As it so happens, I am currently working on a project involving a Wendigo, so this is personal to me.
As a creator, I believe it is my responsibility, the responsibility of any creator, if using characters that belong to a culture other than mine and exploring themes from that culture, to be accurate. My basic rule is simple: be respectful. Handle the characters and the story with respect. Thus I support Scott Cooper, the director of the forthcoming (hopefully by next spring) ANTLERS, in his efforts to seek out consultation from Indian advisors when making his movie, which features a Wendigo. However, PCism taken to its extreme would say that neither Cooper, nor I, should be telling stories about Wendigos at all, since we’re not of aboriginal descent. Now that I have a major problem with. Mythology—note my use of the capital M to convey that it is far more than just some made-up stories; it is stories containing deeper spiritual truths—belongs to all of humanity. It springs from the well of the collective human unconscious, the communal soul. No one can try to stake a singular claim to it.
There’s something else. One of those advisors I just mentioned, Chris Eyre, had this to say of the Wendigo: “They [meaning Native peoples] truly, truly believe in it, because it represents greed and colonialism when we first came to the shores of what is now America, and pillaged all of their resources and forced them [into] cannibalism. That taste of human flesh, which out of that rose the wendigo.”
Okay, don’t anybody get me wrong. Those things, the predation on the Indians by Europeans, most certainly happened. And I accept that the Wendigo can symbolize for them that exploitation. But I do notice that Eyre stopped short of saying colonialization is the origin for the Wendigo legend. I’m glad, because I don’t believe that it is. I believe that the Wendigo is far older than that, far more primal. Europeans may well have behaved like Wendigos when they invaded the Americas—they did—but they didn’t bring the Wendigo with them. It was already here.