Open letter to accusations of cultural appropriation – the lost native kids of our generation

I come from the Colipi family. My second surname after López is Colipi. Colipi means “red feather,” and my siblings all have a red feather tattooed on their body, except for me. We are proud of our native blood and in Chile, many of our family members are active in the Mapuche communities, speaking Mapugundu (our native language) and participating in different Mapuche traditions.

There are many opinions amongst historians, professors, anthropologists and “experts” as to what cultural appropriation really is, even amongst the native people. There are conservatives that want to preserve the culture as it always has been while there are liberals in our community that are for progress, since progress is inevitable.  Even in times before the colonization, natives had a thriving and progressing culture. Natives were inspired by other native tribes in terms of culture and garment attributes as well. It is part of the human culture to be inspired and to appropriate culture. All of our culture in the world is a result of cultural appropriation!

Now people are saying that I´m appropriating other native tribes’ sacred headdress and that I haven't earned my headdress. But have I really not earned my headdress? Who has the right to say what I do and don't deserve, without knowing my past?

First of all, the headdress that I wear in my book cover is altered and not an exact replica of any specific headdress from any tribe. It is inspired by the Navajo and Apache cultures, but it is neither a Navajo nor Apache headdress. So they shouldn’t confuse my headdress for one of their own.

Therefore, I wonder, does wearing my own kind of headdress diminish the respect that natives in their own groups have towards their elders that have earned their headdresses, according to their traditional culture? Does wearing my own kind of headdress make their headdress any less sacred?

There are so many opinions about who is allowed to wear what, or about who owns culture. But how can someone own something that is constantly changing?

And what about us, the mixed blooded kids without any cultural heritage? We, who don't have anything left from our native culture? Like other kids living in Scandinavia, aren't we allowed to construct our own new culture from scratch? Why am I not allowed to be part of both worlds and create my own new culture, like every new generation? Are we, the mixed blooded kids, not valid in the equation of who has rights to appropriate culture?

What if the natives never were colonized and the cultures survived until the day of today untouched? Wouldn't there have been any progress and change of native culture up to today? Of course there would have been much progress and change!

They would have stumbled upon the internet sooner or later. Even the natives would become part of the global native unity, and there would have been a progress and mix of all the native cultures sooner or later. So, it’s only a matter of time anyway, isn't it?

The two-spirit term was coined in the 90´s to include all of native blood who identify as LGBTQI, according to the respect natives always had towards LGBTQI people. So it means that all of us with native blood have the right to identify as two-spirit if we want to. The term two-spirits is a modern term to unite us, a new construction of culture made in consensus by native mix blood and native full blood. We create culture together.

And as the matter of fact, we two-spirits are internationally united trough a Facebook group today. There is a big group on Facebook that is so incredibly compassionate and understanding towards each other because that is what the native spirit is all about – uniting, not pointing fingers and creating separation. Before you accuse me of cultural appropriation, do some research and see where you are appropriating culture yourself. Are you wearing a Geisha garb, dreadlocks, tattoos, piercings, bleaching your hair, using weave on, doing yoga?

My intention was never to harm, ridicule or devalue other native brothers and sisters. If I have, accept my sincerest apologies. Creating my own kind of headdress, inspired by other native tribes, makes me feel like I have an identity and that I´m finally part of a culture that accepts and honors me. And for the native community as a whole, it is creating more awareness to our respect that we always had towards LGBTQI people. Meaning that we can inspire the world with a new holistic perspective and, therefore, create more understanding towards both natives and the LGBTQI community.

Every feather on my headdress symbolizes for me every fight and struggle that I have gone through in my life as a two-spirit person. My siblings and my mother have together crowned me with my headdress. So have I earned my headdress, haven't I?