A couple days ago I went to a TJ Maxx in Massachusetts, and my sister and I were oo-ing and ahh-ing over some gorgeous studded Valentino heels. I grabbed the box to look at the price tag (way out of my budget), but then flipped it over, and saw this.
That’s a headdress. A sacred headdress. Again.
I literally have no more words to talk about the ways these warbonnets have been commodified, separated from the cultures from which they come, and appropriated in advertising, costuming, whatever. I, literally, have been writing about this phenomenon for seven years. SEVEN YEARS! In internet years that’s truly forever.
So to recap, in 2011, I wrote a piece called “But why can’t I wear a hipster headdress.” I wrote it out of frustration with the (then) burgeoning trend of non-Native people wearing headdresses at music festivals. Now, all these years later I should probably revisit it, but the arguments still (pretty much) stand. After that, I wrote well over 15 different posts about various celebrities and designers wearing headdresses. Drew Barrymore, Amy Poehler, Tom Ford, Khloe Kardashian, Karlie Kloss, and on and on. That doesn’t include the music festivals, the offensive parties, the advertising campaigns, or the fashion collections. Hundreds of examples. So at this point, I always have a very hard time allowing anyone to use the ignorance defense. Even international brands like Valentino–you should know better…ESPECIALLY in this case.
[This post originally appeared on Bello Collective, a newsletter & publication about audio storytelling and the podcast industry.]
By Guest Contributor Liza Yeager
(AK Note: Liza is one of my incredible students from this semester in my “History and Resistance in Native Representations” class. This is her final project for the course. She is a podcast, radio, and audio story aficionado, interning for NPR Story Lab (as the first ever intern!), and starting her own audio story network called Now Here This, which I highly recommend checking out and listening to a few of the student-produced stories.)
Ryan McMahon is an Anishinaabe comedian, writer, and media maker based out of Treaty #1 territory in Northwestern Ontario, Canada. That’s how he introduces himself. But Ryan is so much busier than that introduction makes him sound.
Ryan hosts two podcasts, Red Man Laughing and Stories From The Land. He also runs Makoons Media Group, and he’s the founder and director of a whole podcast network, Indian & Cowboy. Indian & Cowboy is the world’s only listener-supported Indigenous podcast network, home to eight Native-hosted shows. When I connected with Ryan, he was on tour with Stories From The Land, producing live storytelling shows and workshops in Indigenous communities around Canada. We talked about that tour, the potential of Indigenous podcasting, and how frustrating it is when mainstream networks won’t hit retweet.
Liza: How did you get started with podcasting?
Ryan: Well, I’ve always loved radio. And, you know, I’m not going to say that I listened to NPR every Saturday with my Poppy. It’s not like that. But I grew up listening to radio. At our cabin on the lake for the summers when we would hang out there, or if we were camping, there was always a radio on.
I have a BFA in theater, and when I left theater school, I moved to Toronto to chase my dreams as an actor. At one of these Indigenous arts communities parties I went to, there was this woman named Elaine Bomberry. Up here in Canada she’s an OG of Indigenous arts and culture, and she was running a radio show. I was a twenty-one year old university graduate, thought I was pretty hot stuff. They were looking for volunteers at the radio station, and Elaine cornered me at one of these parties and said, “You should really consider coming to volunteer.” I was such an asshole. I said, “Um, Elaine. Excuse me. I, um, I have a degree in theater. I am an actor. I have no interest in radio.”
And here I am twenty years later. Running a podcasting company. So, I just love it. I love it so much. I’ve been podcasting since 2009. I’ve watched it grow, I’ve watched it crash, I’ve watched it regrow. And we’re just in this really beautiful time right now.
What about audio specifically is useful for you as an Indigenous media maker?
I just think the medium is so exciting. It’s relatively inexpensive to produce; it’s a flexible creative medium that allows us to be publishers, you know? At the end of the day, legacy media does not belong to Indigenous people or people of color. We don’t own these places.
Once in awhile we’re lucky enough if one of us gets hired. And then the one person who gets hired ends up doing all, like, the tragic, sad Indigenous stories. We talk about the diabetes or the poverty or the murder. But we’re never able to celebrate our lives; we’re never able to tell our stories, our reality, reflect our dreams and our hopes.
And, you know, audio and podcasting and creative storytelling are really beautiful mediums to do that.
But maybe more importantly, one of the reasons we chose audio was political. Almost every Indigenous community has a radio station. That is one thing we have. We use radio as sort of our beacon to the world. We call bingo on the radio; we break up with our wives on the radio; we put morning announcements up on the radio; we listen to old-school country on the radio. So all of our content is available to Indigenous and community or campus radio for free. It was a political decision to try to feed into that system.
You’re on tour now with Stories From The Land. Could you explain a little bit about the tour and maybe share some standout memories from the last few months?
It’s a live storytelling project and we go from Indigenous community to Indigenous community to invite youth and elders together to remind each other to remember who we are, or who we were, an effort to return to that. And you know, not in a romantic-loincloth-campfire kind of sense, but really looking at Indigenous worldviews and laws and governance and a way that we once lived, using storytelling to remind us of that and to consider how we may live under those auspices today. And it’s been incredible. Last night I just completed show number 25. It’s all a blur. I’m out of underwear; I have no socks. I am sick of breakfast sandwiches at the various fast food joints; I can’t drink any more bad coffee; my boots have a hole in them. I’ve experienced all four seasons while on this trip and I’ve heard some incredible stories.
In Six Nations, which is Mohawk territory, I did a podcasting workshop with a group of young people there. And as I started doing podcasting 101 with them and making a list of gear and things that you need, I started to see these young people look around the table at each other, kind of sideways. And I started paying attention to them, and a note was passed across the table like old-school seventh grade. And I thought, what the heck is going on. And so I just asked, I said, “What’s happening, what’s going on?” And they said, “You know, we didn’t want to interrupt you but we are so excited by this. We’d never heard of — well, we’d heard of podcasting but we didn’t know what podcasting entailed, and it’s so easy. We want to start a Mohawk language podcast.” And I was like, “Holy shit, stop stop stop.” So, we’re working on it. Now we are working on a Mohawk language podcast. Like, this is revolutionary. This is the revolution, is Indigenous people returning to themselves
So my dream, much like in the United States with The Moth or any of these live storytelling shows, is to fill theaters with Indigenous voices and Indigenous stories. It’s time America looks in the mirror to look at its history and to hear from Indigenous people who, by the way, are clearly still here. And a live storytelling show featuring Indigenous voices would be a profound moment for either of our countries.
Indian & Cowboy has been up and running for a few years now. What’s been challenging?
I want to quit every day. It’s so hard. We’re fighting for listeners; we’re trying to attract good, ethical investors that can invest a little bit of money into the company. And it’s a struggle.
The podcasting space is a very white dude-bro kind of space — and a bunch of dudes can turn on some microphones and talk some shit but that’s not what podcasting is to me. The potential of podcasting is so much greater than that.
And, yeah, it’s hard because even where you get these panels once in a while at a podcasting festival or a conference where it’s like “podcasters of color” or “minorities in podcasting,” there are never Indigenous people on those panels, ever. And, you’re holding your conference in Indigenous territories all the time. So there’s a fundamental disconnect there.
That’s where I’ve reached out to the mainstream to say look, you don’t have to give a shit, but we’re trying really hard here. You know, can you just fucking retweet this for me?
Like, you just held a fucking conference on minorities in podcasting. Here’s our website. We just put out something awesome; we just celebrated ten Indigenous women’s voices in podcasting. You know, Radiotopia, can you just retweet? No, you can’t? That’s how frustrating it is. By the way — I don’t know anyone from Radiotopia. I’m sure they’re nice.
But, we’re in a little invisible part of the internet where Indian & Cowboy lives and, again, we’re so far so good. We’re really happy with our work and our output. But I see the potential and I see where this could go and I’m encouraged and frustrated at the same time.
When you think about the potential, what does that look or sound like?
Really it’s about resurgence. If you’re Indigenous, everything you do is political. And we just need to get over that hump. We’re really close. There’s this giant boulder we’re holding. Is that Camus? Is it Sisyphus? Those guys are asked to push this boulder up a hill? Well, it’s the same metaphor with colonialism. We’re holding this giant boulder. And, you know, there’s a whole bunch of us holding it. And our ancestors before us, they were holding it. And every once in a while the boulder rolls backwards, and it kills a few of us. And then we gotta push it back up to where we were. Eventually we hope to push it over the top of this hill, and then the boulder of colonialism rolls back down and we’re free. And that’s how the creative space feels.
We’ve been doing creative work for the last 200 years. We’ve survived at the hands of genocide. We’ve lost our land, our young people are killing themselves in record numbers, our women are five times more likely to go missing our murdered, and yet we fight on, every day. Right?
Like, we’re so close to breaking through in so many ways. And in some respects we are; we have some artists that have broken through. But even those breakthrough artists, relatively speaking, they’re not known or respected or valued the way they should be. And that’s where we call on our allies, that’s where we call on these mainstream spaces. And I’ll just go back to it, like, Gimlet or Radiotopia, those that have the tools to invest in these stories, to invest in this energy, they should be! Because there’s great reward waiting for everyone that supports Indigenous peoples resurgence.
But yeah, the future of it looks political. It looks like a celebration. It’s loud, it’s nuanced, it empowers those in our community that have been disempowered the longest: Indigenous women and two-spirit people. It empowers our entire community; it tells the world who we are. And it tells us who we are. I think at its best, podcasting can do all those things.
And that’s why it’s Indian & Cowboy. It’s the new Wild West. The internet and this medium is the new Wild West for us, except, there’s no — John Wayne is dead, if you will.
It’s so exciting to hear about what you’re doing. Also, I’ve really appreciated having Indian & Cowboy podcasts on my listening cycle this year.
Don’t tell people about the ones you like, ’cause once everyone starts liking it then podcasts change. When they really get lots of traction, the hosts change and the sounds change a little bit. I don’t know, it’s weird. So don’t tell too many people about us.
Just a quick post to let ya’ll know that I was on Another Round on Buzzfeed again, and had a lovely conversation with Heben (she’s back!). In addition to talking Standing Rock and #NoDAPL, we played a game where I had to identify Pilgrim names. I failed. But shout out to Godbert Godbertson. Listen here, and enjoy!
Two quick clarifications for things I said, cause I want to be accountable: I’ve been really, really trying to cut out ableist language, and I caught that I said “crazy” at the end of the episode. Serious apologies. I usually say “wild” these days. Also, I made a comment about Nixon being a good president for Natives. Just wanted to clarify: He was a big proponent of self-determination for Natives, ended the termination policies of the previous administrations, and his administration ushered in a new era in Federal Indian policy that was largely good for Natives. BUT he also was president during Wounded Knee and was responsible for the large military response to that siege, and overall was not a fan of the American Indian Movement and was responsible for the heavy surveillance and monitoring of folks involved in AIM. Just wanted to be clear about that. Also, as always, remember I don’t speak for all Natives on anything, and the words in the episode are based on my experience and perspective. If I said anything else that might be problematic, please feel free to let me know.
Thanks again to Another Round, it’s really a lovely episode to get to hear some of the protectors on the ground and their perspectives in addition to my hotel room rambling. The Pod Squad are masterful editors–they took a long conversation and made it coherent and beautiful.
Today one of my best friends, who we affectionately call Bean, is having her first child. A baby girl. Last night I watched on live streams as unarmed Native protectors were mercilessly attacked by militarized police. I kept thinking about my new little niece, and the world we are leaving for her. This letter is to her, on her birthday.
Dear Baby Bean,
Today you are being brought into this world, to a proud mama and dad who gave to you fierce genes–legacies of strength and resistance. Your San Carlos Apache, Hawaiian, and Mexican ancestors were fighters, resisting colonialism, federal policies of genocide and erasure, and filling their hearts and souls with love. Love for you, the answer to their prayers, the result of their love and survival. Years and years ago at Stanford your mama helped transform me from a shy and quiet girl from the suburbs into a loud, unafraid warrior. As co-chairs of the Native student group we sat in meetings with campus officials together and I watched her as she fought for our community, and I learned to do the same. She sat in my office in grad school and made me practice yelling bad words at her so I would start standing up for myself, even though I would collapse into giggles each time. Your mama has fought for her Native people at every turn, in the classroom, on her campuses, in healthcare, and now in the courtroom. I think about her when I think about you, and what power you already carry within your tiny heart.
Last night, I watched and was scared as men and women who are also fighting for our Native people, and for our water and our land, were hurt by men and women who are supposed to protect us. These brave water protectors stood on a bridge in the cold, saying prayers for the officers behind scary masks and big trucks. The officers sprayed water on them, even though it was freezing. They used weapons that are normally reserved for war. This morning I saw the news listing the attack as a “riot,” and reports saying many things that were completely untrue. We watched last night, little one, as they sprayed the protectors. We watched as they used those weapons. The protectors didn’t start fires. The protectors sang and prayed. We saw.
But I want you to know that last night songs were sung for you. Prayers were said for you. Our elders, your elders, knew you were coming. They asked Creator to protect you, and bless your journey. Because I’m sorry little one, with your eyes just opening to this big and new world, but this fight is now yours too. But I don’t want you to worry. I want you to concentrate on learning to breathe, to eat, to cry, to laugh, and to love. The rest will come later. The fight will come later.
You share a birthday with my Gram, and that makes me happy. She is 90 today. She grew up in rural Oklahoma on Cherokee allotment land, attended Chilocco Indian School, and somehow ended up in Southern California married to an Armenian and raising three Cherokee-Armenian kids. She has taught me a lot, about generosity, love, sewing, cooking, the importance of family, and the importance of remembering. So I will remember her journey for you, and the journey of the others that have come before her and after her. I will remember this fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the ways our people have come together in ways like never before. I’ll whisper Mni Wiconi–water is life–and I’ll remember for you.
Your Auntie Adrienne just came back from Standing Rock, my second trip. I have felt the power and joy of camp, the intensity of direct actions, and the sometimes overwhelming sadness that a big company and the US government can be so cruel. I have been changed from this fight, and know that forever into the future I will be ready to stand in ways I haven’t before. Our world is in a hard time right now, love, and it will continue to get harder. But there are people like me, and so many others that will not rest until things are better–for you, and all the little ones like you.
As you grow up, I promise to protect you. I promise to continue to fight as hard as I possibly can to ensure a future for you. To protect your water, your sacred land, and your sovereignty. Whatever your future gender identity or who you choose to love, I will make sure you can be who you are meant to be. I want you to turn on the TV or open the newspaper on your fancy-soon-to-be-invented-daily-news-device and see yourself reflected. The true you, in your complexities and complications, the multitudes you contain. and I’m sorry, Baby Bean, that we couldn’t fix this world for you before you arrived. You deserve an earth with clean water, fresh air, and a world that recognizes and honors your place and contributions as an Indigenous person. These are your lands, the lands of your ancestors, and you deserve to walk on them, pray on them, and learn from them without struggle or fear.
After I can protect you no more, I know that you will take up this fight. You will fight to protect the water for your daughters and granddaughters, and you will think of them when times become hard and it feels easy to lose hope, just as we have done for you. So whether you follow your mama into the courtroom, your dad into the world of education, your Auntie into the world of academia and activism, your innumerable Stanford Aunties and Uncles into their diverse careers, or you find your own path, your existence is our future. That’s a lot of weight to heap on you on your first day with us, but whatever you choose and wherever you go know this: You, like every Native born into this world, are a victory against colonialism and attempted genocide. You are the resistance. You are hope made flesh.
You, Baby Bean, give me hope.
With all my heart,
I’ll write more about what happened last night and my recent trip to Standing Rock soon. I’m still processing. But if you want to help, from my last post, but even more necessary now:
On October 27, 2016 I sat in my office in Providence and watched on my computer as my unarmed friends were pepper sprayed, beaten, shot with rubber bullets and bean bags, and arrested. I sat glued to the choppy Facebook live streams, constantly refreshing the page and searching for others who were able to get a signal when one would drop. I live-tweeted the streams, desperately trying to get folks online to tune in and see what was happening. I retweeted and signal boosted, I even called the White House. Before I knew it, I looked at the clock and realized it had been over five hours.
“The power Cherokees attributed to menstruating women is illustrated by the myth “The Stone Man.” The Stone Man was a cannibal with a skin of solid rock and an appetite for Indian hunters. When a hunter spotted Stone Man heading for a village, he hurried to the medicine man, who stationed seven menstruating women in the cannibal’s path. The Stone Man grew progressively weaker as he passed the women and collapsed when he came to the last one. The medicine man drove seven sourwood stakes through the Stone Man’s heart, and the people built a large fire on top of him. While he was burning, the Stone Man taught the people songs for hunting and medicine for various illnesses. When the fire died down, the people found red paint, which they believed brought success. Through the power of menstruating women, therefore, great tragedy was averted and good fortune brought to the people.” (30)
I was reading Cherokee Womenby Theda Purdue, and I got to the passage quoted above. I smiled, thinking about a line of menstruating women stopping Stone Man, picturing something like this GIF:
But in reading through the section in her book about traditional beliefs around menstruation, and the misinterpretation of those beliefs, made me start thinking more deeply about my own relationship with my body, my hormones, and their power. Power is something that can be both negative and positive—evil can be powerful, but good can also be powerful. And in my struggles I’ve seen plenty of both.
This has been a piece that has been nearly impossible to write, but I write because I’ve seen how little women (and all people who menstruate) openly talk about these issues, and how stigmatized talking about moontimes and monthly bleeding has become in Indian Country.
So I write this by way of explanation, to the many missed deadlines, unanswered emails, unanswered texts, broken plans, the resentful subtweets and facebook posts from colleagues and friends. I’m sorry.
I have not seen the highly acclaimed, Tony-award winning, ground breaking, race-bending new musical Hamilton. Not due to lack of trying. I enter the digital lottery nearly every single day on my phone, though if I do somehow win it will mean the most panicked four hours of my life trying to get from Providence to NYC in time for the show. But that’s an aside. What I have done is listened to the soundtrack hundreds of times (not exaggerating), as well as listened to interviews of Lin Manuel Miranda on Another Round–we’re fellow Another Round alums!–and a couple other places.
I truly have had the soundtrack on repeat for months, including right now, except for “Quiet Uptown,” because sad. So, while I haven’t seen the show, I feel like I’ve consumed enough media surrounding the actual production to offer this review–or offer this question, really. But I will add these disclaimers: I have not seen the show. I have not read the HamilTome with insight from Miranda into the writing and production of the show. I have not read the Hamilton book that inspired the show. So, if I’m wrong or there are specifics I don’t know about, feel free to let me know (Or take me with you to see it? Please?).
But, I still feel qualified to ask: Where the heck are the Native people in Hamilton?
The Washington Post has apparently devoted a lot of time and resources to conducting a “nationally representative” poll of “Native Americans” to find out whether or not they find the Redsk*ns name offensive. In their survey of 504 “Native Americans,” they found that 90% did not find the name offensive. They published a follow up that gives the details on the survey and answers some FAQ.
Before I dive in, a note: This is not something I should have to do. For the last 7 years I’ve been writing this blog we’ve made huge gains in the way the public thinks about Native peoples and Native mascots. It’s been the hard, hard work of a huge community of activists and community members for decades, and I just don’t understand why WaPo felt the need to do this poll. More on this in a minute, but we’ve got psychological studies, tribal council votes, thousands of Native voices, and common decency and respect on our side, yet that was not enough. The Washington Post needed their OWN survey. The perspectives of Native peoples, who this effects directly, apparently aren’t enough.
So the poll. WaPo has generously provided (that’s not sarcasm) the actual questions, the breakdown by demographics for each, so feel free to explore. Look here.
Yesterday I wrote about the trailer for JK Rowling’s new multi-part background pieces on Pottermore, entitled “Magic in North America.” You should read the post here if you need context. Even before that, back in June, I wrote about my concerns with the bringing of the “magic universe” to the States. You can read that here.
So this morning at 9am, part one of this mess was released. It’s really short, I don’t know what I was expecting, but definitely go over and read it in full.
There are a number of things that stand out and deeply concern me, but the response to my critiques on my twitter timeline is even worse. I’ll talk about that after I walk you through the text. Because, like with everything I critique, it’s not just the mascot/image/text/movie/fashion itself, it’s the response, how it’s used, and the impact. This has the perfect storm of all of those categories. I really could write a dissertation about this, but I have a million papers to grade and work to do, so a quick rundown:Read More
Remember back in June when it was announced that the new Harry Potter prequel-of-sorts had an American Wizarding school? Remember how I was concerned? If you don’t, here’s a link to that post. Basics of my argument were:
The problem, Jo (can I call you Jo? I hope so), is that we as Indigenous peoples are constantly situated as fantasy creatures. Think about Peter Pan, where Neverland has mermaids, pirates…and Indians. Or on Halloween, children dress up as monsters, zombies, princesses, disney characters…and Indians. Beyond the positioning as “not real,” there is also a pervasive and problematic narrative wherein Native peoples are always “mystical” and “magical” and “spiritual”–able to talk to animals, conjure spirits, perform magic, heal with “medicine” and destroy with “curses.” Think about Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas, or Tonto talking to his bird and horse in The Lone Ranger, or the wolfpack in Twilight…or any other number of examples.
But we’re not magical creatures, we’re contemporary peoples who are still here, and still practice our spiritual traditions, traditions that are not akin to a completely imaginary wizarding world (as badass as that wizarding world is). In a fact I quote often on this blog, it wasn’t until 1978 that we as Native peoples were even legally allowed to practice our religious beliefs or possess sacred objects like eagle feathers. Up until that point, there was a coordinated effort through assimilation policies, missionary systems, and cultural genocide to stamp out these traditions, and with them, our existence as Indigenous peoples. We’ve fought and worked incredibly hard to maintain these practices and pass them on.
So I get worried thinking about the message it sends to have “indigenous magic” suddenly be associated with the Harry Potter brand and world. Because the other piece I deal with on this blog is the constant commodification of our spiritual practices too. There is an entire industry of plastic shamans selling ceremonies, or places like Urban Outfitters selling “smudge kits” and fake eagle feathers. As someone who owns a genuine time-turner, I know that marketing around Harry Potter is a billion dollar enterprise, and so I get nervous thinking about the marketing piece. American fans are going to be super stoked at the existence of a wizarding school on this side of the pond, and I’m sure will want to snatch up anything related to it–which I really hope doesn’t include Native-inspired anything.