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Wild West festival denigrates Indigenous Peoples



Press Release: Te Wharepora Hou, Māori Women’s Network


The promotion of a Wild West Festival in Waimamaku has raised the ire of many in terms of cultural appropriation and racist portrayals of Native American people and culture.

Tina Ngata who has been a consistent voice in regards to issues of cultural mis-appropriation notes that “The American West was not “Wild” to anyone but the colonial invaders – who then attempted to settle it by means of genocide, including bounties for Native American scalps, mass displacement, forced marches, massacres, the theft of Native American children, and purposeful infection. This is not a period to be festive about at all, and there is literally no way to hold a “Wild West Festival” without being racist and colonial. From the concept to the costumes, this is a thoroughly offensive, redneck event. “

Promoting the festival over the week, organisers posted images of people in costumes including images enacting shooting Native Americans. pretend Tipi, people in ‘black face’ degrading African Americans and images of people wearing headdresses, alongside a statement calling for people to “visit our reservation”.

For many generations Native American people have been dealing with the impact of the invasion of their lands of which the idea of the ‘Wild West’ is a part. They have been challenging these forms of racist representation which denies the genocide of Native American Peoples and the ongoing denigration of Native American women.

Associate Professor Leonie Pihama of Te Kotahi Research Institute considers this as another example of the racism that exists within this country and is expressed daily, she states “this is another example of how insidious and deeply embedded racism is in this country.” Furthermore she notes “the event organisers are promoting and reproducting the demeaning of Native American Peoples and in representing sacred cultural garments as costumes and belittling the ways that Native American People live. Saying “visit our reservation” is a disgusting indication that these people have no idea that Native American nations were forcibly removed from their lands and placed onto reservations and today the denial of Treaty rights for many nations continues to impact.”

Associate Professor Mera Penehira who teaches Indigenous Studies at Te Wānanga o Awanuiārangi who also responded directly to the organisation on social media commented today; “this represents an appalling lack of judgement and results in the furthering deeply entrenched racism that has no place in Aotearoa. We need to actively resist and speak out against this! It is not ok!”.

Tia Taurere from Te Taitokerau who lives in Vancouver working with Native communities made the following statement to festival organisers:

Waimamaku Wild West Festival. As a mother of three Native/Maori children, married to a native man and living on Indian land (No te Hokianga!) it is disturbing to see this event disrespecting our Native American/Canadian Turtle Island brothers and sisters. The false portrayal of 'Injuns' from Hollywood and Halloween prospering off this sacred culture as a ‘costume’ continues to oppress the indigenous peoples. Indian reservations are not sideshows to come and have fun but often places of poverty and trauma as survivors of genocide. Please do your homework and understand how deeply disrespectful this is to native people!

In an open letter to the festival organisers Tina Ngata made the following comments:

Hey Waimamaku Wild West Festival

I see you have a super colonial shin-dig planned and you're censoring the comments on your own page. That's ok we will just share the heck outta your page.

So first of all - the period of time you are commemorating here for your festival is one of genocide. The West coast of Great Turtle Island was not "wild" to the nations who already lived there. It was already occupied and well known. And there were no reservations.

It is called "wild" because the invasions began in the east and the racist, bigoted invaders considered Indigenous people as little more than animals with no rights, which meant the land was, in their eyes unoccupied, awaiting "discovery" and settlement and therefore "WILD".

The period of time you are referring to as the "Wild West" was one of rampant invasion, land theft, rape, and massacre.

It is the period of the "Trail of Tears" where tens of thousands of Choctaw Cherokee and Seminole after having their lands stolen under the Indian Removal Act, were force-marched by militia to lands thousands of kms away. Thousands and thousands died JUST IN THIS INSTANCE and there were plenty of these instances all over Great Turtle Island.

THAT'S how reservations started. By true landowners being pushed off their territories and forced to live in small plots of land so that settlers could farm their land.

"Come see our Indian reservation". Good lord.

Other ways settlers "conquered the Wild West" was "Indian scalp bounties" - yep the national and state colonial governments paid the white settlers you are celebrating for the skinned top of a Native American head.

Oh and of course the time honored colonial practices of purposeful infection, and rampant child theft. Even IF you survived the massacres and forced marches thousands of miles from your home, you were often subjected to horrid, infectious conditions, and men would show up to literally take your children from you to places where unspeakable horrors were done to them in under the pretence of making them "less wild".

That is the "Wild West" you are having your "fest" about. That is the "Indian Reservation" you are promoting here. Honestly by the looks of some of you I don't think you will care even when you do learn more. I mean... BLACKFACE? Really?

So anyway - go learn some fucking history and quit perpetuating racist stereotypes, Waimamaku. You're coming across as a bunch of uneducated rednecks. Stop with the warbonnets. Have you even read anything since 1960?

And whānau Māori participating in this... wake TF up you should damn well know better it's for you to pull this colonial BS up. Shame on you. Gross.


ends

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