J.K. Rowling's New Story Under Fire For Featuring 'Native American wizards'

The first story of J.K. Rowling's four-part History of Magic in North America, was released yesterday, and while a lot of fans welcomed how it gave new insights to the world of Harry Potter, the author has been accused of appropriating the"living tradition of a marginalised people" by writing about the Navajo legend of the skinwalker in the story.

The author was strongly criticized online by several voices from the Native American communities, particularly over her writing about skinwalkers, which in Navajo legend are described to be evil witches or wizards who can take the form of animals.

Rowling writes that the myth "has its basis in fact … A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure."

Rowlng responded to a question on Twitter, saying that "in my wizarding world, there were no skinwalkers", with the legend created by those without magic "to demonise wizards".

But campaigner Dr. Adrienne Keene responded to Rowling on Twitter, telling her that "it's not ‘your' world. It's our (real) Native world. And skinwalker stories have context, roots, and reality … You can't just claim and take a living tradition of a marginalised people. That's straight up colonialism/appropriation."

Keene also criticized Rowling's use of the phrase "the Native American community", saying that "one of the largest fights in the world of representations is to recognise Native peoples and communities and cultures are diverse, complex, and vastly different from one another."

"There is no such thing as one ‘Native American' anything. Even in a fictional wizarding world," wrote Keene on her blog, Native Appropriations. She added: "Native spirituality and religions are not fantasy on the same level as wizards. These beliefs are alive, practised, and protected … we fight so hard every single day as Native peoples to be seen as contemporary, real, full, and complete human beings and to push away from the stereotypes that restrict us in stock categories of mystical-connected-to-nature-shamans or violent-savage-warriors"

Keen went to criticize Rowling's lack of response: "Also worthy of note is that Rowling is known for responding directly to fan questions on Twitter, and overall being accessible to her fanbase. Despite thousands of tweets directed at her about these concerns, she has not addressed it at all. The silence is noted, and it's deafening,"

Johnnie Jae, founder of A Tribe Called Geek, a self-proclaimed Potterhead who had "often thought of what it would be like if Natives were represented in this world", but that the reality was "so disrespectfully done".

Jae wrote: "This isn't us saying that Native people can't be wizards or magical beings, but that @jk_rowling's attempt is unacceptable & disrespectful because @jk_rowling has based her ‘native wizards' off the same racist stereotypes & miseducation that JM Barrie used in Peter Pan."

Navajo writer Brian Young wrote on Twitterthat he was "broken hearted" about the new story "JK Rowling, my beliefs are not fantasy. If ever there was a need for diversity in YA lit it is bullsh!t like this," said Young. "My ancestors didn't survive colonisation so you could use our culture as a convenient prop."

Rowling has yet to respond to a request for a comment.

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