A few thoughts on the Pottermore “Magic in North America” controversy. If you aren’t up on it, check out Native Appropriations thoughts on the matter. They are good background reading.
Now, I’m not one of those people who think non-Natives shouldn’t write about Native people or have Native characters. Believe it or not, Natives are not a monolith and we often have different opinions on these things. Native Appropriations’ opinion (linked above) as a cultural critic and professor, are more circumspect. Mine, especially as a writer of fantasy, are probably more liberal. I think it can be done, and done well. Yes, I prefer Native people write about ourselves and tell our own stories, but, hey, I like a good story no matter who writes it. And J.K. Rowling can write a great story.
So imagine how excited, yes EXCITED, I was to hear she was going to incorporate Native Americans into her new “Magic in North America” series. My mind ran fertile with images of the Iroquois Confederacy’s version of quidditch. Surely the inventors of lacrosse would blow other quidditch teams out of the sky. And I loved the idea of a powerful Ancestral Puebloan (aka Anasazi) wizarding school in Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde. I swooned over the idea of rivalries between the Haida school and the Seminoles, just like the BeauxBatons and the Drumstrang. (Can you imagine how cool the Haida school crest would be? *chills*).
But we got none of that.
We got loincloths.
(I have a funny story about my BIL being an extra in a movie and having to wear a loincloth, but anyway…where was I?)
We got called “American” from the 14th to 17th century (which is just frankly wrong and anachronistic and lazy, if you ask me.)
We got glossed as a single people: “Native Americans”. And there went my dream of a Pueblo Wizarding school, because a continent of people were conflating to one loincloth-wearing group. I wept.
Look at this imagined map and tell me your little writer mind doesn’t just explode with possibility.
Now there are some other problematic things in the “Magic in North America” read, but other more competent people are addressing them. Twitter is aflutter with Native commentary, and blogs are fired up and rolling out textual critiques about the real harm done in perpetuating stereotypes and erasure. I’m just here to mourn the failure of imagination in a world so richly imagined in so many ways, I feel like Rowling just let us down.