There are a great many well-meaning yet misinformed, misguided people who are attempting to live holistically. For some reason they are confusing this lifestyle and healing system with adapting their heritage to that of some other culture. It’s one thing, and certainly fine, to respect other races and ethnic groups and learn from their practices and beliefs. On the other hand, the alternative health methods those cultures may have brought into the world do not, by being adopted by others, change the heritage of such aficionados.
Take, as a primary example, the near-adulation by some (particularly those of the New Age mindset) of Native culture. They practice therapeutic drumming and chant, despite not knowing one word of any Native language or drumming rules. Many attend powwows which are open to the public, and think up “Indian names” for themselves, usually something that sounds more like a Hollywood version such as “Morning Star”. They don’t bother to learn Native history, about events like the infamous genocidal Trail of Tears, or other government-sponsored extermination policies. Similarly, they are unaware of the despair and poverty on many present reserves, believing these places are a paradise of casinos, endless hunting and fishing, and getting freebies from the federal government.
The vegan/vegetarian groups, as well, play Indian, without being aware that the historical North American Native diet was not all berries and root vegetables. More commonly there was a variety of meat and fish involved, rounding out a balanced regimen taken from the area where any particular tribe had its roots. Among those still living on reservations the diet may not always reflect the cultural history, but similarly, you won’t find many Asian-Americans living strictly on their ancestral nutrition, either.
In short, please, those of you who want natural lifestyles, yes, it’s great you want to learn from the wisdom of ancient cultures—but be realistic and respectful. Native people (which, to those of us with mixed Native and other backgrounds, includes a wide variety of citizens) are not some long-ago-mythical creatures with awesome powers. They exist in the present and hopefully always will be in this world. Their traditional religious beliefs, medicine and food may not suit everyone. The biggest lesson to be learned, though, is that by using these elements of their culture, you are not going to suddenly change your skin color and features or your heritage. In other words, you’ll still be whatever race you were born into. You don’t “become an Indian” by eating buffalo, fry bread, or corn soup any more than you become Japanese from eating sushi. Nor do you become Native by making your own totem pole or medicine bag, or banging on a drum and chanting whatever comes into your head. Taking a course (usually taught by a Caucasian) won’t make you a medicine man/woman. In fact, playing around with any of the spiritual and medicinal traditions of most tribes can get you into places you won’t understand nor be equipped to deal with. Even the use of dream catchers (usually made in China) in a car window defies logic—after all, if they are to be used while asleep, do you plan to doze off behind the wheel?
Most decent people would not dream of deliberately insulting the culture of others. Yet it seems to be considered alright when it comes to Native medicine and spirituality. Please, be tolerant and respectful, as you would wish for yourself, but don’t try to be what you are not.