Harry Potter author JK Rowling has been accused of appropriating the “living tradition of a marginalised people” by writing about the Navajo legend of the skinwalker in a new story.
Rowling posted the first part of a four-part series, the ‘History of Magic in North America’ on her website Pottermore, on Tuesday, depicting the magical history of America within her fictional universe of witches and wizards.
The series of stories, titled ‘A History of Magic in North America’, will give fans the historical background to the latest Harry Potter film, ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, ahead of its November release, reported Guardian online.
But it has upset a number of Native American writers and activists, who have objected to the new material’s depiction of their spiritual beliefs.
In particular, the inclusion of characters based on the Native American concept of ‘skinwalkers’ — humans who can transform into animals at will — in publicity materials and a video trailer have led to accusations of cultural insensitivity.
Dr Adrienne Keene, a Cherokee scholar, called out the novelist on Twitter, posting, “You can’t just claim and take a living tradition of a marginalized people. That’s straight up colonialism/appropriation @jk_rowling.”
You can't just claim and take a living tradition of a marginalized people. That's straight up colonialism/appropriation @jk_rowling.— Dr. Adrienne Keene (@NativeApprops) March 8, 2016
Keene detailed her objections at length on her blog, writing, “Native spirituality and religions are not fantasy on the same level as wizards. These beliefs are alive, practiced, and protected. The fact that the trailer even mentions the Navajo concept of skinwalkers sends red flags all over the place, and that it’s mentioned next to the Salem witch trials (in Massachusetts)? Disaster...
Navajo writer Brian Young wrote on Twitter that he was “broken hearted” about the new piece of writing.
“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.”
Yo, @jk_rowling my ancestors didn't survive colonization so you could use our culture as a convenient prop.— Brian Young (@hungrynavajo) March 8, 2016
Rowling’s representatives have yet to respond to a request for comment.