At the symposium Navaho and Apache elders presented their views of what happened and how they want the experience to be taught. One issue that came out was that they did not want anything about their religion to be taught. To them their religion is exclusive to their people and should not be taught or even discussed with people who are not of the tribe.I've been interested in appropriation and these thoughts kick-started my own comments...
The large part of the controversy can be tracked to an underlying theme of the Native American belief systems. From “The Spiritual Legacy of the American Indian” by Joseph Epes Brown:
Religion is not separate from the other aspects of the American Indian culture. Another way to say this is that the spiritual life of the American Indian is interwoven throughout their life.The irony here is that Joseph Epes Brown was not Native American, but he wrote a book that is a cornerstone of understanding the breadth of Native American beliefs. Is this really ironic? Perhaps not. I read the comments of the elders and the thing that stood out is that they do not want anything about their religion to be taught. Teaching implies an intention to then do what was taught. To start an analogy, let's say I must be taught to cook in a particular style to make specific dishes. Teaching is necessary. Only by instruction can the full message and truest intent of a tradition be passed on. It is this full message that the Native Americans wish to protect.
The wrinkle comes in when the statement is made that traditions are not to be discussed. IMO discussion does not mean the same thing as teaching. An analogy would be that my partaking of a dish at a restaurant is a discussion. The cook can refuse to share the recipe, and hence deny a teaching. If the cook did not want his meal 'discussed' than he should not have a public place that people can come and eat at. A tradition that is truly secret will not share anything of itself with the outside world. More open traditions will share enough for a discussion while holding secret the core teachings.
The Native American people have shared enough for a good discussion. It is too late to close the barn door if all Native American folklore and history is now considered a teaching. The plate is on the table. I don't think the intention of the statements was that all non-Native Americans must now forget about and ignore the Native Americans' rich heritage. Instead we are being asked to please respect the sacredness of the teachings and honor that they are the lifeblood of a people.