American Indians abound in Germany

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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany - A real American Indian organization in Europe, can it be possible? As absurd as some may think it sounds, the Native American Association of Germany has been an active organization in Europe promoting American Indians for the last six years.

It has both American Indian and German members. The goal is to bring American Indian culture to Germany with the hope of building a greater cultural understanding between American Indians and members of other nationalities.

Chairman and founding member Lindbergh Namingha, an enrolled member of the Hopi Tribe, lives in Germany with his German wife and three children. Namingha said he has seen a need for such an organization since he was stationed at a U.S. Army base in Germany in the early 1970s.

"There is an immense interest and fascination about us and our culture by Germans and other Europeans, many of which do not have an opportunity to meet Native Americans. Their only source of knowledge about our culture comes from books and movies, creating many misconceptions."

Surprisingly though Germans, unlike American citizens, have a very positive image of American Indians, Namingha said. He attributes this to author Karl May and his books about Winnetou often read in German schools. Even though May made several mistakes about American Indians in his books, he left behind a positive image.

This interest of American Indian culture by the Germans has led to several hundred "hobbyist" groups whose members play "Indian" on the weekends, he said. They hold pow wows, spiritual ceremonies including naming and Pipe ceremonies and sweats. They try to live as American Indians did in the 1800s basing their information about American Indians on books and believe they are maintaining traditional beliefs and ways of American Indians, Namingha said.

"They are like a living museum and I find it very offensive, especially when they refuse to let true American Indians participate in their events. They say we?re too modern and believe we?ve lost our Native Americanness. They can?t seem to understand that our culture, just like theirs, has evolved from the 17th century to the 21st," he said.

Namingha said some of the other common misconceptions are that Germans see American Indians as either noble savages, blood-thirsty Natives, as an extinct population or as environmental saints and spiritual gurus.

"None of these images does Native Americans justice or is reality and contain no more than a small aspect of Native American culture."

His goal is to show Germans how diverse American Indians are and that each tribe has its own unique culture, language, religion and is its own entity. As an artist, craftsman, singer, drummer and song composer, he enjoys showing and expressing his colorful Hopi culture to others.

"I am very active in trying to keep Native American cultures alive here in Germany, by bringing people together for mutual understanding and by organizing events to inform the public about how the Native American people are today encouraging a deeper respect for one another," Namingha said.

The Native American Association of Germany organizes annual pow wows and holds lectures, exhibits, pre-school presentations, workshops and seminars about American Indian culture for the public twice a month. Namingha feels this will help overcome many of the stereotypes Europeans have and inform them of what American Indian culture is today.

The association often invites American Indians from the United States and Canada to come and help with events, bringing first-hand information about other tribes to the group?s members.

The association also tries to give American Indians in the Armed Forces, stationed in Germany and closely neighboring countries, an opportunity to express their culture, dance at pow wows and meet other American Indians. Namingha said he hopes they will be willing to share the richness of their tribes in a cultural exchange.

The group has 230 members, but only eight are American Indians - Hopi, Ojibwe, Cherokee and Choctaw - some of whom are temporarily stationed in Germany.

The association publishes an educational newsletter, "Indian Country Germany," for its members. Namingha said the group felt the name was appropriate because, "step by step, Germany may just become Indian country.

"In the past, a lot of Native Americans were afraid to tell people about their heritage or background. Recently more and more Americans claim to have a Native American background. The number of those people is growing very fast. Sooner or later they will have nothing else but Native Americans over there. Well, if it gets too crowded in the United States, the Native Americans will come over to Germany."

The association encourages anyone interested in more information, wanting to help make a presentation in Germany, wishing to sell authentic American Indian arts and crafts in Europe or those who need assistance with repatriation of artifacts in European museums, to contact it by e-mail at naaog@usa.net; the web site at http://www.naaog.de or by international mail at Native American Association of Germany, Rodenbacher Str. 22, D-67661 Kaiserslautern, Germany.