So, it's been announced on Hypable and a few other sites that the four houses, or house animals at least, for Illvermorny are "Horned Serpent," "Thunder Bird," "Puckwudgie," and "Wampus."
Well, Rowling sure does love us Americans huh?
Now before I go further, I want to make this clear. I have very limited understanding of the Native American culture, and I am VERY hesitant to go too far in, and so I will just analyze this from a few different angles, and when I stop it is mostly because I think it's a space I should not talk about too much. That being said, I think there is one thing that needs to be very, very well understood.
Jo. Is not. American. I mean, in my last post on the matter, I made out to show some complaints and such, about her sort of misunderstanding or well, muddling our history at parts. To be honest, there are aspects I think she got right (like earlier mingling of wizarding populations, as color of skin was likely not as high on their discrimination scale as the muggles/no-maj populations). But the problem is, the history and the development of culture in the United States is deeply, inordinately related to struggles of racial oppression, integration, and a unique brand of individualism that makes us a VERY strange animal. American culture can be both the most xenophobic and inclusive thing at times, and it's sort of that duality that matters. On that note, Jo is not an American. She's still distinctly British but as the world expands, it's good to keep that in mind, because there are going to be many, many things about Americans that she may write that will be strange for us. Our differences are larger than calling lories "trucks" and biscuits "cookies." This is American culture written from an outsider's perspective, which should be taken as more edifying for the purposes of how it's seen abroad than any attack or earnest representation of ourselves. So my fellow 'muricans, "chill."
So before addressing the largest elephant in the room, let's go over the house animals.
A Horned Serpent is a creature associated with waters and the rivers, from some research, it appears that they were associated in both healing and harm, medicine and poisons. There was a story in which two children escaped from an evil woman by fleeing using the Horned serpent, by picking the toads that were bothering it, and convincing it they had popped them and killed them. There are also some tales involving a sort of animosity between the Horned Serpent and the Thunder Bird.
The Thunder bird is described by rowling as closely related to the phoenix but I think that's a very poor description. They are considered sacred, as are the horned serpents, and there have been stories of sacrifices to these birds. And they are symbols of power, and it appears that they are also symbols of authority. Notably, these birds seem to be more often affiliated with the North West than the East Coast. They are responsible for the sounds of thunder, and according to some, lightning.
Pukwudgies, while they would be apt to be called the "hufflepuff-look alike" to some extent based on name alone, are not nearly as cuddly as the badger. They are small, trollish creatures that are alleged to transform into something that looks more like a porcupine. However, they also seem to have a particularly dark reputation. There is a story, of how they wanted to be loved by a tribe, but as the tribe lauded gifts on their creator giants, the Pukwudgies caused some retribution upon them. Based off descriptions, they seem to be closer to Red Caps than anything else I can imagine.
This leaves us to the Wampus, which a cougar-like creature, with a connection to various tales two of which I could find were of a woman that left to spy on the men, and was punished for it, and another was of a woman that became a guardian for her tribe. There were other things I had read as well, including connections to the earth and connotations of death.
Now while my descriptions are woefully inadequate, especially as we have no idea how Rowling sees these creatures, there should be a few connotations that people can see. There is a snake, bird, feline and "rodent-y" creature mentioned, analogous to our dear Hogwarts's Serpent, Eagle, Lion, and Badger. From this, I would actually argue that either the analogous houses would be Slytherin= Horned Serpent/Pukwudgie, Ravenclaw=horned serpent/thunderbird, Gryffindor=Thunder bird, Hufflepuff=Wampus, or there IS no good analogue to each house, and there are different values from the cunning, clever, kind and brave of the UK. To some extent, this second one seems more likely, especially given 1) when Hogwarts was formed in comparison to Ilvermorny and 2) the fact that houses and sorting were secondary to Ilvermorny. In the time of Hogwarts, the houses and the crests were those of it's founders, embodying their values, which in the time of it's founding, were likely the values more prominent in the day. Not to trash Ilvermorny, but given its establishment after Salem, bravery may not have been a trait to have. Yes, there were good reasons to be brave, but better reasons to be clever and cunning. There would likely be different traits from the pre-arthurian ones, when witches and wizards could still, to some extent, feasibly use magic around their non-magical counterparts. In addition, as Ilvermonry started as two teachers with two students, I would only argue that houses were a secondary feature, taken on later, possibly by those four individuals. That being said, at least some of them were likely from the UK, leading to the implementation of the house system as a way of breaking down the courses among different students.
As such, I'd state that Thunder Bird would be the house of "leadership," Horned Serpent the house of "innovation" regarding the duality of the creature, Wampus being the house of "family" (based largely off of this story) and Pukwudgie being the house of "passion" or "determination" based off of their desire to be liked turning to rage, and their tenacity in fighting giants.
So we have a what, how, and part of the why regarding the houses of Ilvermorny, but now, for the larger "why?" namely "Why go for creatures that the Native American culture considers sacred?" Now there are a few in-cannon ways I could go about it, namely the newcomers did not see the creatures as sacred and just appropriated them to best demonstrate their values. In the Wizarding World Rowling has created, these creatures are very real, and some of the sacred nature probably was de-mystified as wizards may have even used some of these creatures in wand woods (we know thunder bird and wampus cat hair are used). As for the out of cannon reasons, it does not play out nearly as neatly. I'm willing in part to give Rowling a pass on some of this, well, most of it, principally because she does NOT know the culture, and I sincerely want to like Fantastic Beasts and what she has planned for Wizard-NYC. However, the difficulty in all of it is it is still very, very much Brittish. Which fits the East Coast to some extent, but not the United States and it's culture as a whole. I mean there are some parts that seem correct. We overreact. (See Salem and the ban on inter-marriage/the "SUPER SECRECY STATUTE" that Dorcas caused.) And we're a bit, fearful at times leading to questionable decisions. (Again, see Salem.) And we're just rather nuts in general. (See Salem AND the "Second Salemers.") But we're more complex than that. One of our presidents sent the Native American population on a death march across the country. We had slavery and we have had multiple waves of blatant xenophobia come across the nation to the point where one can summarize the American Experience as being the new kid, picked on and harassed, only to join in on the picking on when someone newer comes along.
But that's the thing. Rowling is again, very British. She's looking at this from how she thinks we would. Would Americans be content to just have a wolf as a house emblem? No, that wolf would have fire jutting out from its jaw and it would poop gold. There's also the fact that those in the United States, up till relatively recently, were mostly content with naming sports teams after the native peoples to varying degrees of respect given. What person wouldn't think this is what we'd do? It is a bird that shoots lightning, a giant snake, a mountain lion with like, 6 legs and a tiny porcupine troll that kills giants.
So while it is pretty offensive, it's certainly also very, very American. That being said, we should probably realize that there's still some saving graces available for Rowling to make some effort to patch up her mistakes.
(On that note, if she ever reads this... OMG JO! I LOVE YOU! Seriously though, if you want to write more on America... call me. I'm a history buff and a major nerd. Or at least talk with a few of our history professors. And a few other people. Seriously, research. Still love you. You are the queen!)