After a storm of protests from enraged parents concerning issues of (mis)representation and cultural appropriation in the new children’s movie, The Young Chief Winnetou (2022), the German publisher, Ravensburger Verlag, withdrew the companion book and puzzle to the film. Soon thereafter, the main German TV station (ARD) announced they would no longer broadcast the popular Winnetou movies from the 1960s based on Karl May’s novels. Everyone seems to have their take on the current controversy; yet, there’s been some criticism regarding issues of paternalism due to the lack of Native voices in the debate. That’s why the American Studies Blog has gone directly to the source and interviewed Drew Hayden Taylor acclaimed Canadian Anishnaabe author, frequent flyer to Germany, and creator of the documentary, Searching for Winnetou (2018).
Robin Wall Kimmerer’s presence is magnetic. Stepping out to the podium at the 2014 Bioneers Conference – an annual forum for topics like climate change and human rights – her silver hair hangs loosely, framing a pair of leather earrings decorated with small pink flowers. She greets the crowd with a large smile, and when she speaks, the room falls silent and the audience listens closely:
“Let us begin today with gratitude … of food to eat, of sweet air to breathe this morning, the preciousness of water, the companionship of clouds, and geese, and sugar maples. Gratitude for each other, for the privilege of our work together, and for the original peoples in whose homeland we meet, and for the more-than-human beings with whom we share the earth.”
It goes without saying that the Germans’ unrivalled fascination with the Native people of North America is not exactly a well-kept secret. Case in point: the annual Karl May Festivals in Bad Segeberg and Elspe. But I’ve always wondered whether this fascination might be mutual. Spoiler alert: It is.
In 2017, Anishnawbe writer Drew Hayden Taylor set out in search of Winnetou. What he found ranged from the amusing to the unsettling. In other words, the perfect material for his documentary film, Searching for Winnetou, where the fine line between appropriation and appreciation becomes a bit blurred. Curious about the making of? Then click on our exclusive interview with the writer. Read more »