Author J.K. Rowling is under fire for equating North American aboriginal traditions with the magical characters in her famed Harry Potter series.
"She's introducing millions and millions of young readers to this bastardized version of indigenous culture," said Aaron Paquette, a Cree artist and children's fiction author, in an interview on Radio Active.
"She's using things that are sacred beliefs and just turning them into a commercial endeavour for herself."
In her new online series History of Magic in North America, Rowling compares 'skin walkers' — a Navajo term for people with the power to morph into animals — with 'Animagi' shape-shifting witches and wizards featured in her Harry Potter series.
The Native American wizarding community was particularly gifted in animal and plant magic, its potions in particular being of a sophistication beyond much that was known in Europe. The most glaring difference between magic practiced by Native Americans and the wizards of Europe was the absence of a wand.
-From History of Magic in North America, by J.K. Rowling
Paquette calls the new collection an offensive, thoughtless appropriation of a culture struggling to survive.
According to Paquette, Rowling has trivialized the Navajo culture by taking their belief system out of context, and rewriting one of the nation's core values.
As a world-renowned author with blockbuster sales, Rowling has a heightened responsibility to provide an accurate account of aboriginal traditions, he said.
"You're going to introduce people to an actual, living, breathing culture that the government tried to destroy and that is being held onto and that is threatened," said Paquette.
"These are marginalized people. It's a marginalized culture. If you're going to introduce people to it, why not show the proper respect?"
By assuming that all native peoples in North America are part of one homogenous group, Rowling fails to account for the diversity of the culture, according to Paquette.
"She's basically lumping together indigenous cultures. There's 500 distinct indigenous nations here and she's just calling it the Native American community," said Paquette, who says stereotypes continue to harm aboriginal culture.
"It strips people of their identity."
Paquette says, using the word "magic" to describe Navajo beliefs is disrespectful and leads readers to believe that aboriginal cultures are merely relics of the past.
He wants to see the diversity of North American aboriginal cultures garner more attention in the pages of both fiction and nonfiction works, but it needs to be done with careful consideration.
"It's great to have an entry point, but if the entry point is as flawed and twisted as this, it will likely do more harm than good."