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OPINION: Dreamcatchers made in China a misguided effort

Anthropologists say it was probably the Ojibwe among Native American peoples who came up with the idea of a “dreamcatcher” — a hoop strung with webbing — to snare the bad dreams so that a sleeper would only have good dreams. Wherever it began, that idea has since been widely embraced by Plains Indian tribes such as the Lakota. But as the Wikipedia entry about dreamcatchers informs us, some Native Americans have come to see dreamcatchers as “over-commercialized, offensively misappropriated and misused by non-Natives.”

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With all due respect to the well-meaning people at St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, we think that is what has happened in the school’s fundraising effort that includes sending some potential donors an actual dreamcatcher — but made in China.

To our way of thinking, that is overcommercialization in action. It takes something beautiful from Native American tradition and makes it into cheap junk.

We heard about this fundraising gimmick from one of the potential donors who received a Chinese-made dreamcatcher in the mail. He described the tactic as “very sad.”

We suspect he’s not the only one who has let the school know what a disappointment it is to find an Asian-made emblem of Native American culture in the mail. In fact the school has a space on its website dedicated to explaining why it feels compelled to rely on a Chinese manufacturer to make the dreamcatchers it uses in its fundraising efforts. As the school told the Capital Journal, it sends out three to four million of these dreamcatchers each year, and personnel say the school can’t find a South Dakota company that can produce that number of dreamcatchers.

Really? The school is spending $14.9 million in fundraising efforts, according to its own numbers, and it sits here among some of the poorest counties in the nation, yet it can’t find a Native American company that would gladly use some of that cash to make some authentic dreamcatchers? Sounds like a cottage industry in the making to us.

If the school honestly can’t find a Native American manufacturer, maybe St. Joseph’s Indian School ought to just stop sending out dreamcatchers — save the money it has been investing in the Chinese economy and spend it another way. And maybe it’s also time to have a visit with the marketing whiz who came up with this dreamcatchers-made-in-China idea. This isn’t marketing — it’s an embarrassment to the school and to Native American culture.

-Pierre Capital Journal