Check the tag on that “Indian” story.

Stories and sayings attributed to Native Americans have been floating around probably since settlers stopped spending all of their time and energy on not dying. I am not entirely certain why stories that never originated in any indigenous nation are passed around as “Native American Legends”, but listener beware.

"Hey so are you Cherokee?" "Na, I'm Irish, you?" "Well my great grandmother was a Cherokee princess..."

You’ve probably seen this one at least once:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Wow, I’m just shivering with all that good Indian wisdom flowing through me now.  Give me a moment.

Okay.  I’m better now.

Well recently a tumblr blogger Pavor Nocturnus did the world an enormous favour and dug into the real origins of this ‘Cherokee wisdom’, providing some excellent sources.

This story seems to have begun in 1978 when a early form of it was written by the Evangelical Christian Minister Billy Graham in his book, “The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life.”

"Hey cheer up, one day everyone is going to say they are related to us! And they'll honour our culture with Christian-style parables!"

So wait…this is actually a Christian-style parable?  Let’s just quickly read the story as told by Minister Billy Graham.

“AN ESKIMO FISHERMAN came to town every Saturday afternoon. He always brought his two dogs with him. One was white and the other was black. He had taught them to fight on command. Every Saturday afternoon in the town square the people would gather and these two dogs would fight and the fisherman would take bets. On one Saturday the black dog would win; another Saturday, the white dog would win – but the fisherman always won! His friends began to ask him how he did it. He said, “I starve one and feed the other. The one I feed always wins because he is stronger.”

Oh oh oh!  I get it!  Black is evil, and white is good! Traditional indigenous wisdom galore!

Um…wait a second.  Do indigenous cultures also believe in black=evil, white=good?  I mean, pre-Christianity?  Anyone?  No?  I didn’t think so.

This kind of thing is harmful

These misattributed stories aren’t going to pick us up and throw us down a flight of stairs, but they do perpetuate ignorance about our cultures.  Cultures.  Plural.

Not only do they confuse non-natives about our beliefs and our actual oral traditions, they confuse some natives too.  There are many disconnected native peoples who, for a variety of reasons, have not been raised in their cultures.  It is not an easy task to reconnect, and a lot of people start by trying to find as much information as they can about the nation they come from.

It can be exciting and empowering at first to encounter a story like this, if it’s supposedly from your (generalised) nation.  But I could analyse this story all day to point out how Christian and western influences run all the way through it, and how these principles contradict and overshadow indigenous ways of knowing.  Let’s just sum it up more quickly though, and call it what it is: colonialsim.

And please.  It does not matter if this sort of thing is done to or by other cultures too.  The “they did it first” argument doesn’t get my kids anywhere either.

The replacement of real indigenous stories with Christian-influenced, western moral tales is colonialism, no matter how you dress it up in feathers and moccasins.  It silences the real voices of native peoples by presenting listeners and readers with something safe and familiar.  And because of the wider access non-natives have to sources of media, these kinds of fake stories are literally drowning us out.

Start asking questions

If you are at all interested in real aboriginal cultures, there are some easy steps you can take to determine authenticity.  I guarantee you that three short questions will help you weed out 99.9% of the stories plain made-up-and-attributed-to-a-native-culture.  Ready?

  1. Which native culture is this story from? (Cherokee, Cree, Dene, Navajo?)
  2. Which community is this story from? (If you get an answer like the Hopis of New Brunswick you can stop here.  The story is fake.)
  3. Who from that community told this story?

You see, our stories have provenance.  That means you should be able to track down where the story was told, when, and who told it.

There are specific protocols involved in telling stories that lay this provenance out for those listening.  There are often protocols involved in what kinds of stories can be told to whom, and when.  Every indigenous nation is going to have their own rules about this, but all of them have ways of keeping track of which stories are theirs.

If you cannot determine where the story came from, then please do not pass it on as being from “x nation”.

Literary examples, problems with attribution

Authentic, or fantasy?

A friend picked this book up for me during a library sale.  I immediately became uneasy when I read the inside covers.  Here are some partial quotes that stood out for me:

This book contains nine stories about the wily Raven…” No mention of where those stories originate other than from “the North West coast of the Pacific Ocean“.

“..the tales collected and retold here by Gail Robinson, a distinguished Canadian poet who has lived among the North American Indians and listened first-hand to the stories they tell…”

No actual communities are listed.  No actual native people are named.  There is zero attribution here.  I have no idea if these stories are made up, mistranslated, or ripped off wholesale and profited from without any recognition given to those who carry traditional stories from generation to generation.

The stories are interesting, just like the “Cherokee” Two Wolves parable is…but I’m not presenting this to my children as authentic, nor should it be accepted as such without a heck of a lot more research into the origins of these tales.

Get the real stories!

An absolutely excellent resource for those seeking authenticity, is a blog called American Indians in Children’s Literature.  There is a tonne of information there, which may be a bit overwhelming, but I urge you to start with the section on the right labelled “If You’re Starting a Library”. In this section are a selection of authentic books for different age levels and links for annotated reviews of each book.

There is also information on how to evaluate “American Indian websites“.  A truly fantastic resource.

Another link available brings you to A Critical Bibliography on North American Indians, for K-12.  Split into regions, you can find reviews of books which highlight any problems with the stories or the manner in which they were collected.  There is also great information for educators and those wanting to understand how authenticity is important.

A Tlicho (Dogrib/Dene) story

I also have a partial list of publishers who produce authentic indigenous literature.  Some of it will even be available bilingually (English or French and in the original indigenous language).  If I were to recommend something off the top of my head, I’d start with an absolutely fantastic series published by Theytus Books, published in English and Tłıchǫ Yatıì (Dogrib).  All three of the books come with an audio CD as well.

I warn you, however.  Authentic indigenous stories come from a different cultural context than you may be familiar with.  That should be obvious, but I think that it bears noting.  If you go into these stories expecting to have your cultural beliefs and norms reinforced, you’re doing it wrong.  Trite western moral lessons are not going to be handed to you in our stories.

Listening to or reading authentic aboriginal stories means you are accessing different cultures.  Please don’t forget that.  And the next time someone tells you a “Native American” saying or story, ask yourself if it resonates with you because it’s really “indigenous wisdom”…or if it’s just a western story wrapped up in a cloak of indigeneity.

A shorter version of this article was published on on February 21st, 2011.

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Categories: Cultural appropriation, Culture, Decolonisation, Pan-Indian, Representation of natives

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218 Responses to Check the tag on that “Indian” story.

  1. Great set of resources. Thank you. I always laugh (to myself) when somebody tells me they have been adopted by the Arapaho or Apache or whatever. They always pick some big, powerful, prestigious tribe. Never the Potawatami or Nuuchahnulth.

    I have long fought against writers such as the appalling Lynn Andrews and the even worse Marlo Morgan. That Indigenous people anywhere would choose to share their traditions with blonde barbie dolls, who then go on to write about it and become wealthy is one of the great lies of the last 30 years.

    • ….which is not to imply that the Potawatami or Nuuchahnulth are not prestigious. Sorry. Poor choice of words.

      • “Prestigious” in the eyes of those appropriating these cultures anyway…and perhaps “more easily pronounceable” as well? 😀

        • I just saw another one on Facebook. “Listen to the voice of Nature, for it holds treasures for you. ~Huron proverb” Since your article, they are popping out at me everywhere!

          • morehistory says:

            Not to diminish âpihtawikosisân’s point in any way, there is a large issue around quotes, and not just for Native people.

            Lots of great sayings, bits of wisdom, moral truths and so on are attributed to famous people. Problem is, they didn’t say them — or they said something similar, but never the actual quote. “Literary licence” has been around a long time, and painted a wide brush, and some of it’s effects are difficult to undo.

            Getting back on topic, though — if instead of “Huron proverb”, it said “Settler author channeling Native sentiment”, it just doesn’t have the same impact.

            The point is, unlike 100+ years ago, we have a way to check and pinpoint these things down, pretty easily. But, most of us are a bit lazy to do the work, so we accept it.

            (I googled the above quote, and it has a few hits. None more descriptive about it’s origin then the above. The true tragedy about quotes, though, is that even if it was an authentic saying, we’re used to attributing things in this way.)

    • Philip Brett says:

      Just to add to the mix. A thing for further research and thought. I thought I had heard this when young.

      [And, it would appear that I am of mixed heritage (Leni Lenape) as well, as is my wife (Abenaki). We know the Bruchacs. Also, I 100% back the credentials of authenticity as well. It makes it hard to sort things out while doing research when there is no provinence on an item.]

      Anyway, what I had heard was that Billy Graham himself had Cherokee forebearers in his family. How true this is I do not know, but it would be worth researching and may give more authenticity to the tale then one might expect. That it was adapted to a Christian message my be the work of the tale teller himself and not an inauthentic device either. I do know that certain tales are not meant to be changed. As in the tales used by the South Sea Ilanders for Navigation and others the story tellers has more liberty or leeway with. Dominant Western Culture has always been suspect. Quite frankly I am not sure that I have ever been part of it. As for the Celts (Irish, Scots, Welsh), and Scandinavians (Norwegian, Swedish, Finish), I’m not sure they all have been either, and they have their own authentic tales as well. One has to search into the past to get the ungarbled versions though.

      • “Over the past 150 years, a number of American authors have left behind unwanted identities by writing themselves into new ethnicities”.

        Joseph Edward Bruchac, III is just another contemporary author, who, starting in the early 1970’s have created themselves (meaning Margaret Bruchac, her brother Joe, and his two sons Jesse, and James) into a new “Abenaki” ethnicity/ persona, creating an ethnic Abenaki impersonator autobiography about his great-grandfather Lewis Bowman, grandfather, Jesse Elmer Bowman and more importantly, himself. While he, and some other members of the Bowman / Bruchac etc family may BELIEVE that they are “Abenakis” the Bowman Y-DNA and genealogical ancestry shows their paternal Bowman ancestry hails from Europe, not Abenakis and most certainly not ancestrally indigenous to this continent. We are continuing to genetically/genealogically figure out the narrative of the Bowman lineage of which Joseph Bruchac III and his sister Marge, descend from, and it is thus far, not matching to the published and spoken narrative that these two have perpetuated to the naive masses. Bruchac’s are not who they appear to be; at least not regarding their often-stated “Abenaki” “Obomsawin-turned-Bowman” ancestry. Many people in Vermont are genealogically appropriating an “abenaki” identity, have fraudulent VT State Recognition, etc. They will try to convince the naive public otherwise.

        • Philip Brett says:

          I can not vouch for anyone else, nor have I, but I can vouch for my wife and it’s awefully hard to argue with Jeannie Brink.

  2. FYI …
    The cultural appropriation battle was fought (and won, at least in the arts in Canada) in the 1980s by Daniel Moses, Tomson Highway and Lenore Keeshig-Tobias (a recent article at Of course the war goes on … and on …

  3. Jadey says:

    I remember as a kid one day in public school we read through a bunch of “Indian” stories (note: I have no idea how authentic these stories were at all – if I recall, they basically involved animals having wacky adventures and inventing stuff, like sunrise and fire and how skunks got their stripes and whatnot, but that’s fairly generic) and then were given an assignment to write and “Indian” story of our own in a similar vein. I remember similar assignments with other “genres” (fairytales, Aesop’s fables – that’s the kind of stuff these stories were equated with) so I assume this was something that was a general tool in the curriculum to try to get us writing and being creative. I definitely didn’t walk away with the idea that these stories had a special history or significance that couldn’t just be replicated for fun – it was all creative writing, no real history. Pretty bad. I wonder what it was like for the Native kids in the class.

    Thank you for the good links.

    • My kids have had similar writing assignments and I’m a bit torn about it. My eldest created a story about How the Cat Got Claws. They first read a collection of these kinds of stories supposedly from various cultures (none properly attributed of course). It is good to encourage children’s imaginations and creativity, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of distorting real oral traditions.

      So during that time, I made a point of reading and telling them more authentic stories. A fantastic collection is “More Tales From the Igloo”, told by Agnes Nanogak. I don’t have the first collection…yet. At first, my kids were getting annoyed because there was no ‘moral summation’ at the end, spelling out the ‘lesson’. I’ll give a quick example:

      Toligak, The Sandpiper (page. 13)

      Toligak and his sister were trying very hard to make a living. They had a tent camp all alone by themselves.

      One day the male Toligak went hunting for ptarmigans with snares. These snares are made with string set in a certain way; when the ptarmigan steps in a snare, the string tightens up and you have caught whatever you are hunting. Soon, Toligak had got enough ptarmigans and then he had to pack them all the way home.

      The sister Toligak was expecting her brother soon and was watching for him. She spotted him coming home from afar. She made a song while she was waiting because she was so happy that they would have enough to eat. The song she made said that the ptarmigan had very beautiful feathers, with very beautiful patterns of colours.

      When her brother returned, she made a supper of ptarmigan for both of them and they had enough to eat and were both thankful.

      That’s it. That’s the story. When you are expecting a lesson, you might thing this is just nonsense. I’m not going to try to break it down right now, but there is clearly more going on here than just a little anecdote of ptarmigan hunting. Yet if my daughter wrote something like this from our culture, the teacher would probably think it a poor example of writing. I’m not even going to get into what is lost when you take an oral account and write it down, stripping it of all the elements of good storytelling.

      So perhaps the trick is to teach creative writing without ‘dressing it up’? If you learn to write in the form of a haiku, that’s one thing…but you probably aren’t going to really understand the way that a haiku is traditionally composed. Not without more context. Using the form is fine, but it’s not necessarily ‘haiku’ just because you get the right number of syllables.

      And if teachers want kids to write ‘legends and myths’ give them REAL ones for examples, or alternatively stick to western legends and myths and don’t pretend that aboriginal stories are basically ‘the same thing’.

      And teaching about the kinds of stories in different cultures would go a long way to reconnecting everyone to oral traditions.

      • morehistory says:

        I’d have to say a bit of the blame for this has to go to Hollywood directly.

        Many moons ago, I took a film class. In early films, the stories didn’t all come to neat conclusions tied up in a bow at the end. As movies developed commercially, though, audiences were more attracted to “end to end” stories. Bad guys were always caught, there was always a good moral and the plots were pretty clear.

        I think this “clean” story telling ended up spilling over into a lot of different areas, and in a way became the way that we approach story telling. Mostly because life isn’t always wrapped up neatly in a bow, but it can still be interesting and story-worthy.

  4. LunarCritter says:

    I love your blog and will always cite the provenance of the things I have learned from âpihtawikosisân of WordPress.

    • Hahahahhaha, sounds great 🙂

      • notguiltiest says:

        I am listing this reference on yet another blog version of this “Cherokee Legend,” (which also again employs a different illustration of a white wolf and a black wolf.)

        So far, to absolutely no effect at nonresponsive Irony thrives, though. Pretty funny, today, the “Cherokee Legend,” reimagined by a self – ascribed “mental health worker and activist” is reblogged by a site named “integritysources” – without reference to its misattribution.

        That’s funny! … Okay, in a kind of sad way, but still funny!

  5. Jadey says:

    It is interesting that you would use haiku as the similar example! By the end of high school, I was so annoyed by being assigned the “5-7-5” haiku structure in every English class, as if that’s all there was to that kind of poetry, that the next time a teacher asked us to do that, I did a mini-research project of my own on haiku so that I could write something marginally truer to the original spirit. I am still quite ignorant overall and would never profess to be able to write true haiku, but the first thing I learned is that because of the structural differences between English and Japanese as languages, the syllable count that is so famous over here is fairly meaningless in translation – the essence of the form is in the use of references to the natural world and the use of juxtaposition between these images, all of which are quite specific to Japanese culture and history. Exactly as you said – these things are not really taught! Which is truly silly because counting syllables has very little to do with poetry except on the most basic level of meter, whereas imagery and juxtaposition were of course taught, but only in relation to European and settler literature.

    In the curriculum as I remember it (which was, admittedly, a growing number of years ago…), often “cultural diversity” was something that was touted, but only realized in the most superficial of ways, by teaching things at this surface level. There just wasn’t a commitment to going much deeper, unless the teacher happened to know something themselves, which was almost never the case. So there was all this “cultural” stuff tacked onto every lesson plan, but simplified beyond recognition. Canada’s version “multiculturalism” in action.

    Ack, now I am getting very cynical though. Sorry. Thank you for sharing that story.

    • Seconded! It’s really too bad that we aren’t exposed to authentic haikus masters like Basho and Issa when we all do the obligatory lesson in English class. I hadn’t read anything by them until college and was surprised to learn that not only does the syllable count not translate, but many of their work is actually pretty funny! Certainly not as solemn and serious as haikus were made out to be in elementary school.

  6. Belongum says:

    Marlo Morgan and her life-changing ‘experience’ (released as Mutant Message Down Under) with the desert Aboriginal peoples of Australia is a fantastic (FANTASY fullstop) example in point of someone who still capitalises on such guff – even though she still earns on sales of this book as it was classified as fiction and supposedly still doing the rounds in the USA and Europe.

    My uncle was one of the delegation that made it’s way to the US to publicly challenge her during her various appearances and they toured many other locations in an attempt to uncover the truth of this person’s involvement with desert peoples in this country. She admitted publicly that it was indeed fabricated – but her book’s were never pulled from the shelves and they continue to misinform a swag of readers as to the nature of Australian Aboriginal peoples in the ‘red centre’. She lectured and presented as an authority on this topic for many years too – it’s such a shame that her confession wasn’t made anywhere as public as it should have been!

    he reason to which I use this example is – you’d recognise exactly what you’re speaking about here – as she uses just about every North American cliches or romanticism you can imagine – to build a picture of what culture, country and law/lore looked like for our Australian Aboriginal peoples here! Un-bloody-believable!!!

    Sadly – our biggest problem is that this is what a large part of non-Aboriginal people want to believe about our peoples (I am of the Bardi peoples – NW of Broome in WA on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula – we are a saltwater ‘mob’) – the whole ‘noble savage’ bent and wherever that might take them in their romanticised mind. The truth of it is so much more interesting and real – where the bollocks I continue to hear on an almost daily basis – just loses me completely.

    *sighhhhhh* (stows soapbox back under bed for a later time) 🙂
    Keep up the good work – I tripped over your blog a while ago and have been meaning tip in for a while. Glad I was able to… Cheers 😉

    • I know that some people were taking to putting stickers on these kinds of books in bookstores, to indicate that their contents were fabricated. Having a bookstore file these kinds of flights of fantasy under a section OTHER than ‘Native American’ (like in a special Fantasy section perhaps?) would go a long way I think.

      • Sorry to come so late to the conversation. This is really enlightening to someone who respects other cultures, including Native American cultures, enough to know that much of what comes with a pricetag is suspect (Like the “Native American” art my friend bought, stamped “Made in China”). And also enough to know that I don’t know enough.

        I will note, though, that bookstores, at least the chain stores, have a rudimentary cataloguing system that puts those books into their particular groups. In order to change the stores, you have to get a change to the system itself. Not impossible, but doable.

        I’m a Neo-Pagan, myself, and we’ve been trying to get our resources classified in the religion section where they belong instead of New Age for decades. We just finally won that battle, from what I hear, though it hasn’t hit my local store’s shelves as yet. This might be a battle worth fighting for you, but it’s a tough one.

        • Sammy says:

          Neo-paganism has more than a few similarities with what is happening here, though more time has passed, in that case.

          Without an unbroken tradition, most Neo-Pagans are forced to make up missing parts, or take others’ potential misinterpretations, (or even outright slander!), as truth, for lack of comparitive sources.

          Imagine if you were a traditional European pagan, just after the Roman Empire had conquered your people and forced conversions: this is very nearly the same thing, but on a much, much, much larger scale (the entire world being affected, not only NDN cultures).

          “The Empire Never Ended”…if NDN’s do not want to find themselves “Neo”, concerning their own histories, in the next century, then right now is the last chance to fight to preserve what is left…or else there will only be history books and imagination left, to start over from nearly-scratch.

          P.S. I mean absolutely no disrespect, nor implication that your practice is any “less authentic”, spiritually-speaking; I don’t believe that is possible, anyway.

          I only mean that the results of certain historical events, necessitate invention and imagination to “fill in the gaps” in historical knowledge–you can never be 100% certain that your personal interpretation is in line with what your ancestors would have done/believed, as I am sure you are perfectly aware.

  7. Belongum says:

    Stuffed up my information – just doing it properly so you know where I ‘live’ in the ether!

  8. Melodie says:

    I absolutely take your point about these stories and I think it’s a good one. I do hear a note of cultural superiority though which I think you may want to stay away from. “Trite Western moral lessons”… This really sounds like you’re making a generalization that “westerners” stories are trite. Westerners, or white people are not a homogenous category any more than native people are, and within their many disparate cultures are stories that are special to them too. The fact that they have been unfairly granted privilege should be acknowledged, but it doesn’t give others the right to denigrate their cultures.

    • Trite. “Overused and consequently of little import; lacking originality or freshness.”

      The kinds of ‘moral lessons’ imparted in quick fables (dressed up as indigenous or not) are indeed trite, in my opinion. Easily digestible. Obvious. Hit-you-over-the-head obvious. Wholly without literary merit, also in my opinion. (I don’t think limericks are amazing either.)

      You may have a different opinion, and you are welcome to it. I do not feel that these kinds of fables are very good examples of western literature (from any western literary tradition), nor are they the sum of said traditions. If you feel otherwise, that is not a statement about culture, but rather about a preference for a particular literary style.

      Now, because this happens to be the second post that is criticising me on being ‘mean’ (my characterisation and obviously a simplification) in some way towards settler culture I’d like to point out something important.

      Western culture as found in Canada in the particular ‘Canadian blend’ doesn’t get my soft words and careful consideration, and I make no apologies for this. It is the dominant culture. Settler culture has not been historically repressed here in Canada neither legally and systemically nor socially. Those who come from settler cultures do not have to struggle to connect with said culture due to a rift caused by decades and decades of cultural abuse. In fact, settler culture has justified some truly horrific policies and treatments of non-settlers (and of settlers as well, frankly).

      I should not have to spend a great deal of time explaining this in vivid detail before I am allowed to make a critical remark within the context of the erasure of our traditional stories.

      While I understand that discussing these topics is going to make some people feel defensive, and is going to influence them to want to ‘avoid generalisations’, there is also a very real danger of these discussions becoming all about how these things make settlers feel. I am sorry, but that is not going to happen here. I will not spend equal time explaining how “some” settlers do ‘x’ while other settlers do ‘y’ just so I am not accused of expressing cultural superiority.

      I do not use the term ‘white’. I do not believe that all settler experiences are exactly the same. I do not believe that fair-skinned privilege means that all settlers have it ‘easy’.

      I also am not writing a blog about settlers and I am not going to repeat the above as a caveat each and every time the issue of western versus indigenous cultures comes up.

      • Clyde Hodge says:

        Mvto/Thank you. No Dominant culture has the right to complain about being picked on. “Dom” is Latin for Lord/God. Thus, a dominant culture is one that lords itself OVER others. By its sheer power and size, it marginalizes the minority cultures and expects conformity to itself, renders oppression. All majority cultures are therefore in need of being cut down to size, and shown for what it is, exactly; a culture that believes all other cultures are inferior, with the might to enforce that belief system. Picking on a dominant culture, and demonstrating that lord, that culture, has no clothes is the imperative of the minority cultures, as an act of self defense. Bottom line: If you are bigger than someone else and you pick on that person, you are a bully, but if you are a smaller person, you have the right to tell that individual to get the hell off your foot.

      • Vella says:

        Thank you! I find this very well said and obvious, and can be used as an argument in place of any butt-hurt members of the majority (within racism, sexism, and it seems more recently, body size).

        I do wish that settlers would rekindle their indigenous heritage. Being a part of the “melting pot” that is the states, I find it hard to find true information about the way people of my heritage lived long ago. I have mainly Celtic blood, and I wish that learning about ancient Celtic culture was easier and had more validity. Even as someone who’s background is all settler, I feel you.

      • Mike Murphy says:

        Sorry, I cannot agree with you. Hate is hate, no matter how you may try to justify it. Soft words are not necessary, but neither are harsh and demeaning ones. Just as you ask for accuracy and understanding for your cultures, please grant it to mine.

        • Cry harder.

          Here’s the thing. YOUR culture literally engages in ongoing genocide of MY culture. My supposedly “harsh and demeaning” words don’t stop that. I can’t stop YOUR CULTURE from continuing to do everything in its power to erase mine.

          So fuck off with your “oh gosh your mean words sting me so much” when we are actually dying, and you do NOTHING to stop it.

          • Sofie says:

            Stop the stupidity, white culture has dominated all others for the past 500 years, we cannot claim oppression by non whites in any way, so stop with the white tears and eat that white guilt up. And thank you for a very enlightening page apihtawikosisan!

    • “Unfairly GRANTED privilege” only a white person could come up with a way to blame someone else for all of their “privileges” they took, stole , and here it _______ KEEP!
      And not even have the courtesy to listen to their own selves. Surely you will do me a solid my friend and grab yourself a dictionary. Then go back to your homeland from where your roots are known taking with you yourself and your cloths because that priveledge you have was never granted it was just PLAINE STOLEN

  9. darren erickson says:

    Let’s be careful that we don’t take a big generalized paint brush and start blaming the predominant North American religion: Christianity. The article states that Billy Graham was the first person to tell a variation of the story of the two dogs/wolves. Nowhere does it state that Graham attributed the story to any Indigenous narraitve but simply told a story that had occurred. We don’t even know where it became a “Cherokee legend” or when it took on the identity of belonging to a indigenous people. Why start blaming the Christians? Learn your legends from your people, find out what they mean, but don’t try to start placing blame on someone you just don’t like. That’s childish, and frankly not cultural. Paint with precision and wisdom, metaphorically speaking, when it comes to deciphering blurred issues such as this one.

    • Christianity has much to answer for, and while I will touch on it many times over a variety of topics, I am not going to break it down into a specific post so that you feel I have the right to bring it up as I have here. Christian imagery has crept into a great many supposedly ‘indigenous legends’ whether intentionally or merely as a part of ‘cultural bleed’. If you wish to believe that pointing this out is oppressive towards Christians, I am sorry, but I am not going to spend much time appeasing you.

      In addition, attempts to correct these bastardised versions of our traditional stories are met with more hostility than I feel like documenting for you here in order for you to accept that this is true.

      The onus, frankly, needs to be shifted from indigenous people who are often expected to ‘prove this isn’t your traditional story’ and onto the shoulders of those who are passing these stories off as ours. Nor is it just Christians doing this sort of thing…another obvious fact I don’t feel like I am required to import as a caveat every single time the word Christianity is brought up.

      • By the way, up there in the post, there is a link which goes into more detail of how this parable was changed into a story about an ‘Eskimo’ sharing his ‘wisdom’ to a ‘Native American’ sharing ‘wisdom’.

        As for the claim that Minister Billy Graham merely ‘wrote what happened’…yes well I suppose people could claim they really heard an old Cherokee man say this to his grandson too. Would that make this story any less ridiculous and inauthentic?

      • That Christian imagery that ‘crept’ in there was often consciously included by the teller themselves, you know. Many Cree people converted to Christianity, have stayed Christian, and like being Christians. Many more did with Christianity what they did with the Plains cultures they encountered on their way out of the woods – they absorbed, syncretized, and digested. What you’re calling ‘Christianity’ is itself a product of that – many times over.

        You shouldn’t tell them they’re tainted, just because they adapted their religious perspective over time and exposure to other things, right? Is Joe Dion less Cree because he was devout Catholic and had nothing but good things to say about Catholicism? What about Emma Minde or Alice Ahenakew?

        • I come from an extremely Catholic community that manages to also be very traditional, so I’ve seen this in action. Yet there seems to be this assumption that I must hate religion and am attacking it. That assumption itself is interesting. Oh wait, no, it’s not 😛

          This discussion has been about inauthentic stories attributed to indigenous peoples, and I am not going to start sidetracking into a religious discussion. I was annoyed with what I was being accused of, I’ll end it there.

    • Dana says:

      Christians sure as hell DO deserve a hell of a lot of blame. I mean, OK, they’re not the only settler religion that has messed about with Natives. Mormons are not generally considered Christian by Christians, and they’ve been horrible. New Agers are horrible. Neopagans probably are too. (I used to be Neopagan and YES, they are appropriationist as hell, even of cultures that no longer exist.) The sad part is that you can be a settler religion and actually help people. Muslims have done it. They have outreach where they assist Native Americans. I’m cautiously optimistic about that because I’m afraid they’re like every other settler religion and only doing it for the converts (what they call reverts).

      But that’s just it–even when Christians aren’t actively killing people they’re STILL going to them with a Bible in one hand and food in the other. I will help you if you become more like me. That’s a load of crap and it needs to stop. That’s why I have zero sympathy for missionaries who, for example, go into China or a Muslim country aimin’ for converts and then cry because they get into trouble. I don’t think you understand that if you fundamentally change a culture in just a couple generations you are doing the same as if you killed all those people. People aren’t just a biological species, we are our cultures too.

  10. Scott says:

    I have a pet peeve on a related subject. There are dozens if not hundreds of cases where a non-indigenous person met with indigenous storytellers at some point, recorded and then typed up many of the stories of that nation, and then published them with the publication copyrighted to the non-indigenous “writer”.

    A lot of our stories are tied up with legal ownership asserted by non-indigenous people. I believe this is not just legal theft, but cultural as well, in addition to being disrespectful. Quite a few of the publishers of these works are universities. I think this is a bigger issue than the university sports mascot controversy, but it is one that is seldom discussed.

    • Ayup. That is a major part of the blog post I’m working on right now…this kind of theft and the impact it has on language and culture development in our communities as a result.

    • Could you be more specific about which works you’re referring to? I don’t know of this happening in Algonquian languages, actually. All the texts I have on my shelves (and I have hundreds) are public domain – especially the ones containing things you’re referring to here. This is why they can be republished (often for profit) periodically – as many of them are. This is also why people like Robert Bringhurst can go and copy Haida texts collected by Swanton back in the early 20th century and ‘retranslate’ them and live high off the hog. (He’s not an academic by the way, he’s a typesetter who just thinks he is.)

      The modern texts that were published by Universities have a complicated copyright that I don’t quite know all the details of. I do know that the copyright of the content remains with the speaker whose text it is, because we’ve been going through getting permissions with some of the Cree texts that should be reprinted or re-presented. As far as the actual book goes, I think the publisher asserts copyright over it – meaning, you can’t just photocopy their book, with its typeset and layout and covers and illustrations willy-nilly and sell it. The ‘academic’ who did the collecting, translating, and layout gets generally not one red cent of that, by the way – though that is possibly changing some these days, I don’t know.

      But I know of ZERO cases where the linguist/anthropologist retains copyright over the materials. That is not true even in the ‘bad old days’ back when.

  11. Perry Bulwer says:

    Regarding Indigenous cultures and Christianity, back in the 1990s when I was in university and transitioning from a fundamentalist Christian to an atheist, I chanced upon an amazing book called “God is red: a native view of religion” by Vine Deloria Jr.

    It was the first time I had ever read a critique of Christianity and the way it deconstructed parts of the Bible just blew me away. It provided me with another perspective, and I credit that book for allowing me to escape my religious indoctrination. Others may have an entirely different reaction to that book, but it helped set me free.

    By the way, my absolutely favourite book of short stories is “One Good Story, That One” by Thomas King.

    • Vine Deloria Jr. was also the son of an Episcopal priest and was himself a theologian. I highly recommend all of his books. He had an excellent understanding of Christianity and of how it has impacted indigenous peoples, but his analyses range far beyond religion as well. His books have an honoured spot on my shelves:)

  12. NewDawn says:

    Many cultures hold their stories and songs sacred, and rightly so; perhaps it is this to which you refer. May these never be lost, nor misappropriated.

    But stories have a way of traveling, too, and of cropping up with slight variations in widely different cultures; perhaps these can be appreciated for what they are without becoming overly demanding about their provenance. This, too, is an ancient tradition – many of the books in the New Testament, for instance, were not written by those to whom they are attributed; it is widely known that this is mere honorific.

    If we are, indeed, all one people then we share many more connections than differences – and both can be appreciated and honored for what they are. This last bit of wisdom, which has counseled me for decades, came directly to my ear from the mouth of an elder of the Colville Confederation.

    • Many of these stories are not stories that have merely ‘travelled’ and been ‘slightly’ changed along the way. They are outright fabrications that bear no resemblance or connection to our cultures whatsoever. I’ll give you another common and obnoxious example.

      You’ve probably heard of a speech or a letter by Chief Seattle with the quote, “the earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth”. Very nice, very inspiring. Well, as has been pointed out pretty convincingly here, the speech was wholly fabricated by a non-native film director.

      An excellent quote about this speech:

      So off he went [the film director], writing a speech that soon became accepted as the true words of a Native American chief who, in true colonial fashion referred to the president of the US as the Great White Chief and who lamented the death of the buffalo in his much quoted speech.

      Only Chief Seattle never saw a buffalo in his entire life.

      But what’s reality when you can have an indigenous, eco-friendly chief, ideally wearing a feather bonnet, talk about environmental issues. It doesn’t matter if he ever said the things people attribute to him as indigenous people aren’t real anyway, or, if real, then long gone.

      Or so the Western discourse.

      There is nothing innocent about this kind of fabrication, nothing worthy in replacing our cultures with images that are more palatable to the western eye.

      We have a right as indigenous peoples to have our stories attributed properly, and to weed out fabrications and have them labelled as such. This is not asking more than the intellectual property rights granted to non-natives under Canadian law, so why would we ever demand less?

  13. NewDawn says:

    Granted. And, thanks to those who choose for truth over fantasy, the fabricated stories have become much more transparent with time, and the quest to preserve cultural identity and heritage has become much more passionate and informed within just two or three decades.

    But this is neither the beginning, nor the end, of the journey. There are portions that should must walked as a culture, and portions that must be experienced as part of a larger wholeness if the future is to hold any promise. We’ve become pretty good at learning what it means to be separate; but self-revelation of our true nature is a quest unanswered by most.

    • It’s admirable to aspire to a unified humanity. It is nice to think of how all humans have similar needs and aspirations on a fundamental level. However, when this is given equal time or even replaces entirely a critical analysis of colonisation and the tangible ways in which ‘sameness’ is enforced via assimilationalist policies that denigrate and obscure our legitimate differences, I get a little annoyed.

      I don’t know if that is where you are going with this, but it sure rings bells.

      We cannot merely ‘think’ our way out of oppression. We cannot merely have good thoughts about every human being’s fundamental sameness, because this is not a concept that is widely shared by those who create and enforce the power structures that prevent us from self-actualising on our own terms. Nor is it the job of oppressed groups to ‘liberate the oppressors through education’.

      We are often asked to become saintly in our pursuit of self-determination. To ‘lead by example’, to never show anger, to be utterly kind and compassionate in every way, to ‘be more traditional’ and do *things people outside our cultures think are traditional*.

      We are expected to discuss the ways in which we are burdened by systemic and institutionalised oppression, but in a way that always acknowledges the “good people who aren’t like this”…almost always an expectation held by those in the audience who have no understanding of their own privilege or complicity in these systems and believe themselves to be exceptions.

      Failure to do this has us branded as angry, clouded, unreasonable, unobjective…take that further and we become the reason there is racism and bigotry, because we don’t just ‘get over it’ or because we bring it up or because we have offended people who ‘wouldn’t have been bigoted otherwise’.

      Telling us how to pursue decolonisation is oppressive and directly contradicts any claim to support our right to self-determination.

      Our indigenous ways of knowing are already rich with an understanding of our place in the the world, including our relationships with those around us. We do not need reminders of our common humanity. We need proof that those supporting such notions are willing to put their words into action, without this being conditioned upon whether or not we have asked nicely for this to be done.

  14. NewDawn says:

    A powerful statement, based in experience and well-spoken. I wish your ability to listen ran as powerfully deep. I wish ALL our ears were so open. Shantam.

  15. Hey! Just wanted to thank you for educating the vast majority of us who just don’t know about the “colonisation” of indigenous stories and the importance of giving them provenance. I didn’t feel a “cultural superiority” from you that others have commented on–just passion that I admire.
    I’m a fan of the world coming together in peace, holding hands and shit, but why not protect the things that make us unique?
    I have to say I’m GUTTED that “we belong to the earth, the earth doesn’t belong to us” is totally fake. I sewed that patch onto my book bag in high school and touted that shit everywhere! I’ll blame the hippies. Peer pressure. Okay, it’s ignorance.

    • You aren’t the only one who feels let down. I mentioned how empowering it can be as a native person to encounter these sayings, speeches, stories or what have you. To then find out they are just another part of the romanticisation (or villainisation) of us is pretty upsetting. We are fed a pan-Indian pablum that is so often the invention of non-indigenous peoples and it isn’t helping. It is further erasing the uniqueness of our individual cultures, making it even harder to reconnect or stay connected. To have people then claim that it’s mostly harmless, or that it’s an attempt to honour us, or whatever other justifications get used, is extremely upsetting. It demonstrates a real lack of understanding of what these kinds of fabrications do to us all, native and non-native alike.

    • Maskwasit says:

      I too am “flounced” by this discovery. A close family friend, an Anishnabe from Manitoulin Island, used to say “the land doesn’t belong to people, the people belong to the land” so I’m really shocked to hear that it’s a Hollywoodism. This just illustrates how hard it can be to separate the traditional from the colonial. Not just we shouldn’t try. But, damn is it hard.

  16. Noni Mausa says:

    Oh yeah. I tried tracking down a story a few years ago, tracing it through a bunch of new age sources back to this Alan Cohen book Turns out he’s the Chicken Soup magnate.

    He wrote of an African tribal custom where each child has a personal song from birth to death. What tribe, I wondered? Though I tried to contact the author, in the end I only got an email from some representative saying she didn’t know what tribe it was and it didn’t matter because it was a teaching story.

    It mattered to me because frankly Scarlet, if a social practice is being set out as an example of how to live, it darn well better have been tried out in the real world, not just played like a computer simulation in somebody’s generic and nonexistent tribal village. For instance, Cohen says, “…there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity…” Glurge.

    It’s possible this might happen sometimes, but really. Does this sound like it would work in real life? “Be good, or we’ll all sing at you.”

    A slight change in a story can make a big difference in its meaning. Suppose the Little Red Hen had tried making her libertarian cake without anyone’s help at all? She wouldn’t have ever had a slice, with or without company. To bake at all she needed and had lots of help. The unnamed helpers in her story grew and harvested the grain and sugar, milked the cows, made butter, cultured the yeast, gathered the firewood, researched and tested the recipes, and hammered out the pans she baked the cakes in. She was just the end user of work previously done by dozens of people, many she would never meet.

    Thanks for this post. People need to remember how important stories are, and why you don’t mess with them unless you know exactly what you’re doing.


  17. wondering says:

    You title your piece “Check the tag on that ‘Indian’ story” indicating that “Indian” is an incorrect term just as some stories are incorrectly attributed to a First Nation. However, your website uses the colonial term “aboriginal” even though the Grand Council of Ontario Anishinabek chiefs have called such a term “genocidal.”
    Anishinabek Nation leader Patrick Madahbee said, “Trying to lump First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples together … is disrespectful of the truly distinct nature of the communities …”
    A Haudenosaunee said the term “aboriginal” was anathema because they call themselves Onkwehonwe (“Original Peoples”) while the prefix ab- means “away from,” hence “away from original.”

  18. Holly Stick says:

    There is another instance I know of, a very moving quotation attributed to Chief Crowfoot of the Siksika that includes “…What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night…” If you google “Crowfoot” and “firefly” you can find it all over the place and it has fooled many people. It’s in the Canadian Encyclopedia and is on at least one Siksika website.

    The quotation really comes from the book King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard, in the dying speech of a fictional African chief. This was explained in 1990 here:

    And this blogger seems to have figured it out on his own:

  19. Emo says:

    However, for my own selfish reasons I have to challenge you to take a look at how amazingly few Cree-language stories we’ve got to work with right now.

    Ahenakew published two very short (illustrated) stories of Wisahkecahk (one 1988, one 1999, they’re two unrelated stories, BTW) but for those of us trying to learn Cree there is very little to work with.

    As you know, too, many of the resources (be they stories for children or explicit language-learning resources) are produced by Christian missionaries… and, at a minimum, they’ve got all the problems you complain of in the article above, plus problems of phonetic/phonemic errors (also something you don’t want to teach to your children).

    Obviously, it’s a separate blog posting… but I assume that you have been looking through the Cree-related storybooks for some time (i.e., me too) and probably not finding all that much to work with.

    • No, there certainly isn’t much published out there, but then again, a book is not the best place to go for our stories. So very much is lost on the paper compared to hearing the story in person. And whether it has always been this way or not, there are some pretty strict rules about when some of these stories can be told or even talked about by name, so I’m not sure having them in print works on many levels at all.

      It would be nice to get to a point where it’s safe to tell these stories and not have them ripped off…pardon, I mean ‘collected’, published, and profited off by ‘academics’. It would be nice for there to be an increased respect for the oral traditions. Perhaps then the tradition of storytelling could be revived in all its sensory complexity and for a wider audience. I’d much rather have legitimate storytellers in a theatre than books on the shelf, to be quite honest.

      • Emo says:

        …but, as a language-learning resource …you need something to work from, ideally with both audio-recordings, and writing on paper.

        I wouldn’t mind if the stories concerned were non-sacred (people sometimes forget that the Cree also have plenty of non-sacred stories…) but it seems like the level of work involved in preparing a book for print has had the opposite effect to the one you mention, i.e., people primarily (or only) make this level of effort for sacred stories (despite sensitivities and prohibitions).

        P.S. you allude again to academics making money out of these stories… (1) yeah, I suppose Freda Ahenakew was “an academic”, but (2) if she did make any money out of the stories she published, I don’t think that she should be reviled for it. Nobody’s perfect: the books could have been published on a non-profit basis (and, yes, virtually all of these books have a slew of logos from all the government departments that donated money to support the publishing) but publishing children’s stories would earn a career academic less money than almost anything else they could do with their time.

        • I am most certainly not including Freda Ahenakew in the list of non-native academics profiting off the unsourced, unattributed stories of indigenous peoples and I am sorry if you in any way got that impression as it is wholly divorced from my position on this.

        • Just to make sure people don’t get mussed up here: I am quite familiar with the details of the publishing of the texts that Freda and Chris, and nobody made any money off of those books, nor did any of the elders interviewed – beyond proper protocol gifts, etc. The costs of printing them, etc., crushed them, actually. So much so that the publisher couldn’t sustain printings. The only people making money are the booksellers you buy them from.

      • Real quick: Plains Cree is actually the best represented aboriginal language in print in North America (with Navajo being one of the only stern competitors). The fact that people seem unaware of them (including you guys??) is the main problem.

        There is no profit off of these books. NONE. There is NO PROFIT. I’ll type it again if I have to. ESPECIALLY if they are in the original language. Not even Cree people buy them or read them. It’s more of a political statement – to spend the years laboring carefully over them and getting them published.

        Before you guys get too wound on academics doing xyz about these sorts of things, you may want to transcribe, orthographize, and translate 5 minutes of fluent Cree speech suitable for publication. I’ve done a lot more than 5 minutes, and I can tell you definitively that it’s an enormous, painstaking task with zero reward at the other end of it. For those outside of the work, it’s easy to ignore because it happens before any of you pick up the book.

        None of the actual people whose speech is represented in any of these books (kahkiyaw ê-kî-nakataskêcik) has ever expressed anything but delight at having their discourses represented so carefully, and gratitude to people like H.C. Wolfart and Freda Ahenakew for spending hundreds of hours to make sure they get the best possible representation they can.

        • Jeff, while I appreciate your outrage as a linguist, I’m not going to accept having my position on this conflated with an attack on H.C. Wolfhart, Ahenakew or other legitimate academics. Scroll back up and take a look again at the Raven book I listed and re-orient yourself within the argument I am actually making. These kinds of collections, undertaken by people claiming to have the expertise necessary to collect such stories, without attribution, are the ones that make money, publish more and attract my ire. These are the books you are much more likely to find in the library or the bookstore and are more likely to see used in the classroom. Note my scare quotes on ‘academics’. I have no idea how being a ‘distinguished poet’ makes one qualified to publish a book like “Raven the Trickster” and not be laughed at, but it was put in there as some sort of justification.

          Absolutely I am mostly unaware of legitimate books out there. Many are out of print, or are not listed anywhere accessible as resource materials. Other linguists may be very familiar with them, but in the main the public is not. Instead, we are familiar with the hundreds of ‘Native American legends and myths’, published by a wide range of non-natives with no community credibility.

          If you have a list of books that are legitimate and available, that would be fantastic.

  20. Emo says:

    BTW, on exactly this topic, do you already know the book by Paul Chaat Smith, Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong? I just used google to confirm that you haven’t mentioned it before on this website (and, hey, it was only published in 2009, so it’s possible that you haven’t seen a copy):

    A collection of reviews of the book has been posted here:

    I recall at least two examples of exactly this kind (i.e., exactly the type discussed in your article above) wherein the author demonstrates that an allegedly-indigenous source (regarded as definitive by white people) was of 100% non-indigenous origins (and usually serving some kind of Christian and/or white supremacist agenda).

    • Great mention, and no I haven’t seen it. I did just pick up Seeing Red detailing English-language media portrayals of native peoples from 1869 to 2009. These kinds of books are great for further research into the subject, but I do find them fairly tiresome to read. Although I’m forced to read a ridiculous number of academic writings, I don’t necessarily enjoy it the way others manage to.

  21. Claire says:

    I’m wondering about Paul Goble’s Iktomi stories, actually — I loved them (especially the illustrations) when I was a kid, and although he was born in England, he seems to have been “adopted” by Chief Edgar Red Cloud in the Black Hills (according to Wikipedia, anyway). I can’t find anything else about his background so that could be a load of horse hooey, and I’ve no idea if he attributes whoever told him the stories inside the books, but my guess is no. Ditto Jean Craighead George, as I loved “Julie of the Wolves”, but guarantee she didn’t mention any Inuit sources or helpers in the acknowledgements.

    • A…habit I have when I go into bookstores is immediately finding any ‘Native American’ section. I did this yesterday and found two books containing collections of Inuit stories.

      The first was called Unikkaaqtuat: An Introduction to Inuit Myths and Legends collected by Neil Christopher. Inside the book, there was no mention made of who told him these stories, and the locations were very vague like “South Baffin Region”. There were also ‘explanations’ of what the stories mean after each story. That was…bizarre. Cultural Coles Notes? Ooookay.

      Then right beside it was another book from McGill-Queen’s University Press called Uqalurait: An Oral History of Nunavut. There appears to have been fairly extensive consultation with various communities, all listed, and every single story had its providence provided in a fantastic index at the beginning. Some appeared to be ‘re-collected’ from previous sources (possibly questionable in accuracy), while others were ‘collected’ directly.

      How difficult is it to do this? To just give credit to the people who hold these stories? To identify where they come from?

      I have no idea if anyone was paid to provide their stories, or if there is any profit sharing involved. Perhaps that information is in the book itself, which I obviously did not have enough time to make a thorough review of. But the two approaches, side by side, and ostensibly new publications, was quite informative.

      And all I would ask of people interested in buying these kinds of books, is that they do even the most cursory examination before purchasing what is supposedly ‘our stories’. I think it would go a long way to promoting a more ethical and useful approach. And I would love a section within the ‘Native American’ (terribly named) section for publications coming from communities themselves, rather than through Universities or non-native ‘collectors’.

      • The Oral Narrative book you’re talking about there is truly a beautiful piece and represents the best of scholarship for us on the academic side. I would love to do something like it for Plains Cree communities…

    • thecheshirekitteh says:

      Neither here nor there, but I also loved “Julie of the Wolves”. 🙂

  22. Emo says:

    Elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about:

    Anne Cameron’s Daughters of Copper Woman:

    Believe me, even I don’t want to talk about it…

    Daughters of Copper Woman is a gift that was passed to us from some wonderful, gentle, tough and enduring old women. It has been classed as ‘fiction’ by some but for me it is as true as the Bible is true. […]
    I have an obligation. And that obligation includes melding and merging Native and non-Native reality as it is lived on this coast. And anyone who doesn’t like it can get in line to kiss my arse.

  23. Rami says:

    Thank you for addressing this topic! It is a hoary one. And my response is lengthy, sorry!

    Starting with the elephant in the comment above, I read “Daughters of Copper Woman” as a teenager. I admit, I loved it: for its allegory, for alternative, woman-celebrating archetypes seemingly validated by cultures more deeply embedded in the geography of my childhood than my own. (I am a non-native west coast person.) It fit my developmental need for mythology, with a counter-culture twist. It reinforced “truths” that felt really good to me as a young woman. It was a shock a few brief years later to learn that this work was an outrageous cultural appropriation, and forever made problematic ANYTHING claiming to have “native” origins but reproduced by non-natives.

    In university, I majored in cultural anthropology, coming from curiosity about humanity and “universal truths”…When we look at the great diversity of human cultures in detail, what stands up as true across them all? What is innate to humanity? But what really caught me was detail and difference: the profound challenge to my sense of “normal” or “true”. Like the radical eye-opening experience of traveling very far to very different places, I enjoyed the jarring sensation of being knocked out of certainty. I still do. Because every culture has different assumptions of “normal” and “true” that are as valid (and questionable) as mine. I ultimately left the discipline because of what seemed like irreconcilable ethical issues around research and privilege, exploitation, “othering”, “objectivity”, etc. but I am grateful for the picture of human diversity that I still hold. It is freeing.

    I stumbled upon a book some months ago that was an ethnographic collection of stories from a particular band on Vancouver Island, gathered in 1905 by an early anthropologist there. With the major caveats that: no writing and translation process is truly objective (the writer/translator brings their own cultural and intellectual assumptions to the process); no book can capture a full expression of an oral tradition; and who knows what the impact of the recording had on the people who shared it—with these caveats it is a fascinating document, clearly positioned in history and cultural space.

    I did not buy the book and have not been able to find it again, but the story I read stuck in my mind because it was SO STRANGE. It did not have the shape of a European, western story in any way. Time is distorted. Transitions between human / animal form were presented as unremarkable fact. The “moral” of the story as much as I could get from one reading had nothing to do with the archetypes of my familiar culture. Social forms of status and power and bounds of appropriate behaviour were barely recognizable to my understanding. This is precisely what is most valuable to me any time I have deeper access to an “other” culture: I know NOTHING. What I believe to be true and normal and “universal” needs to be questioned ALL THE TIME. I still have to function and make choices based on my limited perspective, but I do that knowing that every piece of my understanding is CONDITIONAL: dependent on time, culture, family, personality.

    And I can’t stop thinking about the story! It was full of interesting imagery and ideas, still generates all kinds of questions in my mind. I wish I could find it again because there are layers upon layers there that I only glimpsed. It doesn’t give me that quick and satisfying “Aha” feeling of the archetypes that are labeled “Native Wisdom”, as you point out here. I would LOVE for there to be bridges of understanding, for archetypes to come through and resonate between cultural traditions, but not through laziness or theft or misattribution. Honoring the full, rich context of stories, shared willingly–with credit–could be a valuable way of building respect for and awareness of diverse and rich cultures. But we have to accept strangeness I think, to get to the meat, otherwise we are just hearing the dominant stories retold, just validating again a narrow frame of understanding. Can we do that with honor and grace, given a history of exploitation and abuse? I hope so, and I don’t know.

    • Noni Mausa says:

      The “very strange book” you mention — might it have been “Potlatch” by George Clutesi? (I have a copy but who knows where it is at the moment.) It was indeed a very strange book to the ears of this American-Norwegian baby boomer. I can’t even guess how truthful it was to the celebration being described, but one hint it wasn’t a new age appropriation was the lack of warm and cuddly morals and teaching tales.

      Books and stories from other cultures should sound strange. That’s why they’re “other.”

      I think, to inject a little kindness into this discussion, that the modern mainstream North Americans are story-starved. The stories that bounce around in our heads come packaged like spam on TV and movies, even in commercials, God help us. And that’s a deep primal need, simply because without the capacity to create and pass along stories, we as humans would never have built culture, a cultural memory, passed along new knowledge about unexplored lands and environments. We would always be learning everything from scratch.

      So, surrounded by stacked tins of spam (or worse) it’s not surprising that we might try to hook some authentic dishes off the cultural plates of others. That doesn’t make it right, but it’s understandable.


      • Perry Bulwer says:

        Interesting that you mention George Clutesi, Noni. I submitted a comment to this thread about an hour ago that referred to Clutesi. There was no “waiting for moderation” note when I submitted it so perhaps it got lost in cyberspace. Here is a copy of what I wrote in that comment.

        I’ve been following this fascinating conversation by email subscription. For some reason, the comment by Rami triggered a memory of Tseshaht artist and writer, George Clutesi, coming to my Port Alberni school in the late 1960s to talk about and read stories from his book, Son of Raven, Son of Deer.

        “He became one of the first native people to write about First Nations legends and customs, formerly the realm of anthropologists and folklorists.”

        As an aside, I grew up just a mile or so from the residential school in Port Alberni, but like most people, knew nothing about it. In fact, I didn’t learn anything about it until I went to university in the early 1990s and began to study west coast history, read books like An Iron Hand Upon The People, and listen to the stories of survivors. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission will be holding hearings in Port Alberni soon to hear many of those stories.

  24. morehistory says:

    One that no one has mentioned in this thread, Nanook of the North.

    An early fake, and probably the first “filmed” one — a good friend had this one used in one class to teach critical thinking and proper research. The class was shown it and asked to write an essay about it — most did, without finding anything out about it’s origins. My friend was the only one that did some research on the film itself.

    It does show, however, that with the right spin and in the right forum, it’s easy to fool most of the people. (Also kind of sad).

  25. Rami says:

    @Noni I did some online digging to see if I could find the book in question, and I believe it was a recent reprint of “Kwakiutl Tales” which were stories gathered primarily by George Hunt for Frans Boas. That would be the same people who potlatch. Or it may have been Tsimshian, recorded by someone else. I remember that the book credited someone who worked with Boas but I didn’t remember it being Hunt, whose descendents include quite well known sculptors and artists and whose name I knew. In any case, not simplified or prettified for the spam can 🙂

  26. Rami says:

    I found a source for pdf versions of “Kwakiutl Texts” and many other documents here.

    The site provides all sorts of background and current material on BC First Nations. The free, downloadable copies of the “Kwakiutl Texts” are via the American Museum of Natural History Research Library (Franz Boas’ employer).

  27. John Scull says:

    You mention the fake Chief Seattle speech. You might be interested in an article I wrote a few years ago about the provenance of this speech.
    Both Christian and environmentalist words being put into Seattle’s mouth.

  28. Gretchen says:

    It’s not exactly a story, but another example of mis-use of cultural attribution for the sake of an easy analogy is the “Inuit have X many words for snow” statement. The bloggers at Language Log call this a “snowclone” and collect examples of people (mis-)using this construction, for example

  29. Capt. John Swallow says:

    Ye make a good point for research – which astoundingly, with the resources we now have at our fingertips, folk forget to do for even the simplest things.
    While there is not as much available as we might wish in terms o’ Original Peoples history available in this fashion, it’s understandable – it’s been largely an oral history and has had some very obvious hurdles (read: huge, gaping, pits) when it has come into contact with so called “settlers”. It is harder still for other reasons too…loss o’ elders who remember/keep the history, loss o’ language (and likely many things that don’t translate properly into a foreign language – especially one as convoluted as English), and the simple fact that there are – as in many families – young people who have no interest in hearing/learning history from “old people”…though the same youth often learn to regret that choice later in life! Of course there is also the age old issue o’ folks who unfortunately gave up (ie. hid) their identity and culture trying to survive and perhaps “fit in”…which makes it even harder for us to trace our ancestors.

    Thankfully there are those – like yerself – working to preserve culture, language and truth…and those who listen and pass it on. Keep up the good work…may we all bring such honour to all our relations!

    Just a side note to what I am hearing as “not yer favourite parable” I originally came across the “Two Wolves” story years ago on a site that seems to be held as reputable in the internet communities of First Peoples – Canku Ota – where they do accredit their sources for stories and such they post. The story in question is attributed a: “Niizh Ma’iinganag (Two Wolves) sent by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)” (with no mention o’ the Cherokee Nation),
    Mr. Severud has ancestry in the area he now lives and describes himself thus: “Greetings from the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation and the Chippewa Flowage…
    Ondamitag is short for the Ojibwe word Ondamitagos (my nickname) which means
    ‘Causes Others to Lose Track of Time by Talking’. His bio is a bit more specific – unfortunately Mr. Severud left this plane early (at 55) in 2010.

  30. Did you see the post I did way back on the “Cree Saying” about eating money that gets put up everywhere? I found a Plains Cree version of it…

    I’m pretty much in agreement with you about these things. Seeing that stupid thing get posted all over Facebook a few years back by people who (theoretically) ought to know better got me pretty cranky…

  31. tots says:

    or, you know, maybe too groups of people had similar ideas.

  32. Sharon Jackson says:

    This is just a heads up for you. You don’t have to approve this for this post, I was uncertain about which one would be appropriate. I just found out that Johnny Depp will be playing Tonto in the next Disney Film of the Lone Ranger. Jesus. That is terrible.

    Here is an article with a picture. He looks like a complete idiot.

  33. Katrina Payne says:


    I’m somebody who has grown up around a lot of First Nations people… and as an adult, they are actually the sorts that are more likely to be people I have crushes over, and want to have a more uh… adult relationship with. They are also who tends to be the majority of my closest friends.

    This article states something I’d noticed… but wasn’t certain was accurate on my own part.

    See, I still mentally think of myself as that stupid white girl who hangs around the rez wanting to pick up the people there. So there are things that I won’t mention, as I’m fairly certain that I’m wrong… or mistaken… or really delusional about.

    Your article mostly just states something that well… I was fairly certain was the case… but well, didn’t have any way of actually knowing was actually what I knew. If that makes any damned sense here?

    Also on a related note: my father’s side of the family are all racists, and I’ve heard some pretty impressive rants against First Nations.

    There is also suppositions that there might be some First Nations blood in my body from the “Black Spots” in my Dad’s family history… and that I look visibly Cree.

    I will state, to help the process along, that as a result I have none of the First Nations stories from my own family. As a result, I’ve never heard or known what they would be.

    Which on the context of the situation presented here, this added detail… should help people cry down some of the stories in these books.

    (Since I cannot confirm my history, a side effect has me referring to myself as the “local rez stupid white bitch”… which well, uh… is something I tend to notice in how the stories confirmation work… a mindset or idea on… eh, it is weird to actually explain. It is just something that is done, I suppose?)

  34. S. Darby says:

    For what it’s worth, there’s a thread on Google Answers in which someone who grew up in Oklahoma reports having heard the ‘Two Wolves’ story in the 1950’s at a Sunday school run by a Cherokee Baptist Church – well before the Billy Graham version:

  35. Jade says:

    Regarding this, I’m wondering if you know whether this quote that’s going around, supposedly Cherokee, is authentic, “a woman’s highest calling is to lead a man to his soul so as to unite him with Source. A man’s highest calling is to protect woman so she can walk unharmed on the earth.” Several people have claimed it is fake and I must say it got my knickers in a twist seeing a whole bunch of my European descended friends liking it, posting it and generally using it to back up chauvinistic relationships in our Australian culture. I’d assume even if it’s real it’s taken right out of context? I didn’t realise so many of the quotes I was seeing were false. I guess it’s pretty common cultural abuse. Probably not always with malicious intent, but still false. Btw if you see my email it includes my middle name which I really hope doesn’t offend, as it’s attributed to Native Americans, but certainly isn’t considering Native American naming rules. The borrowing was done by well intentioned hippy parents who at the time weren’t aware of the cultural connotations or sensitivities. It is also a word in other languages so I now consider it a Hebrew and Indian name, not Native American. Really hope that’s not offensive.

  36. Jade says:

    Oop, I have just found the answer mentioned on your tumblr, please disregard question 🙂

  37. Elizabeast says:

    Love your blog. Love especially how you make the effort to politely engage with totally stupid sounding condescending criticism and obnoxious assertions. And disengage politely. You are awesome.

  38. J. Zimmerman says:

    trying to be an ally, website is good info

  39. Dan says:

    Thanks for posting this particular case, which was brilliantly presented and discussed, and for drawing attention to the general problem. Please never delete it. Fact checking is never wasted. It would be great to compile more misattributions that modify, blame, praise, or twist native culture, philosophy and history. They are just as bad as personal misattributions, plus more harmful when they trivialize a culture or misdirect our understanding away from the true values that should be preserved. We need a compilation for cultural reassignments like the very useful list of bad quotations in “”A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions” P.F. Boller Jr. and J. George. Unfortunately, it sounds like another myth has been reinforced, that when someone (for example, an academic) tries to verify stories and put them down on paper to slowly clear the fog away, they are doing it for imagined profits, and part of the problem. The whole concept of fake quotes and stories (native America, Arab, African, Chinese, you name it, has to become common knowledge, replacing the fake stories with a little respectful skepticism. Western North American native culture seems like it would be a good place to put more effort (“Go west, …”, as Horace Greely never said).
    PS. I heard an excellent discussion years ago on CBC that I have never been able to find again, by two native authors/academics in eastern Canada, about how “Mother Earth” was not a native American concept or term, but was transferred from European or other culture to various purported native american sources, in order to borrow credibility. If someone could find the transcript, or more written on that interview or subject, it would be another useful step.

  40. Duke Vipperman says:

    The link to the research on the origins of the 2 wolves quote seems to have gone stale (Pavor Nocturnus). I am interested in the rest of what he/she wrote. Any possibility you could find the updated link for us?

  41. Brint Moltke says:

    Trite, Hallmark-calibre moral sound bytes are often attributed to marginalized, romanticized cultures: Buddhism is another frequent contemporary subject of such behaviour, and African American ‘southern wisdom’ aphorisms were popular prior to integration, for example.

    • I’ve noticed that a lot of lame lovey style quotes get attributed to Shakespeare on the internet, too. Not that he’s particularly marginalized, but it infuriates me nonetheless. I can’t imagine what it must be like to see fabricated works from one’s own culture be taken as authentic.

  42. Spencer says:

    First time I heard this story it was, strangely, not presented in the context as a “Cherokee legend.” I originally assumed it was an 1800s German or British parable with a few details changed for modern consumption. It was only just today that I heard the story with the “Cherokee wisdom” thing added, and I’ve been studying folklore long enough that it kinda set off alarms…Most pre-industrial stories, even European ones compiled after the rise of Christianity throughout Europe, tend to be a bit strange to our way of thinking, and rarely wrap up in such a nice, neat moral lesson. Thanks so much for putting this post out there–it’s one thing to get a simple “yes” or “no” answer about things like this, but I really appreciate the in-depth nature of this article, as well as the resources. Please don’t ever delete this; it’s a very excellent response to cultural misappropriation in general. Thank you for you words 🙂

  43. Susan says:

    Well, things like that happen. Even within the same western cultures – e.g. the brothers Grimm were always be said to have written down ancient fairy tales of the simple native rural folk here in germany. Truth is however, that they translated lots of french fairy tales, changed them a little bit and – tadaaa – presented them as old wives tales. They never ever went around germany and listened to the farmers and old wives.
    What I wanted to say is, that things like that happen all the time.

    • Absolutely things like this happen, and I’m not advocating for a completely purist approach. However, when my daughter is provided with a story in her class that supposedly comes from her people, I want that story to be authentic. So much of our indigenous cultures have been suppressed and lost to many of us over the years as the result of deliberate government policy. This issue cannot and should not be discussed without that context firmly in mind. Our cultures are still being erased and written over, and presenting these kinds of stories as “ours” is a part of that. Being aware of this will, I’m hoping, have people questioning and being more critical minded when presented with such texts.

  44. K says:

    “Um…wait a second. Do indigenous cultures also believe in black=evil, white=good? I mean, pre-Christianity? Anyone? No? I didn’t think so.”

    LOL @ the above.

    Moral dualism existed eons before Christianity.

    • That does not mean that black=evil and white=good in all cultures. The symbolism used to represent moral dualism is not universal.

      • David Smith says:

        …but if you read the christian origins (the billy graham quote) he said no such thing. the story specifically says that sometimes the white one wins, sometimes the black. (that sentence or two seem misplaced in this article)

        • Mike says:

          I got to this blog because someone who said he was “a fan of Native American wisdom and rhetoric” quoted the two-wolves story as a “Cherokee parable” That didn’t ring true to me, so I did a search and found your information. So thank you âpihtawikosisân, for the research.

          I do have to point out that your criticism “Oh oh oh! I get it! Black is evil, and white is good! Traditional indigenous wisdom galore! Um…wait a second. Do indigenous cultures also believe in black=evil, white=good? I mean, pre-Christianity? Anyone? No? I didn’t think so.” Is immediately contrary to your text. Graham did not say that and you are guilty of falsely attributing based on your own bias. Your next paragraphs criticize people for mis-attributing and for lack of critical thinking. This appears to be hypocrisy in this matter.

          • Lol. No, actually he does say this, pretty clearly. The entire chapter this quote comes from is about the good/evil dichotomy, and you would have to present some VERY compelling evidence for me to believe for a second that Billy Graham, against all western tradition to the contrary, believes black to represent good, and white to represent evil.

            You see, I don’t just write these resources for you to consume, and not do any of your own digging. I lay it out, and I provide you with sources so you can see for yourself. If I do not present the entire text for you to peruse IN my blog, it’s because I expect you to go look at it for yourself.

            You’re welcome!

  45. Atomsk says:

    Great read! I’m Hungarian and love folk tales and legends of all kinds and of every origin a lot, Hungarian ones also of course, and we have loads and loads of collections and transcripts, with attributions and proper phonetic notations (I’m not an expert on this, just love reading them). Probably hundreds of such books exist just for my own people’s traditions. Of course we have a “nation” and our own country which made things much easier historically, and there were large efforts of conservation during Communism, and we never were oppressed as much as indigenous people, so the situation’s not comparable – but having grown up and enjoyed these for a long time, that a lot of the inspirational crap is fake makes a lot of sense to me.

    “Listening to or reading authentic aboriginal stories means you are accessing different cultures. Please don’t forget that.”

    And that is *exactly* what makes them so interesting and such incredible reading. While I do not have access to nearly enough non-Hungarian folk culture for my taste, I read what I have dozens of times and I know I only get a little closer to their “depth”. But even the Hungarian ones, even the culture I’m familiar with, is easily misrepresented by popular urban culture. Even here, people cannot differentiate between “real” tradition and its distortions, especially younger people 🙁 And while one would kind of expect “nationalist” governments to support this cause, they also only abuse and exploit it instead of helping :-/

    Anyway. Sorry for the irrelevant rant and thanks for the great read.

  46. thecheshirekitteh says:

    Wado! 🙂

  47. thecheshirekitteh says:

    also, I love the captioning on the wolves pic LOL! XD

  48. Pingback: Twee wolven wonen in mijn hart | De Gestolen GrootmoederDe Gestolen Grootmoeder

  49. marcus fung says:

    Hello Apihtawikosisan,

    I thank you for your blog, i’m enjoying it thoroughly, and love your way of presenting arguments.. I followed this link through the INM website… and am greatful… for the perspective, for the research, the ‘history’, the articles, the blatant opinions, and the efforts to be authentic and ‘respectful’
    so i will offer mine as well,

    as a visitor to this planet, a guest in this vehichle i call my body.

    I’ve read just about every comment on this thread…
    And taken many things into consideration with my head and my heart… and nod my head as i see the potential of history continue to repeat itself…

    I’ve been beaten the shit out, and i’ve beaten the shit out of people… I’ve devoted some of my life, to understanding the nature of conflict…, the heart of conflict, and when it turns to violence…

    i, like others, will have to decide at one point in time or other,
    how i use my energy…and what i offer my attention too…

    i do pray, you continue with your powerful work and contributions

    for myself i give thanks to continue to learn to listen deeply, and be open, to the voices of others, even after i get triggered…, even after i disagree…

    how could i expect any kind of progress, or sustainable understanding to occur regardless of whose ‘side’ or ‘point of view it was on otherwise…

    it’s easy to win a shouting match with a bigger gun, or a bigger mouth.. even a better argument… but There will always be a bigger gun…

    that’s not the battle i want to fight
    please don’t feel sorry for me,
    or waste any more time on me,
    just consider the heart of what it is i’m saying….

  50. Oh it goes so far deeper than just Non-Natives perpetuating this crap on us. Since the Pan-Indian boom of the 60s-70s we (using the Royal “we” encompassing the 500+ Nations in North America) have been destroying our cultures methodically with everything from dreamcatchers, appropriated Plains cultures, to the mindless drivel of people like self appointed Midewewin Grand-Poobah Eddie Benton or criminals and capitalists like Banks and AIM. WE are our own worst enemy. Worse, we are our kids and grandkids worst enemy because we pass this garbage along as “culture” to them and eventually, what’s left of our own individual identities is one big homogenized beige mound of mystical, shaman filled idiocy.

    • I wouldn’t be too hard on one another. If pan-Indianism is all that is left after generations of systemic cultural theft and abuse, can you blame people from clutching onto it tightly? The trick is to move beyond that, but it’s not exactly easy for those who have been disconnected.

  51. Pingback: Food for Thought: Morning Digest | pinkroses & redwine

  52. Good read. Thank you for the info. I am currently writing a feature film loosely based on the concept of the inner struggles of one man, titled The One You Feed. We’d love to have your thoughts and input on our site as well as the final product of the film once it is complete. The website is:

  53. Pingback: Will the wolf survive? Depends if you feed it. Sort of. |

  54. Pingback: The Tale of Two Wolves, Decolonised | Defender Of The Faith

  55. I’ve linked to your article in my decolonised version of the Two Wolves story:

  56. Pingback: Didactic SynCast #83: Return of the Snot Burglar « Didactic Synapse

  57. Pingback: Critical Writing: Desi Gonzales | Recess

  58. Pingback: Check the tag on that “Indian” story. | Astigmatic Revelations

  59. Debra says:

    Thank you very much for this. In the Mohican homeland many stories are attributed to my Mohican ancestors, but they were actually Christian interpretations taken from Northern Plains cultures. Too many end with an Indian girl killing herself because of an unhappy love affair. In the meantime the true Mohican stories have disappeared. It didn’t help that a fire destroyed the Ne York State library in 1911. Additionally, a Native ancestor has been indicted of murder with no proof repeatedly in local histories, I suspect because it was a good story. I’m still trying to clear his name after 16 years of research and I think I’m close to the truth.

  60. Kutamba says:

    Wado Apihtawikosisân. You are awesome, period.

  61. Carol Reynolds says:

    Open mouth insert foot.I can see by what has been said here none of you are Native American Indian.Thank God!

  62. Scott says:

    Thank you for this. I saw the story this week and the word ego really jumped out at me. There’s just no way that word would be in the Cherokee lexicon. There had to be something going on behind the story, so I started looking into it. Nice work!

  63. cenobyte says:

    To add to your partial list of publishers of traditional material: Kakwa, Saskatchewan Indian Culture Centre, University of Regina Press (all of whom have produced both non-fiction and traditional materials. U of R Press is not specifically an Indigenous publisher but the others are), and Purich Publishing and the Native Law Centre produce non-fiction and scholarly books which by definition discuss traditional learning and knowledge as well as jurisprudence and rights.

  64. Penny says:

    This has been fascinating to read. New thoughts abound and I will make it required reading for a course I teach called “Multicultural Assessment and Intervention” in a Speech-Language Pathology program. Thank you all.

  65. Eva says:

    What a great read, I love the comments section, too. It’s so refreshing so read so many well-versed and smart comments!

  66. Brady says:

    Personally I don’t think it matters where the story came from, it still has the same meaning regardless if it was written by some Cherokee or some white guy hell, even if it was some Russian guy who came up with it, all you have to do is just listen to the story. So what if it’s fake, it still has a lot of meaning to it.

    • It’s almost as if you didn’t actually read the part of the article where I explain quite specifically why this is actually harmful. Huh. Weird, I mean, that obviously can’t be what happened. That would be lazy.

  67. Pingback: Warning! Facebook Hoaxes May Trigger Your Bullshit-Meter to Dangerous Levels!

  68. Thank you very much for the information on this. I saw this on Facebook today and something about it just made me want to go look it up and see for myself if it was a genuine thing. I even saw it on a site called “First People”, but there was no information about who owned the site, and it just didn’t “feel right”.

    As a teacher, it shames me a bit to see people put words in the mouths of others, things like the speech that begins “Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion” that is attributed to Chief Seattle, but was more likely the work of a poet. Some now suspect that the “I will fight no more forever” speech attributed to Chief Joseph may NOT have been what he actually said, and may have instead been invented.

    Even when the words are true or kind, I feel bitter to see them wrapped in a lie.

    Culture is likewise important. I’ve lived in Japan for 16 years. Now there is a Hollywood movie starring Keanu Reeves, including magic and all kinds of things: and they say it’s based on the “legend of the 47 Ronin”. The thing is, there really were 47 Ronin who took revenge. The original story was true, and it’s part of Japan’s history and culture. I’m not Japanese, but it seem insulting to me to make some kind of hollywood fantasy story like this. I said, “Great! Perhaps next we can make a movie about George Washington and let him fight dragons!”

    The feeling must be much, much stronger for the Native Americans, whose true traditions and cultures and stories seem to get so little attention compared with all the made-up stories and fake things. It makes me sad.

    • Robert Columbia says:

      Should non-Natives be concerned over stories that misrepresent or distort their own cultures, or otherwise lack cultural authenticity? Consider that many Scottish people have an odd relationship with the movie Braveheart. On the one hand, it is a moving story about fighting for honor and loyalty, but on the other hand, it is a work of fiction that is only vaguely inspired by historical events and, for example, portrays characters wearing kilts in contexts in which they would not normally have been worn.

      • The Scottish people have experienced colonialism from the English, but the Scottish are also heavily complicit in colonialism of the Americas.

        Don’t compare the Scottish to Indigenous peoples of the Americas when the balance of power is so heavily stacked in favour of the latter.

  69. Nowhere in that story told by Billy Graham did he say that either wolf was good or bad. So your point about him identifying black as evil…well, he may have meant that, but in that story, he never said it.

    • Missing the point. The story is not an authentic Cherokee, or any other First Nation story, and it should stop being attributed to Indigenous peoples.

      • Jeffrey Capp says:

        I think, rather, in this instance, you are missing the point – and for good reason(s): I take your larger point about misattribution; and personally I have no interest, whatsoever, in defending Graham on any idiotic point he might try to make, ever!, but – the example of Graham’s does not explicitly make the moral equivalence that you attribute to it. It may seem implicit, and even be so for Christian listeners/readers – a simple Manicheist duality – but for your purposes, rhetorically, there are just too many leaps made to get to your conclusion. If you break it down more, and connect a few more dots for the reader, it might not seem so confusing. As it is now, however, Graham’s story is too easy to read as one about a very savvy “Eskimo” huckster who wins every time, with little moral resonance beyond that. (Which becomes another kind of cultural slight, perhaps, but not the one you are looking to use as illustration here.)
        But, PLEASE, keep up the good work!

  70. Red Haircrow says:

    Greatly appreciated your article, the perspective and your tact and balance when replying to comments, whatever their content. Though I am Native, I happen to be in Europe, and through my work as a writer (freelance journalist for ICTMN and for my own work & collaborations) and activist, I very much agree that these are the things we must address and clarify, and keep educating and/or defending the stance whenever it is necessary.

  71. Pingback: The Wolf Within | The Jesuit Post

  72. Roger Nobles says:

    Blood brings anger, spirit brings understanding, possible by examining intent prior to outrage and condemnation might bridge this cultural gap and finger pointing and find the true meaning of “we are one” Anger blinds one to truth and shouts opinion as facts – many cultural evolution has been a fact among even the indigenous ‘settler’ long before the European settler arrived, and it is not limited to the Americas and Australia, everywhere there has been society, there has also been an invading society.The traditions, the religious and spiritual beliefs, the cultures of both the conquered and conquering peoples were assimilated and evolved.into something new and different. Attempts to preserve the purity of one’s culture are defeated by finger pointing and blame. One needs to be willing to accept personal responsibility, When one is so convinced their perceived culture has been disrespected, maybe they should teach. Many or most are willing to learn, and to correct any mistakes when presented with facts to the contrary. We should all be willing to seek truth through facts, not personal opinion. .

  73. Ted jordan says:

    “Trite western moral lessons are not going to be handed to you in our stories.”

    Lmao. Try Hero With A Thousand Faces and get back to me. Truth is truth no matter the culture. The spiritually alive can see this; the worldly person cannot.

    • Trite claims to the universality (and thus comprehensibility) of all cultures and stories does little to address the fact that unless you know the context, many of our stories simply will not make sense to you.

  74. karen says:

    I love your brain, your heart, your words. Thank you.

  75. Pingback: Feeding The Bad Wolf When You Know You Should Feed The Good – a Biblical lesson from Billy Graham that became a Native American Legend | R.H. Rauschenberger's Blog

  76. apukjij says:

    Can you do a similar expose on the other written-by-white-folks native prophecy which is known as the Rainbow Warriors!!!

  77. michael maestri says:

    you sure told us where to get off.

  78. michael maestri says:

    I think the story your guy attributes to Graham – which I find morally unclear – is message-wise totally unlike the two wolf story – which I find charming and instructive regarding the power we all have to steer our own lives – some people attribute to the Cherokee. And whether you are Native American (whatever that means), or not; sarcasm is not love, and neither is cultural chauvinism.

  79. Where the story comes from isn’t the most relevant, what is encourages in the reader/listener is what matters most. And your comparison between the story of fisherman and his two dogs have nothing in common with the two wolves story other than 8 legs. One is literal and the other is metaphorical.

    • Where the story comes from is absolutely relevant. This is not an Indigenous story. Stories serve very specific and important functions in Indigenous cultures, and they come from our specific worldviews. To distort and misrepresent those worldviews is to erase how we actually see the world. That erasure is linked to a larger erasure, an invisibilizing of Indigenous peoples and cultures. We push back against that because it has actual real-life consequences for us and our communities. That this is just one example of how people make up stories about who we are and what we believe, does not mean it is unimportant.

  80. Kate Cannon says:

    I’ve read about the parable of two wolves in many places, including Facebook. Graham’s story about the two dogs doesn’t seem to have the most important elements of the story. I was wondering if maybe Graham did take this story from an Indian parable and turned it into the dog story, which is much less interesting. You should also note that an Indian nation in Delaware does have this story on its website:

  81. Bruce Peck says:

    I have just found this site – what a blessing. It does make sense that Native American quotes, proverbs and stories are easily misquoted, since the native tradition has been an oral one. What I know about how easy it is for me to miss-quote things, even my own memories, makes it clear that exact transcriptions, if not from legitimate sources that have been written down, can get changed and miss-attributed. I will be doing more work to verify my sources!

    Bruce Peck

  82. James says:

    Thank you for your very insightful comments. I really dislike misattributing quotes because essentially someone is stealing the gravitas and depth of the culture or person they are attributing it to to give their words extra weight.

    I look forward to reading the rest of your site and hopefully gaining some true insight into Native American culture.

  83. Ipsissimus says:

    I just got this “Cherokee” story pushed at me in a job interview (!) and was asked to divulge about my hate wolf. Now, I’m not Native, but I’ve worked on a res and blah blah blah… was an obvious bit of racist crap. Thanks for doing the work to suss out where this came from. (Do wolves even live in the traditional Cherokee homelands? Not so sure…)

  84. when we go to analyze the words or actions of others, ego goes with us – if we justify even the slightest bit of personal irritation, then we’re hating not loving.

  85. Jeffrey Capp says:

    FWIW: This story has now been given the Disney treatment and is the ‘moral lesson’ at the center of TOMORROWLAND.

  86. Umph says:

    Thank you for this. I am not Native American and I got into this argument with a friend who is also not Naive American specifically about this story.

    I always heard it told by white people and was suspicious of it ‘being native’. Going online I found your article and she in response found this:

    Now she believes this source validates her point. Her point being, we don’t know where the story originated from but if there is even one Native person saying it’s authentic we can tell it as such. I want to argue against that, but I am not sure how. Any thoughts? I know you address the issue of Native people being misled by these falsely advertised stories too, but when it’s a tribal website posting it….what can you say..

  87. rightojibwe says:

    I remember a guy I knew was trying out bone craving, he craved a efigy of a bear and an owl, he said wisdom and strength. I didn’t laugh then but told my wife. I just thought of winnie the pooh and the wise old owl. 😀

  88. Tarkabarka says:

    Thank you so much for this! This story crops up everywhere in the storytelling community, and it always sounded suspiciously preachy to me. Thank you for clearing it up. Great post!

  89. Elizabeth P says:

    I just “liked” the wolf parable on Facebook after a friend posted it. After thinking about it for a moment, my bullsh*t detector started to go off. I google it and found your article. Thanks for the education. Just wanted you to know your efforts are not in vain. I’m a little bit better educated now and inspired to learn more about real indigenous stories.

  90. G. Adams says:

    There’s nothing in the story attributed to Billy Graham that says black=evil, white=good. It could just as easily be the other way around. The author’s bias is showing.

    • Read the chapter yourself. Billy Graham opens with this story then explains in great detail how this story represents the two natures within humans…one sinful, and one yearning for divinity. Black and white dualism is expressed throughout the Bible, and in western thought where white is consistently associated with good and black with evil. If you wish to pretend this is not the case, and that maaaaaybe it was intended to be the other way around, feel free to engage in such revisionism. Either way, black and white dualism is still not present in most Indigenous cultures in the Americas, so presenting it as a universal is inappropriate.

      Here is the full chapter:

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  92. Sue Valentine says:

    Is just a nice story. Don’t be so literal

  93. I appreciate all the comments on this. We have a podcast based on this parable, The One You Feed, and it was very helpful to us to not attribute it to anyone given the dispute.

    If you are interested it is at


  94. Dono says:

    Actually that story goes back before 1978. I know for a fact, because I was in High School in 1972 and got “born again”. That was a common story making the rounds back then. I remember it so well. Praise the Lord!

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  96. mysmeade says:

    In the days before Facebook….I read it as a preface to the book The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor (Annick Press). It is slightly altered and attributed to an ancient Anishnabe man. The author is Anishnabe. Only later did I start seeing it pop up online with the “Cherokee legend” embellishment. Then I encountered your site. Thank you.
    I have found this conversation trail very interesting and appreciate the Aboriginal perspective on it and factual tracing of origins and sharing of information.

  97. Susanna says:

    May I leave a comment on behalf of true Christianity? It has little to do with what black & white thinkers of any culture proclaim. Jesus was brown and hung with all types. And loved them all equally. Racism and black & white thinking only come in when an insecure, fearful and/or egotistic person, club, society or country — of whatever or no faith — decides this is a legitimate add-on to their ‘legislated beliefs’. Yes, horrors have been done ‘in the name of Christianity’ but I do hope people can understand — perhaps by doing some research themselves — that ALL of it in fact goes against everything Jesus stood for, taught, and died for.

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  101. zigzagbuddha says:

    I once had a dream where i had inadvertently stumbled into what surely must have been the official location of Hell. The stairway to get there was steep and narrow and pitch dark besides. Hell itself consisted of a long hallway full of open doorways (without an actual door on any of them). There were sometimes flames in some parts of the huge ‘rooms’ but they were not the reason for all the sorrowful, piteous wailing and lamenting and pulling out of hair by the roots that was going on inside the rooms… that was caused by the absolute, relentless, unforgiving focus of the ‘inhabitants’ minds. I was stunned why they were in there doing that instead of just walking out the open doors and making their way to the fresh air and sunshine! I tried to get them to notice the open doors and realize they had a choice, but they couldn’t even see me or hear me so focused were they on their pain and suffering. And then it was time for me to go so i went.

    I have a deck of tarot cards that uses dragons instead of either wolves or dogs to illustrate the teaching that whatever you ‘feed’ with your attention and focus will grow stronger. Granted, the creator of the deck is not attributing the analogy to a Cherokee grandfather (or a Baptist preacher), but it is the teaching that is important in the long run, not who said it – or who didn’t say it but that somebody else said that they said it, hahaha. Life is like a dream and so is history – every set of eyes sees it differently and every set of lips tells it differently – and for all any of us knows a variation of the parable could have originally been uttered by some Icelandic Princess!

    The crimes that men and women have perpetuated on one another, and on this living space ship some call Planet Earth, throughout our bloody history is pretty embarrassing, to say the least, no matter how you ‘color’ it, but it has got us where we are today… on the brink of awakening to who we really are (individual aspects of the energy that creates worlds) and to a more harmonious, richly rewarding future. That’s where i’m headed anyway, i can’t speak for anyone else.

  102. Various people collaborated on these anti-memes of the awful Two Wolves memes, but I know your research was instrumental to the wording. If they prove useful… wordy meme

    smaller meme

    – K

  103. The lesson of the wolves was one told throughout my family line. We are Indigenous Mexica (Nahua). My father’s father told him this story. A version of this story is written in my father’s script in our Ofrenda Book of the Dead for our family dated 11 May 1957.

  104. Tom Over says:

    The two-wolves story is morally useful, regardless. But thank you

  105. Jeska says:

    I fucking love this article. This passage never sat well with me. My aunties always explained that this type of duality came in with the church. People still reference this story to me on the regular. And I gently share this article with them.

  106. michael says:

    I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss this as illegitimate.

    I’m sure you are aware of the wolf’s value in cultures across the continent, especially the Algonquin people. Binary thinking is a product of human psychology and not so much cultural construct and so it is wildly probable that Native American people had similar psychological thought-systems to their European Visitors. Take into account the last 300 years of cultural exchange.

    I would like to see more than one article written only 40 years ago! You’ve only scratched the surface of this black-and-white story and there’s so much more to write about. It doesn’t fully hold up to the test of history and cultural exchange

    • Feel more than free to do the research yourself. I’m not buying it. Be careful not to reach so hard you end up falling over.

      Our stories come from specific places, are told by specific people, and are passed down in specific ways. This one doesn’t pass the sniff test. If you desperately wish it to be legit, go on and find these details.

  107. Pam Williams says:

    Well, I learned a valuable lesson thanks to your comments! The essence of the story still rings true for me, although the source may be incorrect.

  108. Barbara says:

    You missed the forest for the trees. At its heart this is an excellent metaphor for life no matter what its origins and so true. I

  109. Maya Bender says:

    This is an excellent article! It’s interesting how parables change over time regarding to whom they are attributed. Noteworthy also that a “Native American grandfather” lends wisdom and weight to the lesson in the parable. I recently saw an episode of a sci-fi show “Killjoys” where this parable was retold from a context of their fictional culture. 🙂

    I have one issue with your article:

    “‘On one Saturday the black dog would win; another Saturday, the white dog would win – but the fisherman always won! His friends began to ask him how he did it. He said, “I starve one and feed the other. The one I feed always wins because he is stronger.’

    Oh oh oh! I get it! Black is evil, and white is good! Traditional indigenous wisdom galore!”

    Where does it say anything about the relative merits of the black or white dog in the quoted story as told by Billy Graham? It has both dogs winning on respective Saturdays. There is no good vs evil regarding color in either the “Eskimo” story or the “Cherokee” story, just the one you feed.

    I don’t mean to detract from the overall tone of the article, but bringing the symbolism of black and white into it without cause cheapens your argument. You have plenty of valid support for why this is a harmful story, colonialism, and appropriation of culture without it.

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  111. John Savage says:

    WOW, THANK YOU. thank you. Your voice is beautiful and it sings with a fiery resonance you make both demanding to be heard in these matters you flesh to a misinformed public, and pleasant ~ a sigh of relief ~ that it can be brought to all our attention – across the board of creed, race, skin tone – with such practical eloquence. I just stumbled upon your page, looking for quality references(!!) and now I’ll be ‘listening in’ more often. Grateful I found you

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  113. Additionalinfo says:

    Great article! Someone I know tells the 2 wolves story often, and claims it is Native American in origin whenever I hear them tell it to a new person. My BS meter has always gone off. So I started looking into the validity of these claims and found that the story was shared by Irish/British author George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) who wrote about 2 dogs fighting. I agree with your blog that in 1978 Billy Graham also shared about the 2 dogs fighting in “The Holy Spirit”

  114. Dante Paul Artois says:

    To say an illustration of broader principals of how a person can feed or starve a trend of behavior, good or bad, and call it colonialism is itself stupidity at its most insidious. It’s just a nice context for a greater truth. And to say that an universal morality does not exist is itself ignorant of ancient historical laws and codes.

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