Help the people, not the knock-offs

The first time I travelled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, my family’s kind and openhearted Hopi friends told us to “not purchase Kachina dolls” when we visited souvenir shops.

I had no idea what they were.

When it was explained to me, I could compare the Kachina dolls importance to the Haudenosaunee Hatonih, or False Face Mask. And you know, it was a simple request to follow because at the time I would never want to disrespect another culture or belief system.

Allow me to explain.

Many hear the term spirituality and an image of a mainstream Buddha sitting cross-legged and rhythmically humming the marginalized “uhm,” will pop up into their head. They might think of being ‘zen’, doing yoga to be balanced and going with the flow of everything. But that’s just it.

We live in a material world; nobody can blame the slight indifference many have to the matters of the spirit because it isn’t something tangible and material. Spirit isn’t something we can measure or even grab onto, but it is something that can be felt.

As native people our culture, our history, our old ways of life, our languages and teachings have always directed us at looking outside of ourselves. Everything that we are directs us to being connected with the world around us and our families. That is the core of our spirituality.

This is especially shown in ceremony. When we enter ceremony, every part of that ceremony is sacred and respected in different ways depending on the protocol. The ceremony could bring the people together, could heal an ailment or even honour creation. Our medicines each have societies people become a part of when they need healing. I will not be explaining these medicinal ceremonies, but understand that they are powerful.

This is why indigenous people — like myself — get so cheesed off when people on the outside don’t care when they indirectly disrespect or tarnish indigenous superstitions, practices or ceremonies. One of the most common ceremonial pieces to be claimed as “mainstream” and is openly tarnished is our False Face Mask.

A listing on Kijiji was brought to my attention not even a week ago promising an “Iroquois False Face Society Mask” and it didn’t anger me, but it does concern me.

When I was little I was told that in rough times, Haudenosaunee people decided to sell little or extremely large effigies that looked like our Hatonih masks to tourists to make money. This was done because the money was needed and the demand was high as European fascination with “savage culture” piqued. But today, the less they are purchased, the less they are sold.

So perhaps I should speak directly to the demand.

If you are not Haudenosaunee, you likely don’t understand or feel the importance of our medicine masks and therefore do not need to purchase one to hang in your home. If anything, the effigy of one of our masks would likely bring negativity upon you.

So, allow me to suggest the purchase of something not based on a powerful ceremony. Purchase a painting, or a horn rattle to hang on your wall, or better yet a water drum to sit on your decorative hope chest. And don’t just get it from some shop that’s probably selling you plastic imitations, get it from the real people.

Not only would you be supporting an indigenous artisan, but you would also be avoiding disrespecting something sacred to a culture of living and breathing people. To top it off, you wouldn’t be supporting knock offs made by non-indigenous people looking to make a buck off of “being native”.

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