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Check the tag on that 'Indian' story

Have you heard the Cherokee Two Wolves/Dogs story? The one about two wolves inside you, representing good and evil, and the one that wins is the one you feed?

Well recently, a tumblr blogger, Pavor Nocturnus, did the world an enormous favour and dug into the real origins of this "Cherokee wisdom," providing some excellent sources:

"This story seems to have begun in 1978 when a[n] early form of it was written by the Evangelical Christian Minister Billy Graham in his book, The Holy Spirit: Activating God's Power in Your Life."

So wait ... this is actually a Christian-style parable? Let's just quickly read an excerpt:

"An Eskimo fisherman came to town every Saturday afternoon. He always brought his two dogs with him. One was white and the other was black."

Oh oh oh! I get it! Black is evil, and white is good! Traditional indigenous wisdom galore!

Um ... wait a second. Do indigenous cultures also believe in black = evil, white = good? I mean, pre-Christianity? Anyone? No? I didn't think so.

This kind of thing is harmful

These misattributed stories aren't going to pick us up and throw us down a flight of stairs, but they do perpetuate ignorance about out cultures. Cultures. Plural.

Not only do they confuse non-natives about our beliefs and our actual oral traditions, they confuse some natives too. There are many disconnected native peoples who, for a variety of reasons, have not been raised in their cultures. It is not an easy task to reconnect, and a lot of people start by trying to find as much information as they can about the nation they come from.

It can be exciting and empowering at first to encounter a story like this, if it's supposedly from your (generalized) nation. But I could analyze this story all day to point out how Christian and western influences run all the way through it, and how these principles contradict and overshadow indigenous ways of knowing. Let's just sum it up more quickly though, and call it what it is: colonialism.

The replacement of real indigenous stories with Christian-influenced, western moral tales is colonialism, no matter how you dress it up in feathers and moccasins. It silences the real voices of native peoples by presenting listeners and readers with something safe and familiar. And because of the wider access non-natives have to sources of media, these kinds of fake stories are literally drowning us out.

Honour us by asking questions

If you are at all interested in real aboriginal cultures, there are some easy steps you can take to determine authenticity. I guarantee you that three short questions will help you weed out 99.9 per cent of the stories plain made-up-and-attributed-to-a-native-culture. Ready?

1. Which native culture is this story from? (Cherokee, Cree, Dene, Navajo?)

2. Which community is this story from? (If you get an answer like the Hopis of New Brunswick you can stop here. The story is fake.)

3. Who from that community told this story?

You see, our stories have provenance. That means you should be able to track down where the story was told, when, and who told it.

There are specific protocols involved in telling stories that lay this provenance out for those listening. There are often protocols involved in what kinds of stories can be told to whom, and when. Every indigenous nation is going to have their own rules about this, but all of them have ways of keeping track of which stories are theirs.

If you cannot determine where the story came from, then please do not pass it on as being from "x nation."  And please people ... leave the Cherokee alone!

A more detailed version of this article was published on the author's blog, âpihtawikosisân.

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