Indian mascots, they’re totes honoring to Native peoples, right? That’s what fans always tell us, at least. Inspired by this image above posted on twitter, from a Sonic in Benton, MO, I decided to take some time to compile a list of just a few instances of how these mascots totally “honor” Native people. This is just from memory, btw. There are so, so, so many more.
Let’s set the scene. You walk into school/work/a halloween party and are having an awesome day cause it’s Halloween and you are wearing an awesome costume on that has something to do with a current event (without doing something like this or this), or a play on words, or a nerdy reference…because those are the best kind of costumes, duh. Then, in the middle of your joyous revelry, you spot it. Across the room. A friend (or acquaintance, or stranger, let’s not discriminate), dressed as an “Indian.” You know what it looks like. The “buckskin,” the beads, the feathers–probably a headdress of some sort. Maybe some warpaint. Then, if you’re anything like me, you mentally go, “aw, @#$%.”
So now let’s shift to what I go through in these situations, and all of the steps and checks I go through before I engage. Because, as I’ve mentioned before, despite my ability to talk about these issues on here day in and day out, I’m bad at these conversations in real life. I’m getting better, though. Remind me to tell you sometime about my encounter with a Fox News correspondent at DFW airport…
Step one: Who is the person dressed up as an Indian?
I’ll take a second look. Do I know them? How well do I know them? Are they older than me? Are they younger than me? Are they under the age of 10 (so clearly their parents dressed them)? Is it my boss or someone who has a position of authority that can affect my future life/career?
All of those pieces change the way I’ll approach the situation. I don’t scold children (duh. please don’t go yell at a three year old about cultural appropriation). I think carefully about how my encounter with this person can play out in my future relationships. No one likes to be told they’ve done something hurtful, and these conversations are sticky no matter what. So I do take the time to stop and think. None of those situations stop me from talking to the person (except maybe the babies)–I just approach it differently. Continue Reading…
As part of my Halloween series, I’d like to try something a little different. The last couple of days, my 2011 post, “Open Letter to the Pocahotties and Indian Warriors this Halloween,” has started to make the rounds again. The first time I posted it, it caused such a firestorm I had to shut down comments (after it hit something like 500), and I even had to write a follow up post clarifying and confronting some of my own hesitancies with the post. I read it now, two years later, and my reaction is a little different–I stand by my words, and am still very confused as to how this particular post still stirs so much vitrol and hate toward me as a person. It’s started up again, which apparently is now an annual tradition. Here are a couple of the more benign samples from twitter–I actually got called the c-word by one troll today over the post–if you’re interested.
So I thought I’d re-post the original letter, with some annotations and commentary, and let’s figure out together what it is about my language that causes white folks to get real, real mad and defensive, shall we? Yes, I guess I’m performing a rhetorical analysis, on myself. I’m writing a dissertation right now, remember? I’m in crazy academic mode and I can’t get out. Original post in block quotes, thoughts below each.
Dear Person that decided to dress up as an Indian for Halloween,
Ok, pretty basic start. Notice it doesn’t say “white person,” it doesn’t say “racist person,” just person.
See that picture above? That’s what Ian Campeau of A Tribe Called Red sees when he searches for the word “RedSk*n” (without the asterisk) in the Canadian iphone app store. I’ve been searching online to see if there was any announcement accompanying this change, any statement about why or how this happened or who was responsible, and I’ve got nothing. But I hope we can agree that this is HUGE. It might seem like something minor or purely symbolic, but this is Apple we’re talking about.
I’m so incredibly humbled and honored to let y’all know that I was nominated for the 2013 Women’s Media Center Social Media Award, along with eight other amazing women doing work in social justice, feminism, media, and more. Looking at the list, I’m so excited to be considered in the same league as these folks!
When I got the email that I was nominated, I was sitting in my room, stressing about my dissertation…and then went like this:
I’ve alluded to it a bunch of times in posts and such, but I get kinda uncomfortable with the whole “fame” aspect of the blog–it’s still super weird to me that anyone wants to read what I have to say, and (to me) my ideas aren’t super novel, I’m just re-packaging what hundreds of Native activists and allies have said before me, building on a long history of fighting to be represented in true and respectful ways. But I love being able to harness the power of social media to create change, and have loved the amazing community that has developed out of this work. I couldn’t do it without all of you!
So if you wanna vote for me or any of the other incredible women nominated:
Wado (thanks), as always,
What’s up, Nicholas K? I’m Adrienne K. Nice to meet you. Maybe we’re related??? That’s a joke. We’re not related, because if you were in my family, you would know that putting models down the runway in Native American inspired headdresses is NOT OKAY. Here’s what I’m talking about (plenty more here):
So, you know, I saw the pictures a couple of days ago and was thinking, “Ok, this is BS. But, in the grand scheme of all the ish I deal with, this might not be the worst. So maybe I’ll just try and look the other way and skip on my merry way…” and then I read this write up about your show in the NYU news. Then I was like “Aw helllll no.”
Picture the urban landscape of pre-Columbus America: quite a paradox but easily captured by Nicholas K in their Spring/Summer 2014 collection at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. A trance-like track of synth bass was combined with soothing chants to create a modern tribal music that seemed thematically fitting. While still staying true to their bold use of draping, layering, and neutral tones, Nicholas K suggested a new perspective to the term ‘urban chic’ by taking us back a few years.
Garbed in subtly Native American-inspired headdresses, the models displayed the palettes of sand t-shirts, antler booties, smoke sweaters, and onyx shorts. These earthy colors further accentuated the collection’s oneness with nature captured best by an interpretation of Native American culture. While the use of chunky tribal prints was occasionally seen peeking through a granite hoody or displaying prominently on a cascading jacket, the menswear pattern of oversized plaid did not detracted from the feminine earthiness of the collection.
A nod to last spring’s color-blocking, outer pockets made their way into this spring’s collection on male models in mica and grey tones. Perhaps the best look was a pair of matching alabaster printed pant and shirt that fluttered with decadent ease down the runway, evoking the perfect blend of city chic and natural harmony. Take a note from Nicholas K for this upcoming spring; relate to the origins of America but do it with a flare of the modern age.
Ok, I know this is a student publication and all, but can we talk about this language? “A trance-like track of synth bass was combined with soothing chants to create a modern tribal music that seemed thematically fitting”? “These earthy colors further accentuated the collection’s oneness with nature captured best by an interpretation of Native American culture”? That’s the problem with “tribal” themed fashion trends or those “inspired by Native American culture”–it creates this distorted stereotype that Native peoples are a monolith, with one “culture.” This culture apparently is connected to nature and set in contrast to “urban” contexts. That first line kills me. “Picture the urban landscape of pre-Columbus America: quite a paradox…” No. Not a paradox at all. “Pre-Columbus America” was hella urban. Sorry.
And then, oh then, I dug a little more. Here is the “official” description of the collection:
For Spring 2014, brother and sister designers and CFDA members Nicholas and Christopher Kunz explore the spiritual roots of the small bands of indigenous people that formed the Ndee or Apache Nation. Antique smudge fans found on a reservation in the mountains of Central Arizona sparked the inspiration of a shamanistic journey that is embraced by the brand’s own nomadic urban roots.
A palette of sheer whites, antler and bone colored cotton trimmed with deerskin are symbols of peace, happiness and purity. Contrasting darkness in black, midnight and onyx is reminiscent of smudging smoke. Mica, another mist color, is reputed to have spiritual and life-giving qualities. Turquoise, the, “fallen sky stone,” is the accent color used throughout the collection. Natural turkey quills, dip-dyed in black and earth brown, represent the power and essence of the Apache Medicine Men.
Like the Shamans, who were draped in a mixture of textures, the collection consists of an array of free flowing fabrics. Matte gauze with shimmering lurex symbolically represents desert stones speckled with shining mica, while geods dance across printed viscose paired with reinvented linen and suede moccasins. The silhouettes of the season call to spirit light dancers – they are magically free and playful.
The show featured hair by Jon Reyman for Aveda, make-up by Daniel Martin for NYX Cosmetics and nails by Sunshine Outing for Zoya.
I can’t. I actually can’t. Past tense, hippie-spiritual BS, “shamanistic journey,”…”represent the power and essence of the Apache Medicine Men”? Yes. Thank you. Thank you for representing the “power and essence” of our spiritual practices in your fashion line at fashion week. That’s definitely the way to show respect.
So whatever. I’ve written 5 thousand million times about why headdresses on non-Native women aren’t cool, why the tribal fashion trend is problematic, what happens with you mess with sovereign nations around these issues, how you can fix it when you screw up like this, and much much more, if you care to go search around in the archives. Actually, you might want to read this take down of “Spirit Hoods.” The language/defense they used was pretty similar. So I’m not going to re-hash it again. Just read this one, if that’s too many links for your poor fashion-filled head.
So Nicholas K, if you wanna be my bro, apologize for sending models down the runway in Native headdresses and appropriating the sh*t out of Native spirituality. Don’t give me any BS about how fashion is about drawing inspiration from “everywhere” or any other number of excuses. I’ve heard them all. This whole thing has been in the news so much, I’m really surprised you didn’t have any inkling this was maybe wrong. You’ve got some explaining to do.
No, really, read this one: But why can’t I wear a hipster headdress?
Also, I know “Nicholas K” is not a person, but is actually a sibling design team. But it was more fun this way, ok?
(Thanks Chelsea, Celeste, and the others who alerted me to this on twitter!)
I know it’s been a long time between posts, I’m actually in the process of writing my dissertation(!!!). I’m getting into a routine, and hope that will mean I’ll have a (little) spare time to post more. This post is one that’s been percolating in my head for months, and while there are some more pressing issues I want to write about soon, sometimes words just have to come out.
Writing about dating on the internet is weird. Writing about dating on the internet when most, if not all, of the guys you’ve dated still read your blog, is even weirder. Writing about dating on the internet when Indian Country is so freaking small that it feels like everyone knows who you’ve dated and they all know each other is probably the weirdest of all. So hi. Hi all the guys I’ve dated in the last 4 years on the East Coast, even you, adorably short die-hard Redsk*ns fan. I’m not gonna put you all on blast. I liked all of you. Didn’t always like the way things ended, but you know how that is. So I’m not going to go through the process of what it was like dating each of you, though that might be fun. But what I am going to do is talk about some bigger issues of dating, while being an Indian.
In 2011, I wrote “Love in the time of Blood Quantum,” a post that attempted to lay out some of the quandaries I faced in my desires to date Native guys. Reading it now, lots of it really makes me cringe. But I think the comments are some of the best on any post on the blog, and I love the way they made me question my assumptions and privilege, and really forwarded my thinking. More on that in a minute. I think these two paragraphs sum up the bulk of my argument from that piece, but I also talked about the ways the media represents the issue too, so go take a look if you’re interested: Continue Reading…
AK Note: Hi Everyone, yesterday I posted my (rather scathing) review of The Lone Ranger, and reading through some of the comments I’ve seen here and on other outlets, I feel the need to repost this piece from 3/16/2012. I know there are a lot of new readers (welcome!), so I hope this helps you understand the lens with which I approach this blog and this work. I believe, very strongly, that these images matter and are important, and will continue to treat them as such. And as always, I don’t claim to speak for all Native peoples, I am just one perspective of many. I also have addressed all sorts of angles of this movie, and I encourage new folks to familiarize yourself with all of the other posts before launching into criticisms. Here they are: my initial reactions (including early thoughts on the casting), tearing apart Depp’s reasoning over his costume choices, the controversy I dealt with for writing about Tonto, and Armie Hammer’s comments about Indians loving the movie. Thanks so much for all the support–y’all crashed my server yesterday, a total first!
It’s been a week or so since the original photos of Johnny Depp as Tonto have surfaced, and the internet has been abuzz with Depp defenders and Depp defectors–and while the Native Appropriations community and my internet circle have been on the “oh dang, this is real bad for us” train, I’ve been surprised at how many people have basically told me and others with similar opinions to STFU and “get over it” (with also some more choice words than that…).
But I still stand by the fact that Tonto and his portrayal matter to Indian Country, and should matter to Indian Country. And here’s why.
Defenders of Depp-as-rodeo-clown-Tonto’s arguments basically boil down to the following: Tonto is a fictional character. The Lone Ranger is a fictional movie. Johnny Depp is a great actor. We should be glad to have him portray Tonto. No one thinks Tonto is representative of a real Indian. There are bigger things to worry about in Indian Country, this is so trivial it shouldn’t even be an issue.
Here’s the thing. Yeah, Tonto is a fictional character, and there are plenty of white actors and actresses who play fictional characters, and we don’t automatically assume that white people are fictional, so it shouldn’t matter, right? We saw Natalie Portman as an evil-crazy-swan-human in the Black Swan, and we don’t assume that Natalie Portman’s character is representative of her, or all white people, in real life. But that, my friend, is white privilege at work. Everyday we see millions of representations of white people in varied and diverse roles. We see white actors as “real” people, as “fantasy” characters, and everything in between.
But for Native people, the only images that the vast, vast majority of Americans see are stereotypical in nature. You go to the grocery store and see plenty of smiling white children on cereal boxes, contrasted with the only readily recognizable Native image–the Land o’ Lakes butter girl. In advertising we see plenty of non-Native folks participating in everyday life, and then we get ads like this featuring Native people. There are also hardly any (if any) Native people in current, mainstream television shows. And this carries over even more strongly into Hollywood.
The last big blockbuster series to feature Native characters was the Twilight series, and we are portrayed as wolves. Think of every recent major studio film that featured a Native character or Native actor. All of the ones I can think of off the top of my head were set in a historical context, were a fantasy film, or were offensively stereotype laden. There have been so few accurate, modern, nuanced portrayals of Native people it’s not even funny.
So, when we live in a world where there are other, more nuances portrayals of Native people for non-Natives to draw upon–when there are Native people featured in mainstream romantic comedies, dramas, sitcoms, even reality TV, or news–then, maybe, will I be able to be looking forward to a stereotypical mess of a Tonto on the big screen. But I doubt it.
Comedian Ryan Mcmahon has a fabulous podcast series called “Ryan McMahon Gets Angry”, and he just did an awesome 5 minute rant on Johnny Depp as Tonto, and the responsibility we have as a community to question these representations. I can’t recommend it enough (language slightly NSFW):
Here’s a transcript of the end of his podcast:
So is Johnny Depp putting a bunch of Indians on the back of horses for this Lone Ranger Jerry Bruckheimer car crash gonna be good for us? Hell no. I’m not looking forward to it, I don’t think we should be happy about it, and I don’t think we should immediately go to that excited-happy-place everytime we see ourselves on TV. Because more oftentimes it hurts us more than helps us.
I think the time to take back our stories, to take back our pride, and to start empowering and helping each other to rise is the time that we’re in now. That’s what I look forward to, that’s what I’m trying to do, that’s what a whole bunch of other people are trying to do. Is Johnny Depp being on the back of a horse with a g*ddamn crow on the his head supposed to help us? Probably not. But it’s definitely not going to. So don’t get happy when you see four or five other brothers sitting on the back of a horse in their loincloth. Don’t be surprised, don’t be happy about it, don’t celebrate it, cause it’s bullsh*t. The time to reclaim, recapture, redefine, our own stories, in our own ways is now, and g*ddammit we gotta do more of it. Demand more from the producers, demand more of the television people, demand more from the people who are writing these stories. Because the stories are there. We are strong, proud people, and we need to be represented, by ourselves, as such.
I couldn’t agree more. There are several sub-arguments that I’ve seen in the last few days, citing how many Native actors would miss out on work as extras if this movie weren’t made, or how Johnny Depp’s “star power” was needed to get the film made in the first place. Those arguments are upsetting to me. We need to demand more. We can’t be complacent with just going to that “excited-happy-place” every time we see any representation of an Indian on screen. We can’t be thankful that 50 Native actors are able to ride around bareback in the background of a film, or be psyched that a big name Hollywood actor put a crow on his head to “honor” us–talk about ongoing colonization of the mind. Our community is so much better than that. We are worth so much more than background roles and misrepresentations.
Ryan also said something that resonated with me beyond this issue alone, quoting his grandmother:
Everything you do, grandson, is going to be political because you’re Anishinaabe.
The way we represent ourselves is, therefore, inherently political. These “trivial” issues are representative of deeper, darker, larger issues within Indian Country. For those who live in predominantly Native communities, fighting against cultural appropriation and misrepresentation may seem like the cause of a privileged few who can sit in their ivory towers and point fingers all day, ignoring the “real” issues in Indian Country. I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it as many times as I can until it sticks:
Yes, unequivocally, we have big things to tackle in Indian Country. We have pressing and dire issues that are taking the lives of our men and women everyday, and I am in absolutely no way minimizing this reality. But we also live in a state of active colonialism. In order to justify the genocide against Native peoples in this country, we must be painted as inferior–that’s the colonial game. These images continue that process. The dominant culture therefore continues to marginalize our peoples, to ignore and erase our existence. We are taught everyday, explicitly in classrooms, and implicitly through messages from the media, that our cultures are something of the past, something that exists in negative contrast to “western” values, and something that can be commodified and enjoyed by anyone with $20 to buy a cheap plastic headdress. These stereotypical images like Johnny Depp’s Tonto feed into this ongoing cycle, and until we demand more, our contemporary existence (and therefore the “real” problems in Indian Country) simply doesn’t exist in the minds of the dominant culture.
How can we expect mainstream support for sovereignty, self-determination, Nation Building, tribally-controlled education, health care, and jobs when the 90% of Americans only view Native people as one-dimensional stereotypes, situated in the historic past, or even worse, situated in their imaginations? I argue that we can’t–and that, to me, is why Tonto matters.
Further background reading:
If you want to read Ray Cook call me out and tell me that my writing is “So much hog-wash, so much wasted cyber-space, so much wasted oxygen” (awesome!): Tontomania: Who are we’z anyways?
Reel Injun (documentary about stereotyping of Indians in Hollywood): http://www.reelinjunthemovie.com/site/
Academic Article on Hollywood Stereotypes: The White Man’s Indian: Stereotypes in Films and Beyond
Ryan McMahon gets angry episode 4: I Ain’t Gettin On No Horse
It’s been 12 hours since I saw The Lone Ranger, and I still have the darn William Tell Overture stuck in my head. I wonder how long that lasts. It’s like waking up with a Tonto hangover, I guess. I have so many thoughts on this film, and only maybe one of them is good. But I think we need to start off with this: The Lone Ranger is just a bad movie. It’s 2.5 hours of a film with an identity crisis, not knowing if it’s supposed to be funny, campy, dramatic, “authentic,” or what. At points it was very hard to separate the stereotypical and hurtful from the bad script, bad editing, and bad character development of the movie itself.
So, if it even needs to be said: SPOILER ALERT–I’m about to give away everything. But you’re not going to see the movie anyway, so it shouldn’t really matter. But you know how the internet is. Here’s my review, in only 6 parts. I restrained myself.
Some quick overall thoughts: Like I mentioned above, this movie didn’t know what it was, and that was a problem. It was also so. incredibly. long. By the time we got to the final big train chase scene at the end where the pair saves the day (accompanied by the aforementioned William Tell) I wrote in my notes: FINALLY! I AM SO BORED! and then that scene drug on for another 15 minutes and I just wanted it to end. I forgot what we were even fighting for. Which I think was the problem all along.
This is also the most violent movie I’ve seen in awhile, and I’m a fan of Game of Thrones. Don’t take your kids, despite the Disney label and PG-13 rating. There is so much shooting and stabbing, and they show the aftermath. Early on in the film the bad guy even cuts out and eats the Lone Ranger’s brother’s heart (yes, eats it). They have no qualms about shooting someone for the sake of shooting someone, and there are blood and guts and barn beams smashing people’s heads. It’s not something I would want to expose my kids to, at all.
And for those of you new to the blog or need a refresher, here’s all my Tonto coverage over the last year or so, which covers the casting, the costume, and a whole bunch of other things: my initial reactions, why you should care about Tonto when there are “bigger issues” out there, tearing apart Depp’s reasoning over his costume choices, the controversy I dealt with for writing about Tonto, and Armie Hammer’s comments about Indians loving the movie.
Part 1: The Opening Scene–Indians are so backward and funny, y’all!