'Indianthusiasts': Uncovering Germany's obsession with First Nation culture
Originally published March 11, 2018
For years, Ojibway author and playwright Drew Hayden Taylor heard that some Germans are so fascinated by First Nation culture that they throw festivals similar to powwows.
There is even a name for Germans obsessed with First Nation culture: Indianthusiasts.
"Try to imagine a German powwow, with all Germans dressed in regalia … looking like a typical Native powwow, except for all the blonde hair and blue eyes," said Taylor.
At the root of this obsession are the fictional stories of Winnetou, created by German writer, Karl May.
"Winnetou is ground zero of this fascination … he is an Apache warrior in the American southwest," said Taylor.
"He is seen as the idealized First Nations man as perceived by 1880s Germany. He's brave, he fights grizzly bears with his knife and wins easily."
But as Taylor pointed out, May created the character having never actually met a First Nation person.
"Karl May … had never been to North America when he wrote these books. There's a story that he came [to Canada] in the early 1900s, and went to Niagara Falls of all places, and then left."
'They refer to us as Coca-Cola Indians'
Even though Taylor recognizes there is a lot wrong with these festivals, he said that Germans who attend don't really want to know the truth about how modern First Nation people live.
"These are people who grew up on these books, which were made into movies, television series, huge play spectacles — they are content with that perspective of North American Aboriginal people," Taylor explained.
"There's even a group of these Indianthusiasts who believe that people like me — contemporary Native people — who wear shoes, drive cars, go to the dentist … that we have been corrupted by the 20th and 21st centuries … and they refer to us as Coca-Cola Indians."
Appreciation or appropriation?
While some may think these Indianthusiast festivals are examples of cultural appropriation, Taylor isn't as quick to make that judgment.
"[Germans] do not think they're Native … they are happy playing," said Taylor. "It's like going to a Star Trek convention and seeing people dressed up like Klingons."
"In their own way … it's their way of honouring our culture, but it's our culture as perceived through the writing of [Karl May]."