Meet “Grey Owl“, born 18 Sep 1888.
A one time fur trapper for Canadian companies, he eventually came to understand the great damage being wrought upon the natural world by unregulated commercial exploitation of natural resources.
During his life, he wrote numerous books, becoming a renowned early spokesperson for the conservation movement. He was particularly passionate in his arguments for the protection of the North American beaver [Castor canadensis].
Grey Owl had French-Canadian, Mohawk, Ojibwe, and Métis wives and consorts during his relatively short life, and was father to at least 5 children. His much younger part-Algonquian, part Mohawk wife Anahareo should probably receive credit for first convincing Grey Owl of the evils of commercial fur-trapping.
Grey Owl died aged only 49, his health badly compromised by alcoholism brought on by his experiences during WWI.
After his death in 1938, it was revealed that he was in fact not half-Scottish, half-Apache as he had always claimed.
He was Archibald Stansfield Belaney, of Hastings in Sussex, England.
It is worth considering people like “Grey Owl“, when we argue about cultural and identity appropriation.
Perhaps the motivation of the impostor is more important than the actual identity they assume?
Many, many of us try on new skins as we move through life. Because our identities usually change incrementally rather than dramatically, it is often only late in life that we recognise our younger self as a complete stranger.
Would the world have listened to a damaged “Archibald Belaney” as he railed against environmental destruction?
Almost certainly not.
So whose crime is bigger?
The crime committed by an impostor with a profound love of indigenous culture and the natural world?
Or the crime committed by people so culturally bankrupt that they can only accept truth when it comes from an “exotic” outside source?
An outsider onto whom we can project our secret dreams and longings for something better?
#BeforeWeWereWhite #CulturalAppropriation #impostors #NatureConservation