Adrian L. Jawort, a Northern Cheyenne Two Spirit journalist and writer, has written a piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books in which they reflect on the critical reception of two young adult novels by Native American author Rebecca Roanhorse.
The controversy: Roanhorse is a member of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo tribe, but her novels feature a Diné (Navajo) protagonist, and center on events in Dinétah, the traditional land of the Diné people. The problem came in the form of a 2018 letter, signed by 14 Navajo writers, that accused Roanhorse of appropriating another tribe: “Trail of Lightning is an appropriation of Diné cultural beliefs.”
Jawort sees such inter-tribe fighting as counterproductive and misplaced, bordering on censorship. It’s one thing to call out appropriation of Native stories by white authors, Jawort suggests, and another for tribes to begin accusing each other of appropriation.
“The Native American art world is witnessing a dangerous trend of “appropriation” arguments escalating toward de facto censorship,” writes Jawort in the LARB. In presenting this position, Jawort notes agreement with concern expressed by Sterling HolyWhiteMountain in an interview that appeared previously on this blog:
As HolyWhiteMountain says, “When artists are becoming afraid to speak, that’s something we should be deeply concerned about, and we need to take a close look at the social conditions that are causing this fear.” So, the question becomes: Who shall counter the monstrous excesses of the appropriations critique?
For more, read Jawort’s full review and discussion of Roanhorse’s books in the Los Angeles Review of Books.