In a few indigenous tribes, such as The Lakota, there is a sacred and special part of a person’s culture and each one has a different connection with what is commonly referred to as a “spirit animal.” Many new practitioners of Paganism and witchcraft will hear the term and will think nothing of it, even want to incorporate it into their own practices, but the term comes with a long history of colonial atrocities against indigenous people. From forced assimilation to outright murder, the genocide against Native Americans is a long list of atrocities and erasure with the term “spirit animal” becoming the latest in the long list. The word was not even coined by indigenous people, it was chosen by non-natives to homogenize all tribes that believe in animism; that is, they created the word to lump all of the very separate cultures together because they shared one similar idea(even though each one had a different variation)(Coles, 2018).
While the concept of animism is prevalent in cultures all over the world, each one has their own word for it, much like the term “familiar” for the cunning folkin England(Wilby, 2005). This is no different for the native tribes, so using the word to homogenize them can be harmful.
Link to Indigenous Tribes page
Coles, Donyae. “Not Your Spirit Animal: Cultural Appropriation, Misinformation, and the Internet.” Spiral Nature Magazine, 8 Nov. 2018, www.spiralnature.com/spirituality/spirit-animal-cultural-appropriation.
Wilby, Emma (2005). Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 1-84519-078-5.