What is your spirit animal? If you Google “spirit animal,” you will find a slew of quizzes that will help you define your inner self. The catchphrase that became an internet sensation in the mid-aughts is finally over, and you can thank Rihanna for that (sort of).
Last week, Rihanna presented her incredible 2019 Savage x Fenty collection during New York Fashion Week. She praised several of her collaborators and models on her Instagram, including choreographer Parris Goebel. Rihanna posted a picture of the two and captioned it, “y’all are literally bout to witness why this woman right here is my spirit animal! God gifted genius!! 😽💪🏿 love you @parrisgoebel.” Seems pretty innocent, right?
Instagram user @hannie.oakley responded to Rihanna by saying, “Please stop using ‘spirit animal’ unless you belong to one of the indigenous groups to which this concept belongs.” Rihanna responded to @hannie.oakley and said, “you’re so right! It won’t happen again.”
And just like that, a spirit animal is canceled — at least if you’re not Native American. Tristan Picotte, a writer for Partnership With Native Americans, shared his thoughts on the term spirit animal, the roots of this term, and how the internet basically stole it from his people.
“Spirit Animal, Animal Guide, Spirit Helper. These terms are used among different cultures to describe spirits of benevolent nature, usually helping someone during a hard time. These spirits can bring strength, insight, and even a sense or feeling to someone who needs it,” he wrote last year.
He adds, “In my teachings, a Spirit Helper isn’t something you choose or identify with but rather something that comes to you in your time of need. Perhaps the animal represents something that holds a certain value, such as strength in a bull or agility in a dragonfly. Lakota culture, it’s from these spirits that we tend to associate values with certain animals. However, that’s not all they bring…Spirit Helpers are not a novelty. They hold a special place and represent a larger spiritual culture within a tribe. Many people don’t take the time to really understand this, and the adapted understanding and misappropriation is concerning and often offensive to Native cultures.”
The term “spirit animal” is offensive to First Nation and indigenous tribes but look girl I love that u feel like I’m ur inner self! LOVE URSELF! *Muah* 😘 https://t.co/rmoJ9y5bYo
— FOLLOW @YITTY (@lizzo) May 5, 2018
So, while it took the world a minute to realize using Spirit Animal as a meme, everyday phrase, or even worse — a joke — is wrong and offensive. It’s kind of a shame that it took almost 20 years for someone with Rihanna’s clout to inspire others to drop that phrase from their life as well.