An Open Letter to the Mercer Chamber of Commerce: Erasure is not the answer

In open letter by Adrienne K.3 Comments

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By Guest Contributor Migizi Pensoneau

ICYMI, Harrodsburg, Kentucky decided it would be an awesome idea to host the 2nd Annual James Ray “Indian Attack” 5k. After folks were outraged, they posted the notice above, as well as a longer message on their Facebook page. This is Migizi’s response.

To Whom It May Concern (really it concerns all of you),

I’m very happy that the more demeaning aspects of Native American representation were pulled from the 5K. However, I do have a couple of very quick points of contention.

First, in your message via your website, it is mentioned that, “The Mercer Chamber of Commerce and the Pioneer Days Festival Committee, after being made aware of an inappropriate reference to Native Americans in a story and advertisement published in the Advocate Messenger, has pulled all references to Native Americans in its print and internet media.”

Why, exactly, would you do that? I guarantee that Native Americans were a very big part of your demographics during the celebrated and aforementioned time period. It’s time to embrace ugly history, America. Harrodsburg and Mercer County could lead the charge! Imagine if, during the Pioneer Days, there weren’t just reenactments, but you brought in actual Shawnee, Chickasaw, and Cherokee to talk about their version of history. That’s not a revisionist history I’m talking about here, Mercer County. Revisionist is the awful mess of a 5K Run you had going. Through education and discussion, maybe the celebration in Mercer can be one of truth and the re-humanization of the Native Americans of whom you’re still obviously terrified.
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James Ray “Indian Attack” 5k: Family fun for everyone!

In Long form essays, longform takedown by Adrienne K.7 Comments

This is one of those things where I had to read the original article a few times to make sure this wasn’t some bad attempt at satire–but no, Harrodsburg Kentucky is hosting its 2nd annual James Ray “Indian Attack” 5k as part of “Pioneer Days.”

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What’s the concept of the “Indian Attack” 5k, you ask? Well it’s simple. White people dress up in redface, and chase other white people, who escape (while dodging water balloons and other projectiles) into a “fort” at the finish line. THIS IS ACTUALLY A THING.

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Open letter to that celebrity that did that thing: Cultural appropriation Mad Libs

In open letter, Uncategorized by Adrienne K.2 Comments

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Dear <Company/Individual/Celebrity name>,

Hey, you know that <noun> that you <verb, past tense> on/in <place> <timeframe>? While you might have thought it was <gerund*> to Native peoples, the reality is that it’s actually extremely <adjective> and <adjective>.

There are over 566+ tribes in the United States, and the <noun> that you <verb, past tense> reduces us into a one dimensional stereotype that erases the diversity of Native communities. Each community has our own language, histories, and cultures–there is not one “Native American” anything in the US.

You might say <dismissive phrase>, but these issues of representation matter. They matter because Indigenous peoples were slated for extinction with the arrival of colonists, and in order to obtain the land and the resources, Native peoples had to be removed from the land. We were <violent verb, past tense> and <violent verb, past tense>, and in order to justify this, we had to be painted as <negative adjective>, <negative adjective>, and <negative adjective>. Your cultural appropriation just continues that process, continuing to erase our current existence and disrespect our cultural heritage. We are <positive adjective>, <positive adjective> communities, and deserve to be treated with respect.

So, <Company/Individual/Celebrity> how do you fix it? You can start with an apology, one that owns up to what you did, does not say “sorry you were offended,” and then lays out a plan for how you will move forward. I would recommend a donation to <awesome Native organization>, who <description of the awesome work they do>. I often say that there should be no representations of us, without us–so how will you include Native perspectives and voices moving forward? There are any number of Native <occupation, plural> that you could reach out to for a collaboration, such as <badass Native> or <badass Native>. They can help you think through the ways you are representing Native peoples, and past experience has shown that the community will rise up and support collaborations that are done right.

You may not read this letter, <Company/Individual/Celebrity>, you may not think this is anything worthy of your attention or time. But <timeframe> when you <verb, past tense> that <noun>, you sent a message to Native peoples we, our cultures, and our communities don’t matter to you, and I hope this letter can help you see that our <positive adjective> peoples are still here, and we still matter.

<Closing in Native language>,

<Your Name>

stenberg

Amandla Stenberg is bae.

 (Her video, in case you haven’t seen it)

So yeah, this is a little tongue-in-cheek, a little bit of a joke, but dudes, I’m tired. Feel free to use as you see fit, feel free to post completed versions in the comments. Also, I know it’s not perfect…roll with it. Xoxo

But if that doesn’t work:

Dear <Company/Individual/Celebrity name>,

<Interjection!> <Interjection!> <String of words your mom probably wouldn’t want you using>. <Word that rhymes with a water animal that quacks>.

<Passive aggressive closing>,

<Your Name>

 

 

*Though I might have a lot of fancy degrees, this was actually a very informative grammar lesson. I had to look up this word. Whats the word for a word that ends in “-ing”???

The Political Discourses of Black Indigeneity, And Why It Matters

In Uncategorized by Adrienne K.5 Comments

Detroit skyline

By Dr. Kyle Mays, Guest Contributor 

Scenario: So, I’m sitting with five dear friends in at one of their apartments. Two were women, three were men, all were Black, except for me (I am Black/Saginaw Chippewa). We’re eating grilled chicken, mac-n-cheese, a bomb-ass fruit salad, and a salad with Thai-sesame dressing; the food was on point! After finishing our meals, we had some carrot cake with cream cheese frosting (yum!) with coffee⎯medium roast. Luckily we finished our meal and no one suffered the itis.

As is our custom, we began to debate politics, popular culture, and just straight shit talking. Our conversations ranged from whether Beyonce can be a feminist, to how someone could support racist mascots. Then, we started to debate current happenings in the D (Detroit!). The bulk of our discussion was centered on how hipsters⎯white hipsters⎯are moving into Detroit, and setting up businesses downtown. One of my friends called it gentrification, the other homie chimed in and made a distinction between urban renewal, which is what is happening downtown, and gentrification, which is happening all over the city. I was pretty quiet, after all, I’m a historian, what do I know about contemporary politics?

Anyways, one of my friends made an interesting rhetorical choice by calling the white hipsters “contemporary settler colonists,” to which my head snapped up. I guess he saw my sudden reaction, and further stated his case that, yeah, white hipsters coming into Detroit were, in fact, settler colonists. My immediate reaction was to think, “Of course they are, we live in a settler colonial society.”  But the second thought made me a bit more uneasy. I thought to myself, “wait–you in this room are also settlers; you have a very different historical experience in this country, but make no mistake, your ass is a settler, too.” Even writing that makes me uncomfortable! After all, these people in the room are people I love⎯dearly. But what enhanced my discomfort happened about five minutes later, when I brought up an essay written by Detroit radicals James “Jimmy” Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs. The essay is titled, “The City is the Black Man’s Land.

In this seminal essay, published in 1970, the Boggs’ articulate a compelling argument for why it is imperative for Black folks to take over the politics of cities. Here is a passage from their essay:Read More

Dear JK Rowling, I’m concerned about the American Wizarding School.

In open letter by Adrienne K.49 Comments

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Dear JK Rowling,

I am unabashedly a huge Harry Potter fan. I first encountered Harry when I was in Junior High, volunteering at the public library (nerd status, I know). The children’s librarian handed me book 1, and I was hooked. I even used to frequent Harry Potter message boards back in the day with my friend Kathleen (we were “Parvati” and “Lavender” cause we also shared an interest in divination, ha). Anyway, all this is to say, Harry holds a sacred spot in my heart. But I’m not one of those fans who can recite things verbatim, or remember every tiny detail, so if I’m missing something, I hope one of those fans will help me out.

I’ve been interestedly following the news that there is a new Harry Potter prequel-of-sorts in the works, for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” following “magizoologist” Newt Scamander. I hadn’t been following it closely, but a few days ago, I saw your exchanges on Twitter about the name/location of the American Wizarding School–and I started to get a bit concerned. Read More

When you’re invisible, every representation matters: Political edition

In Long form essays, longform takedown, Uncategorized by Adrienne K.6 Comments

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Ready for a little history lesson? A (not-so-long) time ago, this continent was full of people. People who had been here for thousands and thousands and thousands of years, since the beginning. Then around 500 years ago, some folks showed up, pretended those people didn’t exist, or deemed them “savages” unworthy of status as human. Those interlopers decided that they could just “claim” land and resources and people and whatever else they wanted by some papal doctrine that said they could, and killed millions of the original inhabitants in the process. All in a quest for land, resources, and wealth. Then they sent in their own people to illegally occupy the previously (and continuously) inhabited lands. That process continues today, it wasn’t something that ended in 1776 with the formation of the “United States of America” on top of stolen Indigenous lands. This, my friends, is settler colonialism. Say it with me. Settler colonialism. How is this different than other colonialism? The main goal is the establishment of a new sovereign entity, not to extract resources/wealth/people for the gain of another nation-state (though there was plenty of that in the early days). There has also been no process of decolonization (working on it)–y’all are still here, still answering to a foreign power on stolen lands, and still doing everything possible through institutional and structural forces to assert that your race is superior to the “savages” on whose land you hang out indefinitely.

Phew. Just had to get that off my chest. It appears that this rather watered down and basic understanding of the history and ongoing relationship with Indigenous peoples in the United States is something that even folks vying for the top leadership positions in our country are wholly unaware of.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? I have three examples from the last couple of weeks that demonstrate how deeply the invisibility and erasure of Indigenous peoples and colonial history runs in our country–and once again why representations and stereotypes matter.Read More

New York Fashion Week Designer steals from Northern Cheyenne/Crow artist Bethany Yellowtail

In Uncategorized by Adrienne K.41 Comments

KTZ instagram

I write about cultural appropriation in fashion a lot. I’ve taken on big brands and small brands, arguing that our images and cultural property should be taken seriously. But today, things got personal. Brand KTZ’s Fall/Winter line at New York Fashion Week was “a tribute” to Indigenous peoples. There’s a lot to critique in the line (and I will), but nestled among the 45 looks was this dress:

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SNL 40th Anniversary: Mike Myers and Native Imagery

In Uncategorized by Adrienne K.28 Comments

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This week, Saturday Night Live turned 40. The show had an epic 3.5 hour long special episode, with cameos and performances from tons of folks involved during the show’s history. I watched it last night as I was grading papers (meaning I half-watched it), and didn’t expect there to be any Native representations, because there never are (except Fred Armisen’s horribly awkward/stereotypical “Native American Comic Billy Smith” on Weekend Update)*. There were even several jokes about the lack of diversity at SNL–but solely along the lines of Black/White. Never any mention of Natives, of course.

I was excited to see a Wayne’s World sketch, because I am a nerd and use #partytimeexcellent as a personal catchphrase…and then noticed something about Wayne/Mike Myers:

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Happy 5th Birthday, Native Appropriations!

In programming note by Adrienne K.8 Comments

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Hey friends, guess what? The Blog is 5! Back in January of 2010* I was a first year graduate student, and now I’m Dr. NativeApprops, and between those two milestones was a lifetime’s worth of learning, growing, finding/refining my voice, and things I could never have even imagined.

I don’t have time for a huge long reflection today, but I’m sure you’ve noticed–things are looking different around here! I finally got a chance to work on some new design elements incorporating my beautiful logo from Victor at DGTL NVJO. I’m also rolling out a new tagline (this is my new FB cover photo):

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Dear Native College Student: You are loved.

In Uncategorized by Adrienne K.11 Comments

linda hoganLinda HoganDwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World

TW: Suicide 

Dear Native College Student,

You are loved. You are loved so deeply and immensely that there are not words to convey the power of that love. Before I say any more, I want you to know that. Your ancestors love you. Your family loves you. Your friends, roommates, classmates love you. Your professors love you. Your RA loves you. The student support staff and administrators love you. We love you. And we need you. We need you here, we need you to fight, and survive and thrive. But above all else, please, please know that you are loved.

Last week, a Native student at my alma mater took his own life. When I heard the news, I was standing on top of a cliff in Hawaii overlooking the Pacific Ocean, looking out into the endless shades of blue, breathing deep and full for the first time in a long time. When I looked at my phone, I felt the familiar weight come back. The elephant that sits on my chest of worry, of fear, of concern. I silently held my friend’s arm and blinked back tears, saving them for later, when I was alone and didn’t have to express the complexity of the feelings I was holding inside.Read More