Readers write: Cultural appropriation in a Home Forum essay

Why We Wrote This

Letters to the editor for the August 19, 2019 weekly magazine.

Ann Hermes/Staff

Cultural appropriation

Thanks so much for all of the wonderfulness that is The Christian Science Monitor Weekly. There are so many things I appreciate about the publication, including its insightful coverage of news from around the world, the aptly named Humanity Behind the Headlines section, and more.

I always turn first to the Home Forum essay. My eagerness comes partly from having had four of my essays published in the Home Forum section, which I’m proud to include on my résumé.

But, frankly, I’m appalled by the June 24 Home Forum essay by Todd R. Nelson titled “A lifelong gift from the grand shaman.” While I appreciate his point that his summer camp experiences led him to respect the natural world, I find it completely unacceptable that the Monitor is lifting up such an egregious example of cultural appropriation in 2019. 

Calling the camp “Camp Indian Name” was probably an attempt not to be offensive and/or not name a particular camp. It falls far short of that goal. And the description of the sham “shaman” and his attendants glorifies a practice that was all too common in the past (and probably is now, too) of white people using caricatures of Native American and/or indigenous culture as theater and to add a “spiritual” element to meetings.

I’m saddened and distressed to see this essay published in the Monitor. In the future, I hope that the editors avoid essays that are so centered on white privilege and so demeaning to other cultures. Thank you again for all of the powerful good you do in the world.

Mary McClintock
Conway, Massachusetts

Response from Owen Thomas, editor of the Weekly Monitor:

So sorry to hear that we disappointed you with Todd R. Nelson’s “A lifelong gift from the grand shaman.” As you note in your letter, the aim of the essay was to celebrate the “gift” of awareness of nature. We expected that intention would outweigh the fact that it also describes a camp tradition in need of scrutiny.

The Native American culture in the essay is something to be admired and aspired to. That said, there is a way to celebrate those values and communicate them to youth in a way that is more appropriate. The essay was, in hindsight, a miscalculation on our part, and I apologize on behalf of the Monitor.

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