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"Native American" was a term used to denote a member of any of the indigenous peoples of North America, South America, and the Caribbean.[1] They are also known as First Nations people in Canada. The term was most commonly applied to members of the indigenous peoples of North America.


Pre- and early colonial period

The existence of North America was known to witches and wizards long before European explorers came across the continent.[2] Methods of magical travel such as brooms and Apparition allowed distant magical communities to maintain contact with each other from the Middle Ages onwards.[2] Thus, before European colonists settled in North America in the 16th century, the magical communities of Africa and Europe were in contact with the Native American magical community.[2] When word spread of Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, two wizards from the Wampanoag tribe and a woman from the Narragansett tribe and her two daughters were among its first students. They shared the magical knowledge of their people in return for instruction in wand use.[3]

Native American witches and wizards practised wandless magic.[2] They were especially skilled when it came to animal and plant magic, and their Potion-making knowledge was far more advanced than that of Europe.[2] Sometimes, Native American witches and wizards were accepted members of their respective tribes, even attaining positions of prominence and respect as medicine men or skilled hunters.[2] However, others faced ostracisation within their tribes, typically under the belief they were possessed by evil spirits.[2]

The legend of the skin-walker – an evil witch or wizard capable of changing into an animal – arose from Native American Animagi.[2] To prevent themselves from being outed, unscrupulous No-Maj medicine men who were faking magical powers circulated malicious rumours about Animagi, and thus the false belief that people gained the ability to transform into an animal by sacrificing their own kin became widespread among Native Americans.[2] In reality, however, most Native American Animagi used their powers to avoid persecution or hunt for their tribe.[2] Real skin-walkers never existed, being nothing more than a story used to demonise wizards.[4]

The magic of local Native American tribes played an important role in the construction of Ilvermorny, the North American school of magic.[5]

20th century

Harry Potter, looking at a photo of the Dumbledore family in 1997, was reminded of Native Americans by Kendra Dumbledore because of her facial features.[6]


Behind the scenes

  • J. K. Rowling has drawn criticism for the way that she presented Native Americans, as well as select Native American traditions and beliefs, in the Magic in North America article series on Pottermore.[7] Her incorporation of skin-walkers and medicine men, real aspects of certain Native American cultures, into the fictional Harry Potter universe has led to charges of cultural appropriation, and of treating genuine Native American traditions and beliefs as fantasy.[7] Dr Adrienne Keene, a Cherokee writer, told Rowling on Twitter: "You can’t just claim and take a living tradition of a marginalised people. That’s straight up colonialism/appropriation."[7][8] In addition, Rowling has been accused of conflating the many distinct indigenous peoples of North America into a single, homogeneous culture.[7] As Keene observed on her blog Native Appropriations: "One of the largest fights in the world of representations is to recognise Native peoples and communities and cultures are diverse, complex, and vastly different from one another."[7][9] Rowling's portrayal has also been criticised for reinforcing stereotypes of Native Americans as primitive and in touch with nature.[10] Johnnie Jae, founder of the website A Tribe Called Geek, noted that "there is [a] problem when non-natives continue to use outdated & racist stereotypes as the basis for their native characters."[7][11] Following the release of a new piece on Pottermore regarding Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Rowling again fell under criticism for incorporating real Native American culture into her fantasy universe, which some viewed as cultural appropriation.[12] Others also found the story of the founding of Ilvermorny to have colonialist elements.[12]


Notes and references

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