues–and so I want to share my thoughts.

 

Another observation: here in the US, white people who are trying to reconnect to their land spiritually carry around a lot of baggage. Guilt about the atrocities that were committed so that we could live on this land, guilt about what was done before we were born, guilt about always being an “imposter” here on the land, guilt about living here now. Even if you don’t know your family history, if you are white, the cultural history and legacy of the broader US are more than sufficient. There’s also a lot of fear–fear of connecting deeply with nature, fear of appropriation (even inadvertent appropriation), fear of doing something wrong, of somehow doing more damage than has been already done. I never realized the extent of this fear and guilt–even within me–till I met druid who had recently came from Europe and moved to the US. I connected with her at a druid event where I was leading a workshop and ritual. After the workshop, she said to me that she felt that Americans were so afraid of their land. After her comment, we had more discussions and I started to pay attention, and I realized how acute her observation was. Culturally, there’s also this idea that if you are a white person, you really don’t have the right or privilege to connect with the land here. So the guilt sets in, the fear sets in, and people do nothing.  How, then, can white American druids build a relationship with nature, given these cultural complexities?  How can we build a relationship rooted in honoring the ancestors of the land and recognizing culturally, what work we have to do? And, do we have a right to do so? And why should we? Those questions are the subject of today’s blog post.

 

Building connections with nature

Building connections with nature

As I’ve discussed before on this blog, druidry as a spiritual path is ultimately about connection and relationship building. People who find druidry and take up the druid path are concerned with building deeper connections to nature, physically and in spirit, and in living a life that is nurturing of the earth rather than destructive of her. People from all walks of life, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, etc, can join the druid tradition; it is open to anyone who seeks this path. I want to frame this entire discussion about cultural appropriation in terms of relationship, as I think it is a useful and productive lens. So let’s start by thinking about the definition of relationship. Here are a few dictionary definitions, useful to get us started. Definition A: “the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected” and B: “the way in which two or more people or groups regard and behave toward each other.” In the case of druid practice, we are exploring ways that we, as 21st century human beings living in specific ecosystems, and coming out of specific cultural and historical traditions, connect spiritually with our living ecosystems around us. My definition here, then, accounts not only for a specific person, but that person living in a specific context, and bringing specific history with them.  And it is this “cultural and historical context” that has everything to do with appropriation–but also, nature relationship.

 

Here in Pennsylvania, prior to white colonization, old growth forests covered the land, producing massive amounts of mast crops (acorns and chestnuts) with about 1/3 of the total forest cover in hardwood nut trees; streams were clear and full of fish; animals and hunting lands were abundant. Native Americans, as M. Kat Anderson describes in Tending the Wilds, tended these lands and had them in a very healthy state of abundance. As non-industrial societies, they depended on the land, build spiritual practices surrounding their relationship to the land, and many tribes had rich animistic traditions surrounding the land and her spirits. Traditions that, in some cases, spanned hundreds or thousands of years.  Framing this in terms of relationship–generations upon generations of Native Americans were tending the wilds and cultivating a sacred relationship with their landscape. Every person in that tribe gained strength from those ancestral connections to land, established over generations upon generations. Even for a native person today, those connections are still present, and I think they are beautifully described in the works of Robin Wall Kimmerer, among other native authors.

 

But a white person’s cultural relationship to our local landscape here in the USA is completely different. Let’s take a look at my own cultural relationship as an example.  As a white person living in Western PA in the 21st century, I can trace my ancestors back to the late 1600’s and 1700’s arriving on American soil.  My ancestors were some of the first people to arrive to Pennsylvania; and some of the first to push westward into Western PA and settle the Laurel Highlands region. My family heritage is Irish, Welsh, Scottish, English (about 75%) and German (25%). The strongest cultural heritage I grew up with was Pennsylvania German (Dutch) traditions, passed on to me in some small ways by my grandmother. This makes me very, very white, and the descendant of coal miners, farmers, steel mill workers, loggers, and other people who worked hard to colonize and extract the rich resources of Pennsylvania to fuel growing industrialization. In our family records, and in my own ancestry research, I know that when my ancestors first arrived, these lands were a cornucopia of abundance and were pristine. Within less than 150 years due to their efforts, these lands were desolate wastelands, extracted of their wood, coal, iron, tannins, animals, fish–anything that could feed the industry.  I know from a copy of the Department of Forestry’s Annual Report from 1898 from PA, that less than 4% of forest cover remained by the turn of the 20th century in counties where my ancestors settled. Further, in less than two centuries, Native peoples who made these lands their home were slaughtered or forcefully relocated to “Indian Territory” in Oklahoma. When I look upon the lands where I was born, lands that are still the subject of many extraction activities, I have to recognize the colonialist legacy that produced me. That’s the cultural and historical reality of the blood that moves through my veins.  Regardless of how much I have personally worked to reconnect with the land, I cannot deny or change this history.  My ancestry offers me little positive spiritual “connection”, historical or otherwise, to this land.  So I return to my original question, “How, then, can I, as a white druid, build a relationship with nature?”

Acid Mine Drainage--a local stream demonstrating the cultural legacy of white people in this region

Acid Mine Drainage–a local stream demonstrating the cultural legacy of white people in this region

 

Probably the worst way to answer these questions is to engage in cultural appropriation. When we look at the above–it makes sense that no white person wanting to connect spiritually with nature wants the cultural and historical baggage that being white on this soil brings. (For the record, it doesn’t matter if we want it, it is ours and we need to acknowledge it and work to right these wrongs). And so, a white person might be drawn away from their own cultural traditions, which offer no spiritual connection to the land, and instead, attempt to shift themselves into a different relationship with nature. Some people choose to do this, most unfortunately, by trying to appropriate various Native American traditions. Some have tried to spiritually practice like a Native American, of appropriate Native American traditions or beliefs as their own, or, in the most extreme cases, even claiming to be offering ceremony in a Native American way or in the way of a specific tribe. Native Americans call such people who appropriate their traditions “plastic shamans”; and I think the term is apt. In other words, these white people are attempting to claim the relationship to the land that only Native Americans have a right to. Understanding this issue as tied to relationship, the appropriation is not just about appropriating specific ceremonies or traditions, but really, it is an attempt to claim that indigenous relationship to the land and her spirits. (There are exceptions: in some limited cases, a white person has been welcomed into a tribe or by an elder and taught with intention.)

 

The relationship metaphor is a really useful one here for breaking down why cultural appropriation is so problematic and why cultural appropriation should have no place in the druidry–or any nature-based spiritual practice–of white people. You might think about your current relationships you have with other people: each one is unique, each one is different. Your immediate and extended family and friend network are all relationships cultivated over a long period of time. Each person in you know has a different relationship with you than any other person. Maybe one friend is fun to hang out with and chill out, but another one is a good travel partner, and still another you can share your deepest secrets with. If you have a partner or spouse, certainly, that relationship is very sacred and very unique.  You wouldn’t want another person to try to barge in and claim your spouse as their own–you would rightfully be defensive, angry, and demand that person stop. That’s essentially what I think appropriation is–taking someone else’s relationship with the land and claiming it as yours. It is no wonder that people whose traditions are subject to such appropriation are rightfully upset about it.

 

Further, relationships are complex and nested. I’m individual, yes, with my own ethics, spiritual path, and decisions to make. I’ve worked hard to build my relationship with my local land over time.  But I bring with me–in the very blood that flows through me–the DNA of my ancestors. I bring with me, for good or for ill, that cultural legacy and that history, the choices that they made, and I am living the benefits and consequences of those choices. As a white person, I simply cannot hope to have the same kind of relationship that a Native person has on this land today–because relationships aren’t just about individuals, they are about cultures and generations of people. Under no circumstances could I *ever* replicate someone else’s cultural relationship to the land, even if I tried.  Not only is trying to do so problematic from a cultural, ethical, and historical standpoint, it is deeply problematic from a spiritual one (and I don’t think the land spirits are having any of it).

 

My druid's garden full of sacred plants!

My druid’s garden full of sacred plants!

Now, let’s take a look at a very specific plant example here, to further illustrate my point. A few posts ago I wrote about the issues surrounding white sage and other at-risk plants. Let’s dig into white sage specifically, as it is an American plant used by a number of native traditions. There are a lot of different perspectives surrounding white sage and whether or not white people should use it.  These perspectives range from “don’t even look at this plant if you aren’t native” to “buy white sage from natives and support them” to “anyone can use this plant for any purpose.” I think the first line of reasoning suggests that only one culture can have a relationship with a plant that grows broadly, thus, cutting off that plant medicine and spirit to anyone else. As a druid, I see all of nature as sacred, particularly, the nature growing in my own ecosystem, and I think each person and culture can build new relationships with plants. At the same time, I also think the last perspective is problematic, as that is the source of white privilege and cultural appropriation.  What I see as the thing here is acknowledging that other cultures and people may have a specific relationship with a plant, and it is not ok to try to mimic that relationship with a plant. Instead, druids and others can build their own relationships with plants–relationships that are their own. White sage certainly has chemical properties that may help clear and heal. However, native tribes, such as the Luiseno and Cahuilla people in California, built up a very sacred relationship with white sage over millenia. Someone who is not part of that cultural legacy has no right to try to claim that specific relationship with white sage. This goes back to why indigenous peoples get upset when white people try to appropriate their plants and ceremonies–its trying to lay claim to a spiritual relationship that belongs to a culture.  If the plant’s use comes from a cultural tradition that you can rightfully access, then great, access it.  But if it doesn’t, those doors are closed to you, and you will never have a key. But it will be yours.  But what you DO have the ability to do is to create your own relationship.  It will be a different door.  It will be a different relationship. It will be a different key.

 

 

The land, her spirits, here in the US, even after all that is happened culturally, welcome relationships with white people.  But for white people living here, these must be *new relationships* and they need to be built upon acknowledging and honoring the past, building trust, and about repairations, accountability, and building trust. It is up to each of us to forge those connections, and for larger druid groups to start to do that on a broader, generational level. In other words, white people have build those relationships ourselves, and they are going to be inherently different looking because of our own identities, cultures, and histories. This is why talking about cultural appropriation matters–because we have our work cut out for us, and there are no easy short cuts. If we want to build deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships with the land here, we’ve got to do the work from the ground up. If we are appropriating someone else’s culture and spiritual practice, we aren’t doing the hard and necessary work of relationship building for our own tradition–hence, we are perpetuating more colonizing behavior.

 

So, as white druids living in 21st century American soil, we have a lot of work ahead of us.  I see at a number of things that we can do to build our own traditions and relationships with this land, and offer this list as a starting point.

 

A love of the land and nurturing of spirit

A love of the land and nurturing of spirit

Become a nurturer and healer of the land. Reject the cultural values of exploitation and colonization that have shaped white people’s legacy here on American soil. Instead, work to reduce your own ecological footprint, learn to heal the land (through permaculture, sustainable living, conservation, other means), and develop a very different relationship with the physical landscape than other white people, past or present. Relationships with spirits are mirrored on the physical world. To get the land and spirits to trust you, to recognize you are different than other white faces that have come before, you have to behave differently–outside of the typical behaviors of exploitation. This is part of breaking down the past cultural legacy and establishing new patterns.

 

Honor the ancestors of the land and recognize those who came before you on this soil.  I think there are lots of ways to honor the ancestors of the land, and here are a few of those that I use.  First, learn about who the ancestors of the land where you live. Learn about who they were, what they did, how they lived, their stories, and what happened to them. For example, the peoples who lived where my home is located now were Osage, Shawnee, and Susquehannock. Today, the Osage and Shawnee are in Oklahoma, which is where they were forcefully moved by the US government. The Susquehannok are said to be extinct. (To find out who used to live in your region,  you might start with this site.) Once you know about them, find some way of honoring them regularly: perhaps say their names at the start of your rituals, create a shrine, or do an honoring ceremony as part of your practice.

 

Support and recognize the rights of indigenous peoples today. If there are still native peoples in your area or region, find ways of supporting them–if they need someone to come to a fight or take a stand, be that ally.  If there are not native tribes in your area, consider finding a cause that you can assist in that supports the rights of indigenous people regionally or globally. For example, I donate regularly to an organization called Cultural Survival, which fights globally for indigenous peoples’ rights. I also subscribe to their mailing list, which often has items you can take action on and keep you informed about global developments. I also think, as a white person, it is really important to do the “ground work”  to speak up for indigenous rights. Have compassionate conversations with other people about cultural appropriation, indigenous rights, and history.  Talk about these issues.  Recognize your own flaws and misjudgments.  Apologize. Learn and grow.

 

Recognize that we are building relationships, over time, in a new way. Because we are white people on US soil, we have very little to build upon. We are here, inventing and growing this tradition organically, a tradition imported from white ancestors, yes, but from a far off place. While this is a major challenge before us, it is also a really exciting opportunity.  In permaculture terms, we talk about the problem being the solution–in this case, our problem allows us to build something anew.  Something that responds to this time, this place, and honors our own path as white druids in the 21st century while not dishonoring those who were here before us. This requires us to deeply invest our time in learning about the land through building nature wisdom, nature connection, and our own rituals.

 

I hope this piece is helpful for those white druids who are struggling with these issues.  For this post, I am indebted to members of Sun Spiral grove, who spoke with me at multiple settings about these issues, and including members of the grove who read and offered me feedback on this post.  I also realize and recognzie that there may be things I haven’t thought about.  This is a tough topic, and I appriciate your respectful feedback. Blessings!

 

58 Responses to “Cultural Appropriation, Plant Relationships, and Nature Connection”

  1. Laquisha Jones Says:

    How is Druidry open for everyone if Native American spirituality is only open for Natives? If you accept that cultural appropriation is wrong, it follows that white religions shouldn’t be appropriated by outsiders either.

    • Dana Says:

      Thanks so much for the question, Laquisha! Its simple: modern druidry isn’t a set of ancient practices or traditions of a single people. Its not appropriation of those people; there is nothing left of those ancient traditions. It is its own new thing; most of the druid practices of today are only a century or less old. They are practiced by a variety of people all over the world. They are being created in response to industrialization, to these times, here and now. And that’s a key difference. Further, modern druid orders are *founded* on the principles of inclusivity and openness to all. So the basic practices within these orders are designed for lots of different people in lots of different places. I wrote more about that core of nature connection here: https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/2019/03/31/plant-relationships-cultural-appropriation-and-connection/

      • Absolutely. Druidry as we know it today has many roots in 17th and 18th century Britain. Britain in those days wasn’t as cosmopolitan as it is now, but it was thoroughly internationally connected.

        • Dana Says:

          Yes, excellent point. I also think that modern druid orders are really focused on inclusivity. AODA, which I help lead, is a good example of that: we work extremely hard to make sure that every person who joins AODA feels welcome, regardless of their personal beliefs, nationality, etc. So that is part of the druid practices here in the US for sure!

  2. Diannaart Says:

    I have just finished reading, must reread because so much resonates with my experiences in Australia and is, as you say, a tough topic.

    My ancestors came from Scotland, Ireland and England to settle in South Australia and Victoria in the 1800’s.

    We whites have destroyed so much … and yet I feel a connection to this land so very deeply.

    I would not think of appropriating First Nation people’s cultural practices but am open to learning. And many Aboriginal people are eager to share knowledge of the land, plants and animals.

    I have been meaning to discover the history of the people who lived where I do now. Then I can properly thank this little patch of earth.

    • Dana Says:

      Thank you so much for reading, Diannart. I have been struggling with this topic myself for a long time–because it isn’t easy. How do we practice earth-based spirituality knowing we are on colonized soil? This is my best attempt to say something meaningful. I am glad you are finding this post of use to you!

  3. Lisa Marie Price Says:

    I love reading your posts Dana. So thoughtful and thought-provoking. In doing ancestral healing work, it had not occurred to me to research the human ancestors of our land, but it makes so much sense. I will make a shrine for them and start honoring them in my prayers, more specifically. Your take on cultural appropriation is so much more nuanced than most things I read which mostly consist of virtue signaling and self-righteous nonsense. It makes sense that thousands of years of relationship building cannot be co-opted simply by adopting a few ceremonies.

    • Dana Says:

      Lisa, thank you for your comment and for reading! I think its sad that most of the conversations today about this topic are full of virtue signaling and little else. I was very nervous in posting this, because I did want to write about it, but given this political climate, I wasn’t sure how my words would be received or if this perspective would be useful. I do think we need serious discussions of these issues within the nature-based spiritual traditions where colonialization is present….but doing so in ways that offer solutions and ideas rather than building certain people up or tearing others down is a good step. I am glad these ideas have led you to new insights!

      • Lisa Marie Price Says:

        Loren Cruden makes the distinction–which I love–of Native vs native. Native belongs to indigenous cultures; native is ‘of the land’–a spiritual connection freely available to anyone.

  4. Bless you for this post and talking about this issue directly, pointing to a positive, productive, and hopeful path that we can use to do this spiritual, ecological work as white Americans.

    “(For the record, it doesn’t matter if we want it, it is ours and we need to acknowledge it and work to right these wrongs).” This is so very true. I’m dedicated to taking responsibility for the past and also for the future. It can be easy to be made immobile by guilt. But in the end that doesn’t make anything better. We need to learn, acknowledge, honor, and grow.

    Your writing and idea sharing adds so much richness — both conceptual and practical — to my own practice. Thank you.

  5. I’m new to Druidry, of mostly British ancestry and still living in Britain. I notice the complicated relationship that American Druids have with history in the way that they sometimes talk about their relationships with the cultures of the land I live in. As my people have lived here unchallenged for thousands of years, I suppose I have the luxury of not giving my ancestry very much thought.

    The way I look at it is this. We are living beings. The Earth knows no borders and only feels us as living beings. So what matters is our relationship with nature as it is on the land that we are on at present.

    I do appreciate that because I have the luxury of a continuous connection I don’t have to think about how I would feel if my ancestors had been pushed off their land.

    I wish that Europeans would take more of an interest in what happened to the indigenous people in the Americas. It’s up there with the slave trade and the holocaust as a European problem. I don’t know what present day Europeans can do to make things better. Learning the histories of indigenous nations of the Americas would probably be a start.

    • Dana Says:

      Thank you so much for your reply, Hester! I think just joining this conversation is helpful. We are all druids, across the globe, but druidry and how it manifests in different places does matter–and here in the US, this is a tricky subject indeed :). I do think education and learning is a start and also supporting indigenous peoples in various ways.

  6. This is one of the best pieces I’ve seen written by a white person about this subject. As a white woman, and an activist who has worked with Native people on issues including clearcutting, stoping Hydro Quebec’s expansion into James Bay, among others, I love how the basis for your thinking is relationship; with the Earth, with the ancestors (ours and those who lived on this land before we came), with each other, and even with ourselves.

    One of the things that the Earth told me many years ago, in the early days of my activism, was that the Earth speaks in many languages and these languages are understood by the people who have lived in specific places since pretty much forever. The ceremonies and rituals of these peoples are the result of that unique language and how it is understood and interpreted by those peoples over millennia.

    When I visited Greece, one of the places my ancestors came from (specifically my maternal grandfather who came to this country in the early 1900s from Athens), I absolutely felt that connection. I felt so comfortable there even though I did not know the language. I could feel the beat of the land entering my body through the ancient marble streets and walkways. It felt like home in so many ways. Similarly when I visited the west country of England, another country my ancestors came here from much earlier than my Greek grandfather – before the Revolutionary War, I felt that connection. My experience at Stonehenge (totally unexpected) was so deep and moving I couldn’t stop myself from crying the whole time I was there and for a long while after. To this day I do not understand exactly what that was about. But I was obviously connected to that place and somehow my body and my spirit know something.

    My sense is that since we are here now, this is our home place. And while we were not born of this dirt, these rocks, trees, waters – for whatever reason we are now connected and it is our responsibility and our honor to learn the language as best we can and to find our own unique ways of creating a relationship of love, respect, and healing. As an herbalist, I love that you used the example of white sage. White sage does not grow where I live in NY (I just moved here from Maine last fall so it falls to me to learn about this new place that feels so unfamiliar to me). It does not grow where I lived in Maine either but one year I grew it. I used it for incense, for cleansing my home and I shared it with friends, some of whom were Native descendants. But I did not feel connected to it like I do to white pine, lavender, sweet Annie, monarda, regular garden sage, and other also fragrant plants/trees that feel more a part of who I am and where I come from. So I did not grow it again.

    What you are saying is so important because the Earth needs all of us, wherever we live, to reconnect, reinhabit, re-establish right relationship. We cannot be absolved of responsibility because we no longer live where our ancestors did. We are human beings, and as Gary Snyder said, “We are all Native here.” We all belong to the Earth – not the other way around.

    • Dana Says:

      Thank you so much for these comments, Susan! I’m really glad that these resonate with you, particularly as a white person working with indigenous peoples. I love how you are talking about this as a language–the parallels here are strong. The land does have its own language, and languages are unqiue to peoples. Certain langauges have words for things other languages do not. This is *such* a good metaphor to think about, and adds tremendously to this conversation.

  7. Reblogged this on gaiasgardenherbals and commented:
    One of the best pieces I’ve read by a white person about a difficult subject.

  8. Yewtree Says:

    This is an excellent article and I completely agree with the approach you suggest here. I’ve written along the same lines myself, but I particularly appreciate the way you frame the issue of cultural appropriation as being about usurping Indigenous Peoples’ relationship with the land.

    Side note: the phrase “virtue signaling” comes from alt-right discourse and is used to dismiss all efforts to right the wrongs of colonialism and white supremacism. It sits very oddly in this context.

    I agree that there’s a lot of heat and not much light in a lot of discussions on cultural appropriation.

    • Dana Says:

      Yewtree, thanks so much for the heads up about the term “virtue signaling.” I didn’t know it had alt-right origins; I’ve found it is present in a lot of conversations people are having across the board, at least around here. The way I’m using it here, basically, has to do with a lot of blowing smoke and self righteous action, like the idea that we are going to talk about an issue to make a person feel good, rather than address an actual issue. If there is a better term, I’m all ears and am happy to address it in the article!

      • Yewtree Says:

        Yes I could see how you were using it. I think it’s entering mainstream discourse but I think people should know where it came from. A bit like the term “political correctness” which became popular due to the right using it as a stick to beat the left with.

        I think that the older term “in bad faith” conveys the same meaning.

        However, if someone expresses a view, we might think it’s misinformed, misplaced, not sincerely held, or that they should be focusing on some other issue that we think is more important — but I think questioning someone’s sincerity is a bad place to start with a critique of their opinion.

        • Dana Says:

          Thank you! 🙂

        • Diannaart Says:

          Using “virtue signalling” as Dana has here is an effective way of reclaiming power from those whose raison d’être appears to be negating any thoughtful or compassionate point of view.

          • Yewtree Says:

            I understand how Dana is using it, but I thought people would like to know where it came from. I’m not sure it can be reclaimed, personally, and I won’t be using it.

            • Diannaart Says:

              I appreciate the background you have provided, like Dana, I was unfamiliar with the use of this term by the angry far-right. Can “virtue signalling” be used towards the positive rather than negative? I believe it can, however, I wouldn’t like to see a devolution into wars of the self righteous.

  9. Jennifer Says:

    Every times I read your blog post, I want to sit down in my quiet space with a cup of tea and connect deeply with your words and their complex meanings. I very much appreciate this post. I did a card spread this morning using The Tarot of Trees and asked what concept or energy do I need to sit with and get in right relationship with. I pulled the Justice card and now after reading your post, my thoughts about the card apply even to your words here. Thank you again for your powerful words.

    • Dana Says:

      Hi jennifer, thanks so much for your kind words and for reading! Justice…yes. The balance of light and dark, the balance of all things. I think that this issue *is* a lot like Justice in the tarot!

  10. Ascenscia Says:

    I think it’s also important to consider time. I am here now. Yes, the Natives that were once here were forcibly removed in atrocious ways. But I am here now trying to do the work and looking for appropriate ways to do so.

    I do not identify with any of the practices of my ancestors as they were primarily Catholic and Protestant Christianity and that is not my path now. I am an “eclectic” (a dirty word, I know) because I look for and use what works – from my physical ancestry as well as from the ancestry of the land around me and other paths that call to me. But in the end, I am here now.

    We have this romantic ideal of the past. Get rid of the invasive plants and animals because they were not here before we were (dispersion and evolution?). Allow the National Parks to reclaim the cabins and houses built there before it was a National Park because they “should not have been there” (original farming and recreational communities?). Don’t change the song or fairytale or myth because it was not first written down that way (oral tradition?). Do not borrow from others because you were not one of them in your ancestry (supporting dying ways?). Why do we live so much in the past?

    I am here now. I recognize and respect the history and cultures around me, but I cannot change the history with anything I do. I cannot make reparations to them all, but I can do what I can, here and now, with the land I live on, using the practices I feel drawn to, since, as I have said, I don’t have direct knowledge of any from my family on which to draw. I will never call myself a Medicine Woman, Shaman, or Temple Priestess, but I may wear moccasins because they allow me to walk in more connection to the land and use smudge sticks because they clear the energy. I am trying to learn Gàidhlig because it calls to me, though any ancestral connection is tenuous. I use runes and tarot cards to focus my mind on answers to my questions, though I have no Romany blood and questionable Norse connections. Am I appropriating their tools, practices, and culture? I am here now and I use the tools I find that call to me and work for me – does that imply some spiritual ancestry to these tools? I do not believe myself to be anything more than an American Ecletic trying to find a path that gives meaning to this life.

    I am here now. It is not the 1600s. I am not in the Highlands of Scotland. I do not live in a wagon that travels the country (tiny homes?). But I do live on previously Cherokee land, which then became home to the Scots-Irish. And these peoples have made an imprint on this land that I work with. Time has passed.

    Do any of us have rights to use anything? Many of us in the US are several (11, in my case) generations from the “homeland.” Do I have right to anything not purely American?

    Many cultures believe no one can “own” the land. I am here now, the primary steward of this land, living my life the best I know how to today. Through whatever twists of fate, destiny, and evolution, I am here now, and I’m just doing the best I can with the tools I have at hand.

    • I often feel this way too – I am here now and I’m doing what I can in the best way I know how in this moment, today. That’s one of the reasons I appreciate this particular blog post so much in that it acknowledges this while at the same time I feel it also acknowledges the inadequacy of that reality/response – in that it doesn’t go deep enough into the issue, so I always felt, when thinking that, like I was floating along the surface. I, too, would describe myself as “eclectic” when it comes to spirituality. While my more recent ancestors were Christian (some Catholic, others not, and my Greek grandfather was Greek Orthodox), but in my heart I’m an Animist. Every living being has a voice, a language, a way of communicating throught the heart. I also use tarot, a pendulum, various tools but I must admit that most of the time when I’m using them I almost feel like I’m playing. And so probably I am. I am not playing when I’m connecting with the trees that I’m learning to know here in my new place. Or when I was gardening in my magical garden in Maine, or learning the ways of goldenseal from the 3 roots I planted, saved the seeds from, and propagated. Those 3 roots expanded over 6 years into a 4′ x 8′ patch that I gifted to the town when I moved last fall. It was carefully, and respectfully and lovingly dug up and moved to its new home in the town forest and I plan on visiting it this June, to see how it’s doing. I felt, and feel, so honored to have played a tiny part in bringing a native plant, now so very rare in the northeast, back home. I could not bear to leave its fate in the hands of new “owners” even though they loved the garden. I wanted it returned to the wild, for the future. The Earth called me to do that, and I heard and acted.

      Last night was the first warmish evening of the spring here in rural NY. I don’t know this place – there are familiarities yes, and I’m grateful that the place we are renting (for now), has a beautiful yard surrounded with familiar trees – white pine, birch, cedar, some oak – and (new to me but thrilled to be able to hang out with it) tamarack. It’s a small one but I’ve wanted to get to know that species for a long time now so to find it here felt like an excellent sign. But I digress – last night I went and sat outside at dusk. It had been a great day – a wonderful baby shower for my newest grandson who will be born soon. I sat looking at the sky and there came a bat!! And another and another and another and they were swooping in the circle in the sky made by the trees at the edge of the yard. At first I was disbelieving my eyes. You see, the bats where I lived, on my property anyway, had gradually disappeared – from being numerous when I first moved there almost 25 years ago, to essentially not exisiting anymore. I’d look out at the night sky and see ghost bats – that’s the only way to describe what I saw. Maybe I was seeing their light trails where they had flown in years past, or maybe they really were ghost bats. All I know is it was so very sad and I missed them so very much. So these bats felt like a welcoming committee and I cried with joy and gratitude. And after I thanked them, they flew away. I felt like they were consciously making their presence known to me. That’s the language, that’s the relationship, that’s the love and it’s all I have to go by. I may be a “stranger in a strange land” here in North America, transplanted generations ago by my ancestors, but as you say, I am here now and I trust my heart and my ability to hear when I’m being spoken to – as long as I pay attention.

      • Dana Says:

        Susan, what an incredibly beautiful and powerful story! I really *do* think this land is so ready for us, so ready to open itself for those who would seek the door. Your story is a wonderful example of that! When I first bought my property in Michigan (my first homestead and first land that I owned), I remember the week I moved in: the black raspberries were literally everywhere. They are my very favorite food. When I was growing up, we had so few bushes, we only got a handful or two of berries every year. They have such a unique flavor, unlike anything else. So they were always so cherished. When I saw those rows and rows of black raspberry bushes in MI, I felt like the land was just opening up to me, welcoming me, being so grateful I was there. Its those kinds of experiences that make me feel welcomed by the land and her spirits.

    • Dana Says:

      Yes, excellent points, Ascensicia! I think the point about stewardship is so powerful. We grow where we are planted, and here, we grow.

  11. ceithlenn Says:

    Thank you so much for this thought-provoking article. It has truly helped me to understand how to proceed with this very difficult subject. Your suggestion about loving and honoring the ancestors of the land, even though they are not my ancestors, resonated deeply. I have always been fascinated with learning about the rituals and ceremonies of the indigenous people of this land but always was afraid my curiosity would be considered “cultural appropriation” of those same rituals and ceremonies. By understanding the difference in intention between honoring and appropriating, I can continue to study these traditions by mindfully honoring the people who created them.

    • Dana Says:

      Thanks for reading, Ceithlenn! I like the expanded notion of ancestors and helps me think broadly about “who came before”: Ancestors of your blood (what we typically think of as ancestors), ancestors of the land (those who lived there before you), and ancestors of spirit (ancestors who helped bring forth and continue your spiritual tradition; so for me as a druid, that would be folks like Juliet Ashley, Ross Nichols, and Iolo Morganwg but also the Ancient druids). There may be other kinds of ancestors as well (ancestors or your trade or profession, for example). But the whole idea really fits well with gratitude and honoring practices as a whole, and I think, creates space for us to be respectful of those who came before.

  12. Nan Markle Says:

    This is so pertinent. I have been struggling for a long time with the idea of cultural appropriation while trying to build a connection to the land here. I felt I didn’t have the right to even address the ancestors of place and haven’t been able to find my way in this. Thankfully I have been doing my best to care for the land and have made connections with my beloved trees and the plants of the understory but I am so glad to have ways to honour the ancestors that are not of my blood or spirit. I, too, have had the experience of an immediate deep and strong connection when I spent time in Wales, the land of my father’s people and have always wanted that connection here in this land. Now I have some more help to work on that connection. Thank you for writing so thoughtfully and insightfully.

    • Dana Says:

      Hi Nan, thanks for your comments! I’m glad you found these helpful! Gratidude and honoring practices, I think, can take us quite far and connect us quite deeply. I don’t think there is any harm in honoring those who came before, of any variety.

  13. Diannaart Says:

    I did not realise the Dandenong ranges, where I live, were/are part of the Warundjeri people’s custodianship.

    I realise I may be off-topic as well as off-USA 🙂, however I simply wish to share the following:

    “We, the Wurundjeri people (Woi-wurrung language group), are the Traditional Custodians of Melbourne and surrounding lands. We have cared for Country since Bunjil, the great Eagle and Balliyang the bat, created our land and people. We proudly continue to care for our Country, practice our culture, and welcome all people visiting our lands.”

    I have also discovered “Druids Down Under”, where the issue of cultural appropriation is discussed and considered a difficult one – white guilt.

    Thank you, Dana for your clear and lucid writing.

    • Dana Says:

      Thank you, Diannart! As you’ve pointed out, I think this conversation may apply to other colonized lands, like your own. What amazing words from the Wurundjeri! Thank you for sharing.

  14. Marianne Hawk Spirit Says:

    Very well done and thoughtful. I know we did not get to talk more about ths topic in person like I had hoped but we were busy having fun anyways!

  15. Stacy Canterbury Says:

    “So the guilt sets in, the fear sets in, and people do nothing.”

    I think you hit the nail on the head, Dana. People do not engage with the land they live on and this is tragic, because our culture desperately needs a new relationship with our home. Real relationships like the ones you described between First Nations and their ancestral lands take time to build, so the sooner we get started, the better.

  16. Elizabeth Says:

    I am not a Druid, belong to no religion and read this blog. This particular topic of cultural appropriation ( which to my mind is a far leftist term) that is used to promote the idea that some people – no, white people actually, are stealing from the victims of our history is a dangerous devisive manoeuvre. I am having nothing to do with it! I grew up in Africa. Should I criticise my Sangoma because, as he throws the bones for divination, he sits on the floor with me in his home, in front of his swivel chair next to his computer, and is wearing a tee shirt? Afterwards, he drinks tea, I drink coffee. Should I complain because he/me have expropriated such things? Cultural expropriation flows in all directions. All cultures are for sharing – with pride. It is the philosophy of Ubuntu. As humans, we are what we are, where we are, however we got where we are, our humanity connects us all. We are collaborators. Our bond is sharing. We “feed” each other. Expropriation is a violent word and we have fallen into the trap of guilt! Ubuntu.

    • Dana Says:

      Thanks for your comments and thoughts, Elizabeth! As I read the different responses to the piece, I think that the specific challenges I’m addressing are very US-focused (although one commenter also mentioned that they were resonant with her in Australia). It may be that in Africa, there are different factors and different challenges. Here in the US, the complex issues of history, genocide, and cultural eradication make cultural appropriation an extremely serious issue. If two groups or cultures are up for sharing and having mutual exchange, then I think that the flow that you describe can happen. But if a set of native cultures has been the subject of 300 years of cultural eradication and want to preserve their own cultural legacies, and if those same groups do not want to let those who have been trying to systematically eradicate them practice those same traditions, I think that’s their choice. Which in the end, is what we have happening here in the US.

      • Elizabeth – I agree with what you are saying and also that the idea of cultural appropriation can be devisive and instill guilt when no appropriation was intended, rather maybe I didn’t know any better. I want to be taught so that I don’t offend and for the most part that’s how I have been treated by the native people I’ve worked with. I want to be an ally and not a “wanna be”. Personally I resonate more with Celtic, Pagan, Druid ways as I feel they are my spiritual heritage from my own ancestors. I have, however, seen many people get hurt emotionally by being treated harshly when a simple, respectiful bit of teaching would have been all that was necessary. But no one is perfect and because of ancestral pain people aren’t always able to be “nice”. It’s hard to be on the receiving end though. Luckily the land isn’t like that and when we have an open heart, an open mind (that acknowledges the reality of human/nonhuman communication and relationship), and a willing spirit, the land will respond. It’s like it’s just waiting for us to acknowledge the life energy, the consciousness, the intelligence, and the love (that’s how it feels to me anyway). It does matter. And the fact that it does is the only thing that gives me hope for the future of the earth. Because love can and does heal, and it can and does speed healing and no scientist is going to be able to convince me otherwise.

  17. Pegi Eyers Says:

    Very interesting observations on the Settler ambiguity of forming deep bonds with the Earth while being on stolen land. We have to be honest about our direct ancestors re-making the Americas into their own versions of Europe, destroying the original bounty, and building a civilization completely at odds with nature. And yet, the LAST thing we should be doing is stealing the spiritual and cultural practices of First Nations. In terms of action points, in addition to allyship work, I would add “dismantle white supremacy and racism.” Unless ALL white people work to dismantle the toxic system our ancestors brought to the shores of Turtle Island, deep change will never happen. Pegi Eyers, author of “Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community”

  18. Pegi Eyers Says:

    Very interesting observations on the Settler ambiguity of forming deep bonds with the Earth while being on stolen land. We have to be honest about our direct ancestors re-making the Americas into their own versions of Europe, destroying the original pristine “resources,” and building a civilization completely at odds with nature. And yet, the LAST thing we should be doing is stealing the spiritual and cultural practices of First Nations. In terms of the action points listed, in addition to allyship work, I would add “dismantle white supremacy and racism.” Unless ALL white people work to dismantle the toxic system our ancestors brought to the shores of Turtle Island, deep change will never happen.

    • Dana Says:

      Pegi, thanks for reading and for your comment. I had a pretty positive reaction here on my blog itself, but the facebook reaction was very defensive and negative, which I guess was not surprising, given that Facebook is all about emotional reaction and volitility without any kind of deep engagement. What strikes me is the challenge of working to dismantle a system that people innately defend without even realizing they are defending it. I got a lot of “this isn’t a problem” or “this doesn’t apply to me”; which is the same kind of engagement we often see more broadly. So yes, dismantling white supremacy and racism is critical and that work needs to take place on all kinds of levels.

  19. thendetta Says:

    I’ve been trying to work though these issues myself so this was very helpful for me personally. Thank you for the well written post!

    I’ve also been listening to this podcast to help broaden my understandings: https://www.allmyrelationspodcast.com/

    Your post reminded me of some of what I’ve heard on there, but from a white druid prospective of “What can we as white druids/colonizers do, keeping these important things in mind”.

  20. […] what point does honouring multiculturalism become cultural appropriation? Here’s a perspective from a woman whose lineage was transplanted from the British Isles to North America in the […]


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