This week, J.K. Rowling began to publish a four-part series on her Pottermore.com website titled “The History of Magic in North America.” Now she is being accused of appropriating Native American culture by writing about an ancient Navajo legend, the skinwalker.
The new series is supposed to provide background on the history of magical beings in North America ahead of the November release of the new film set in the Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which does not take place in the U.K. like the rest of the Harry Potter series.
With the first two parts already released, Rowling has been blasted my various sources for interpretation of skinwalkers, which are legendary creatures in Najavo folklore, said to be evil witches or wizards who can take the form of animals.
Rowling writes that the myth “has its basis in fact … A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumors often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.”
Dr. Adrienne Keene, a Cherokee scholar who runs a blog called “Native Appropriations,” was not happy with the re-telling of Native American stories, telling Rowling “it’s not ‘your’ world. It’s our (real) Native world. And skinwalker stories have context, roots, and reality … You can’t just claim and take a living tradition of a marginalised people. That’s straight up colonialism/appropriation.”
Other outspoken members of the Native community have spoken out as well, calling Rowling’s fictional take on magical beings in the Native community “unacceptable and disrespectful.”
Rowling, who is an active user of social media (particularly her official Twitter account), has not commented on the controversy.