Becoming 'Indigenous': German Fascination with North American Indians

Examining why German hobbyists study and even try to emulate North American Indians through scholarly essays.

| February 2015

  • German hobbyists call their effort to study, simulate and emulate aspects of North American Indian life "practical ethnology."
    Photo by Fotolia/Shchipkova Elena
  • “Performing Indigeneity,” edited by Laura R. Graham and H. Glenn Penny, invites readers to consider how groups and individuals think about performance and display and focuses attention on the ways that public spheres have received these performances.
    Cover courtesy University of Nebraska Press

Performing Indigeneity (University of Nebraska Press, 2014), edited by Laura R. Graham and H. Glenn Penny, brings together scholars, including indigenous scholars, from a variety of fields to provoke critical thinking about the many ways in which individuals and social groups construct and display unique identities around the world and discusses the complexities of “being” indigenous in public spaces. The following excerpt from Chapter 7, “Not Playing Indian,” discusses the fascination that some German hobbyists have had and continue to have with North American Indians.

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

“The truth is that Indians have been dressing like Europeans since first contact. . . . So why do we think it is so unusual for Europeans to dress Indian?”

— Jolene Rickard, 1998



In the fall of 2000, shortly after I arrived at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, one of my new colleagues handed me a story from the Kansas City Star headlined “Germans Emulate American Indians.” I was amused; but not because the reporter, Daniel Rubin, had discovered over a thousand German hobbyists living like various nineteenth-century American Indians in a large encampment near Stolpe, Germany. I already knew about that. It also was not because the essay had appeared in such a provincial paper; in one form or another, it has been in most papers. Indeed, what amused me, and has since begun to irritate me, was how much Rubin’s article resembled the scores of other essays written about German hobbyists over the last fifty years. They essentialize these people and their actions in the most superficial way.

Such gatherings of German hobbyists—people devoted to what they call “practical ethnology”: the effort to study, simulate, and emulate various aspects of American Indian lifeways—are not isolated events. They are one accentuated manifestation of the pervasive fascination with North American Indians among Germans. Shared by men and women alike, this fascination cuts across political, confessional, social, and generational boundaries. It is also much more than a current, postmodern enchantment with “the primitive.”

bertrandfeuvray
12/24/2017 11:57:02 PM

My name is Bertrand Feuvray and I live in Montana, USA. I became a USA citizen in 2011. My email address is bertrand_feuvray@yahoo.com ...I am also on Facebook. I was born and raised in France and lived there for 25 years of my life. Then, I lived in England for 10 years and now have been living in the USA for 28 years. I am married to a Native American lady who has Chippewa-Cree Indian ancestry on her father's side and has Assiniboine-Sioux (Lakota and Dakota) on her mother's side. Also she claims to have English and French ancestry on both sides of her parents' families. I love American Indians but I do not emulate them. I do not wear Native outfits but I have necklaces or rings that were given to me or that I bought as souvenirs and I wear them. For my Birthday, my sister-in-law who is my wife's sister buys me Indian Tee Shirts from Crow Indian Country. We, Europeans, do romanticize about the Indians and I know I do it and I have been told when I did it, but it is hard to catch yourselves doing it because you are so involved with your fascination that you do not see around it. So with German Hobbyists, I understand what is said about how they are perceived and I also know when they have Native American visitors, they want to learn from them in order to be more accurate. If there is anything that, as a Frenchman, makes me love the Germans, it is their love for Native Americans. Do you realize that nothing about Europe excite Europeans??? I mean as far as uniting Europe. I think that if you told everyone in Europe how much the Germans love American Indians, that would increase positive feelings towards Germans. Think about it, they were and they are still blamed for two world wars-- Nazis kill millions of people and THEY LOVE ONE OF THE MOST PERSECUTED PEOPLE IN THE WORLD: THE INDIANS!!! WOW! this is very good because among Native Peoples, they are mentioned as if they were the only Europeans who love Native Americans. And the term Wannabees is mentioned. Why be always negative? They feel what they do. But we all do love the Indians, but they are more known for it. Well, I am going to say that they definitively got it right somewhere. And because of their love for the Indians and because all Europeans love them, too, do you know that could be the unifying factor between all Europeans, because it makes us love those from other countries who loves the Indians. Many Europeans--Germans included, probably by far--will ask and cannot stand not to ask about the Indians when they meet Americans. To only get a response like "yes, what about the Indians?" from Americans is rather disappointing. I have read hundreds of books on Native Americans and if there is one aspect that makes me sad is all the terrible things Americans did to the Indians. What makes me believe in the USA is the fact that it has so much going for it: constitution, freedom, helped nations be free from oppression, etc. But they seem to be good a helping everyone else except for the Indians. A nation cannot survive if they do not adopt things from the vanquished nations that were first on the land. They learned to know the land and preserved it. Sure, they used fires for different purposes but the destruction of the land was not as it is today. And the waste, what a shame to throw everything!!! So to the Germans and other Europeans, we see the Indians as something refreshing coming out of the past--a past that is fascinating because the Native Peoples were free and had so much space. Europe back then was crowded and the people were sickly. From 1450 to 1650, there were the great plague, reduced harvest seasons, 50% of the people died of disease or killing in times of war, and so America and the Indians offered something more healthy. When they first met the Indians, they could run as fast as a horse, they were in great shape, etc...


bertrandfeuvray
12/24/2017 11:56:58 PM

My name is Bertrand Feuvray and I live in Montana, USA. I became a USA citizen in 2011. My email address is bertrand_feuvray@yahoo.com ...I am also on Facebook. I was born and raised in France and lived there for 25 years of my life. Then, I lived in England for 10 years and now have been living in the USA for 28 years. I am married to a Native American lady who has Chippewa-Cree Indian ancestry on her father's side and has Assiniboine-Sioux (Lakota and Dakota) on her mother's side. Also she claims to have English and French ancestry on both sides of her parents' families. I love American Indians but I do not emulate them. I do not wear Native outfits but I have necklaces or rings that were given to me or that I bought as souvenirs and I wear them. For my Birthday, my sister-in-law who is my wife's sister buys me Indian Tee Shirts from Crow Indian Country. We, Europeans, do romanticize about the Indians and I know I do it and I have been told when I did it, but it is hard to catch yourselves doing it because you are so involved with your fascination that you do not see around it. So with German Hobbyists, I understand what is said about how they are perceived and I also know when they have Native American visitors, they want to learn from them in order to be more accurate. If there is anything that, as a Frenchman, makes me love the Germans, it is their love for Native Americans. Do you realize that nothing about Europe excite Europeans??? I mean as far as uniting Europe. I think that if you told everyone in Europe how much the Germans love American Indians, that would increase positive feelings towards Germans. Think about it, they were and they are still blamed for two world wars-- Nazis kill millions of people and THEY LOVE ONE OF THE MOST PERSECUTED PEOPLE IN THE WORLD: THE INDIANS!!! WOW! this is very good because among Native Peoples, they are mentioned as if they were the only Europeans who love Native Americans. And the term Wannabees is mentioned. Why be always negative? They feel what they do. But we all do love the Indians, but they are more known for it. Well, I am going to say that they definitively got it right somewhere. And because of their love for the Indians and because all Europeans love them, too, do you know that could be the unifying factor between all Europeans, because it makes us love those from other countries who loves the Indians. Many Europeans--Germans included, probably by far--will ask and cannot stand not to ask about the Indians when they meet Americans. To only get a response like "yes, what about the Indians?" from Americans is rather disappointing. I have read hundreds of books on Native Americans and if there is one aspect that makes me sad is all the terrible things Americans did to the Indians. What makes me believe in the USA is the fact that it has so much going for it: constitution, freedom, helped nations be free from oppression, etc. But they seem to be good a helping everyone else except for the Indians. A nation cannot survive if they do not adopt things from the vanquished nations that were first on the land. They learned to know the land and preserved it. Sure, they used fires for different purposes but the destruction of the land was not as it is today. And the waste, what a shame to throw everything!!! So to the Germans and other Europeans, we see the Indians as something refreshing coming out of the past--a past that is fascinating because the Native Peoples were free and had so much space. Europe back then was crowded and the people were sickly. From 1450 to 1650, there were the great plague, reduced harvest seasons, 50% of the people died of disease or killing in times of war, and so America and the Indians offered something more healthy. When they first met the Indians, they could run as fast as a horse, they were in great shape, etc...


bertrandfeuvray
12/24/2017 11:56:53 PM

My name is Bertrand Feuvray and I live in Montana, USA. I became a USA citizen in 2011. My email address is bertrand_feuvray@yahoo.com ...I am also on Facebook. I was born and raised in France and lived there for 25 years of my life. Then, I lived in England for 10 years and now have been living in the USA for 28 years. I am married to a Native American lady who has Chippewa-Cree Indian ancestry on her father's side and has Assiniboine-Sioux (Lakota and Dakota) on her mother's side. Also she claims to have English and French ancestry on both sides of her parents' families. I love American Indians but I do not emulate them. I do not wear Native outfits but I have necklaces or rings that were given to me or that I bought as souvenirs and I wear them. For my Birthday, my sister-in-law who is my wife's sister buys me Indian Tee Shirts from Crow Indian Country. We, Europeans, do romanticize about the Indians and I know I do it and I have been told when I did it, but it is hard to catch yourselves doing it because you are so involved with your fascination that you do not see around it. So with German Hobbyists, I understand what is said about how they are perceived and I also know when they have Native American visitors, they want to learn from them in order to be more accurate. If there is anything that, as a Frenchman, makes me love the Germans, it is their love for Native Americans. Do you realize that nothing about Europe excite Europeans??? I mean as far as uniting Europe. I think that if you told everyone in Europe how much the Germans love American Indians, that would increase positive feelings towards Germans. Think about it, they were and they are still blamed for two world wars-- Nazis kill millions of people and THEY LOVE ONE OF THE MOST PERSECUTED PEOPLE IN THE WORLD: THE INDIANS!!! WOW! this is very good because among Native Peoples, they are mentioned as if they were the only Europeans who love Native Americans. And the term Wannabees is mentioned. Why be always negative? They feel what they do. But we all do love the Indians, but they are more known for it. Well, I am going to say that they definitively got it right somewhere. And because of their love for the Indians and because all Europeans love them, too, do you know that could be the unifying factor between all Europeans, because it makes us love those from other countries who loves the Indians. Many Europeans--Germans included, probably by far--will ask and cannot stand not to ask about the Indians when they meet Americans. To only get a response like "yes, what about the Indians?" from Americans is rather disappointing. I have read hundreds of books on Native Americans and if there is one aspect that makes me sad is all the terrible things Americans did to the Indians. What makes me believe in the USA is the fact that it has so much going for it: constitution, freedom, helped nations be free from oppression, etc. But they seem to be good a helping everyone else except for the Indians. A nation cannot survive if they do not adopt things from the vanquished nations that were first on the land. They learned to know the land and preserved it. Sure, they used fires for different purposes but the destruction of the land was not as it is today. And the waste, what a shame to throw everything!!! So to the Germans and other Europeans, we see the Indians as something refreshing coming out of the past--a past that is fascinating because the Native Peoples were free and had so much space. Europe back then was crowded and the people were sickly. From 1450 to 1650, there were the great plague, reduced harvest seasons, 50% of the people died of disease or killing in times of war, and so America and the Indians offered something more healthy. When they first met the Indians, they could run as fast as a horse, they were in great shape, etc...
















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