Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is about to be released in the US and my fellow Potterheads have been excitedly taking sorting quizzes for the new American school, Ilvermorny. Let me first say that JK Rowling’s books defined my childhood—I can get into long philosophical discussions about horcruxes and I listen to the audio books (Jim Dale, no contest) in my car. Rowling is iconic for me and my generation, there is no doubt about that. But her influence makes her failures all the more hurtful, impactful and disappointing.
Harry Potter is literally about genocide, racism and good vs. evil. So WHY (I keep asking myself WHY?!) did she not even think to tread more carefully around Native American culture? There are lots of native writers who should be read on this subject before my white girl analysis, like these articles from Indian Country Today, here, here and here. For the sake of understanding this article, I have to point out that Native Americans are still being oppressed and federal laws forbidding native people from practicing their spiritual traditions were in place up until 1978, just two years before Harry Potter was born.
Rowling fell under heavy fire with the Ilvermorny videos, which stereotype native people and tell the creation story of a wizarding school that was founded by a white, “Irish girl” who blatantly stole from Native culture. The released video content talked about Navajo “skin walkers” and showed a native man in a loincloth transform into an eagle—but don’t be fooled, this story is still about a romance between two white people.
In case that all wasn’t problematic enough, every house in Ilvermorny is named after a sacred creature out of Native American myth; the Thunderbird from Algonquian, Menominee and Ojibwe people, the Horned Serpent (actually the Great Horned Serpent from many different tribes), the Wampus (the Ewah of Cherokee mythology) and the Wampanoag Pukwudgie. Glossing over the fact that these creatures are not even from the same tribe, the creatures are used as literal mascots for school houses created by four white people.
Finally, in the creation story of Ilvermorny, which can be read here, a Pukwudgie experiences “humiliation” when the Irish girl saves his life and enters into voluntary indentured servitude to her to repay his debt. Yeah. The story literally starts with the white heroine getting her own, personal native servant. But don’t worry, it’s not like there’s a long history of native people being enslaved in America…
Not only did Rowling not, I don’t know, check with any native people before going through the process of writing, editing, then releasing the content, but when they called her out for her blatant appropriation, she outright ignored them. This is the same Rowling who has time for practically every commenter on Twitter—just not when they ask her about her own appropriation.
Enter DAPL. Native Americans are currently being arrested, maced, shot with rubber bullets and attacked with dogs at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Journalists have gone to trial for trying to cover it and police have shot down media drones trying to bear witness to this violation of Americans’ right to free speech. The protestors are acting as water protectors, trying to stop the construction of an oil pipeline which would cross the Missouri River and land belonging to the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux tribe.
— relombardo (@relombardo3) October 30, 2016
Anna Lee Rain YellowHammer of the Standing Rock tribe reported to Common Dreams, “Oil pipelines break, spill, and leak—it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of where and when.” The construction of the site would be a devastating blow to the local ecosystem and politicians, celebrities and thousands of native people and allies have been taking a stand to say #NoDAPL.
But not JK Rowling. A woman who is about to make a whole lot of dough off of a movie built out of Native American culture has nothing to say about DAPL.
“But,” you might say, “That’s ridiculous! She’s English! She probably doesn’t even know what’s going on in American politics.”
Rowling has made time to tweet repeatedly about Donald Trump’s evil-ness, equating the man to Voldemort himself. But Rowling also went out of her way to defend Trump-amort’s right to FREEDOM OF SPEECH, of all things. Just take a look.
So JK Rowling completely ignores people who ask her about appropriating native culture, makes a point to make a stand for free speech in American politics, but has been totally silent about the civil rights violations ongoing against Native Americans for the past six months.
— Jen Wirth (@jen_wirth) October 25, 2016
Kind of annoying that @jk_rowling, who dismisses dialogue from Native Americans, keeps feeling the need to chime in on American politics.
— Rose Christo (@rosechristo1) July 21, 2016
— Heather (@Kartos) September 1, 2016
Fantastic Beasts is about to hit the big screen in the US and honestly, I’m not going to see it. I didn’t upgrade to the newest Pottermore iteration and I don’t know what my Ilvermorny house would be, even though I’ve been waiting to get accepted to one for 15 years.
To JK Rowling: The Harry Potter books instilled in us a sense of duty to stand up for the oppressed. Your characters taught us how to fight bravely against evil. Like a parent who suddenly realizes their child has surpassed them in some way, you should be aware that we are all looking to you to show us we have not outgrown you and that you have the ability to be humble with your mistakes.
In the words of Albus Dumbledore, “There will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” The Native American community needs to be acknowledged and you should be clamoring to support their right to free speech, clean water and justice.