Letters: Appropriation or respect?

As a person of non-Diné heritage, I appreciate the opinion of the author, especially the recommendations of specific Diné writers’ works. I will be reading them soon. I should also say that I have not read the Rebecca Roanhorse book criticized by Saad Bee Hozho (“Diné writers: We cannot support ‘Trail of Lightning’,” Nov. 29). Again, I’ll be reading that as well.

What troubles me about the letter is the wording regarding cultural appropriation. Throughout the history of literature, people of one culture have studied other cultures — sometimes critically, but often in an authentic effort to expose the beauty and authenticity of the subject culture. Is this bad?

While Tony Hillerman may have made errors in his writings, is it not true that he always wrote with respect for the Diné? Is it not also true that his works were clearly marketed as fiction? Where some see cultural appropriation, others see cultural respect. I learned respect for the Diné through my interaction with them, however, Tony Hillerman’s works did help me along.

Jerome R. Petruk
Phoenix, Ariz.

Open dialog on racism

Regarding the “war whoops” and “Pocahontas” racial slurs on the Northern Arizona University campus (“Center investigating Stew Fest allegations,” Nov. 21), it is most unfortunate that the recent mainstreaming of racism nationwide has reached a distinguished university campus considered “home” by many Native people.

While it is most uncomfortable to talk about racism anywhere, the consequences for the failure to address disturbing racial slurs and other cultural issues are enormous for the well-being and future of our children, grandchildren and our nation. NAU, along with the Native American Cultural Center, purposeful in advancing critical human knowledge, should be commended for further calling out for anyone to come forth as witness/es to this racialized cultural incident.

The NAU student who initially made public this mainstreaming racism should above all be commended, as leaving disturbing sanitized racism at the surface level does little to understand why people engage in racial polarization, not only on campus but in the region as well, specifically, the Snow Bowl spiritual genocidal issue. It is important to try to understand why we witness hateful inflammatory attacks directed at fellow human beings to the point of the most inhumane treatment of people who happen to have different religious spiritual worldview.

As such, and at the risk of promoting white-supremacist free speech on campuses nationwide, the mindset of those engaged in confrontational, inflammatory rhetoric directed at people of color, as well as religious intolerance, and denigration of fellow human beings, must not be suppressed nor crucified, but this mindset must be subjected to serious academic intellectual scrutiny and understanding beyond Straussian teaching and philosophy.

It is helpful to understand why many among us choose to see the world through hateful inflammatory lens due simply to differences — differences in skin color, spirituality, worldview knowledge, and cultures. With elements of racism on campus, it is long established that Native scholars and students on university campuses have encountered, historically and, to date, dog whistles of Native intellectual denigration rather the welcoming Native indigeneity as promoting enriched cultural and intellectual diversity.

As pointed out by some scholars, Native indigeneity cannot be summarily dismissed as primitive riddles, nor a source of anomalous legal confusion, nor artifacts of historical, anthropological curiosity and interest. As unfortunate as this level of mindset may exist in some sectors of higher education, I’ve found and have worked successfully with exceptional, compassionate accomplished people on university campuses here in the state as well as from Stanford, UC-Berkeley, University of Chicago Lab School, University of Hawaii Lab and Immersion schools, Beijing, China – exceptional people of all ethnic backgrounds on several multi-million dollars research projects for underserved K-12 schools.

We garnered exceptional support and encouragement, not only from local elementary and secondary schools, but from people of all ethnic backgrounds in higher education, regionally, nationally, internationally, and certainly locally with the Navajo Nation Department of Education and tribal Council delegates.

As to the immediate racialized issues directed at Native peoples, open dialogue, short of violence and fighting words, must be promoted and protected in our educational sectors for there is little that is gained with silence.

Harold G. Begay
To’Nanees’ Dizi, Ariz.


 To read the full article, pick up your copy of the Navajo Times at your nearest newsstand Thursday mornings!

Are you a digital subscriber? Read the most recent three weeks of stories by logging in to your online account.

  Find newsstand locations at this link.

Or, subscribe via mail or online here.




Categories: Letters