If you’re not indigenous, is using a dreamcatcher considered cultural appropriation?
Many people use dreamcatchers when they sleep or simply as decoration.
But we get asked a lot if using a dreamcatcher is allowed or if it is cultural appropriation towards native american indigenous people.
Keep reading to find out.
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Before we begin, let’s cover two quick basics.
First, what is cultural appropriation?
- Cultural appropriation is when someone takes elements of a culture that is NOT their own and reuses it or tries to make it their own – reducing it to a stereotype, trend, or pop culture item. For example: mass producing tribal headdresses as a trendy accessory.
To learn more, read our article about cultural appropriation HERE
Secondly, what is a dreamcatcher?
In many Native American tribes, a dream catcher is a handmade willow hoop woven to a web that creates a kind of net. They can include feathers and beads and are traditionally used as a form of protection to literally “catch” bad dreams, spirits, or other negative energy.
To find out more about the meaning behind dreamcatchers, their significance, and their uses, check out our full video HERE.
Chances are, you’ve seen a dreamcatcher before. You might even own one yourself! But, if you’re not indigenous, is using a dreamcatcher considered cultural appropriation?
We’re covering 5 factors that will help you determine whether you’re appropriating Indigenous culture with your dreamcatcher use.
At Tribal Trade Co, we believe in sharing Indigenous culture with everyone. However, we also believe in treating Indigenous culture and teachings with the respect they deserve.
So, rather than telling you you can't use a dreamcatcher, we’d rather teach you how to use a dreamcatcher respectfully!
The key to avoiding cultural appropriation is respect, honesty, and integrity.
Here are the 5 factors that will determine whether you’re using YOUR dreamcatcher in a way that appropriates Indigenous culture.
#1 How are you using your dreamcatcher?
How you’re using your dreamcatcher can help you determine if it’s cultural appropriation or not.
Are you using it for its sacred purpose of protection? Or is it simply a trendy accessory or a design on a t-shirt?
The purpose of the dreamcatcher is important – if it’s something that has been mass produced for a profit by a non-Indigenous person or company, then your dreamcatcher is likely cultural appropriation.
But, if you’re using your dreamcatcher in a way that honors the legacy of dreamcatchers in Indigenous history and culture – then that’s the best way to avoid appropriation.
Not sure if you should celebrate Canada Day or Indigenous Peoples Day? Check out this article right here.
#2 Who is using the dream catcher?
You might think that I’m going to tell you that if you’re non-Indigenous, then using a dreamcatcher is automatically cultural appropriation.
But, that’s not true.
Anyone – Indigenous or non-Indigenous – can appreciate Indigenous culture. And anyone can disrespect the culture, too.
Recognizing whether you are Indigenous or not simply helps YOU determine how to best use the dreamcatcher. Are you an Indigenous person who is honoring their heritage? Or are you a non-Indigenous person who is learning about and practicing Indigenous traditions and teachings?
It doesn’t matter whether you are Indigenous or not as long as you are respecting Indigenous culture and the sacred purpose of the dreamcatcher.
#3 Where are you hanging your dreamcatcher?
Part of honoring the dreamcatcher is making sure you are taking care of it. In order to take care of it, it’s important to hang it in a location that doens’t risk damaging it.
Do you have your dreamcatcher hanging in a safe, protected place of honor? Doing so helps respect its significance.
Traditionally, dreamcatchers have been hung above doorways, in windows, above beds, and even in the rearview mirrors of cars.
For more respectful locations you can hang your dreamcatcher, check out our article HERE.
#4 Are you selling your dreamcatcher?
Cultural appropriation happens any time you take a piece of a culture that’s not yours and try to package it or make a profit off of it.
If you’re a non-Indigenous person who is making dreamcatchers and selling them, you’re taking a significant part of Indigenous culture and using it for your own benefit. That’s often appropriation.
One other example might be if you are making dreamcatchers yourself and then reselling them as though they are Indigenous-made.
This is not only dishonest, but you’re selling an inauthentic product.
It’s possible to be truthful about the dreamcatchers origins – that you made them, not an Indigenous person – but that still doesn’t make them authentic.
Authentic dreamcatchers will always be Indigenous made because they are an Indigenous tradition.
Be honest with yourself about whether it’s your right to create and sell dreamcatchers and WHY you are creating them. If you find yourself questioning it, then you probably know your answer.
#5 Why made the dream catcher?
Is your dreamcatcher Indigenous made or not? Again, an authentic dreamcatcher is part of Indigenous tradition and should be made by an Indigenous person.
There might be some cases where making a dreamcatcher for yourself is different, as long as you are honoring the dreamcatcher and not using it as a way to benefit from Indigenous culture. It’s OK to learn about dreamcatchers and make them in order to honor Indigenous culture and teachings.
If you’re BUYING a dreamcatcher, you should always make sure you’re buying from an Indigenous creator – as opposed to a large company who is appropriating Indigenous culture.
Above all, you just want to make sure you are HONORING the cultural significance of the dreamcatcher.
By asking yourself these 5 QUESTIONS, you can ensure YOU are honoring the significance of the dreamcatcher and avoiding cultural appropriation of this sacred item.
If you want to learn more about indigenous people, cultures, practices, and beliefs, visit our website, Tribal Trade Co., for tons of resources at your fingertips.