Repost: Step away from the “Indian” costume!

In Uncategorized by Adrienne K.18 Comments


(I know you just want to look as cool as this guy. He’s SO COOL. ::eyeroll::)

Originally posted 10/21/14

Hey. It’s me again. It’s that time of year. You might be saying to yourself, “Hey! What should I wear for Halloween this year?!?!” and some of you might be like, “OMG, I’ll be an INDIAN.”


Don’t know why? I’ve got 8 posts about why. Detailing every angle and possibility of why you might think it’s ok. It’s not. Feel free to peruse/browse/read/repost, and hopefully learn!

Indian costumes

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Netflix Pocahontas Update: They changed it for real this time!

In Uncategorized by Adrienne K.24 Comments

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So this is a post where I get to admit I was wrong, but then it’s ok, because we actually have a win to celebrate! Quick recap, I was on netflix last week and saw that Pocahontas is on the site now. I clicked on the description, and found this:

I then went on a bit of a twitter ranty-rant, and later wrote a blog post to clarify and more deeply explain my issues with the description (no, it wasn’t that they used “American Indian”…), and to give some examples of the way netflix wrote about male-led Disney films. Here’s part of that post:

..the description reads like a porn or a bad romance novel–“An American Indian woman is supposed to marry the village’s best warrior, but she yearns for something more–and soon meets Capt. John Smith.” The use of “woman” and “yearns” is so…gross. Shudder. The problem? It overly sexualizes the film, and only positions Pocahontas in relation to her romantic options, not as a human being, you know, doing things.

I also want to make explicit the colonial white supremacy embedded in this description as well–of course Pocahontas wouldn’t be content with her backwards Native ways with her Native man…she yearns for something more.SPOILER ALERT: It’s a white dude. Of course. It’s perpetuating the idea that white colonizers are better, more than, and the solution to Native savagery. To quote Deray Mckesson, whose retweet was responsible for this getting so much visibility: watch whiteness work.

So at the end of the post, I went to get a new (non-mobile) screenshot to add to the text, and found that the description was different. I celebrated. But then I started getting emails and texts that, no, in fact the original description was still showing. I did my own investigation and found to my disappointment that the “new” description was actually just a shorter, secondary description that all the films have. I was sad, and added an addendum to the bottom of the post. Then I felt silly for celebrating what was, in fact, a misunderstanding of technology. I thought we were done.

BUT WAIT! What do I find in my inbox last night? An email from netflix!Read More

A deep read of Netflix descriptions: Pocahontas edition

In Uncategorized by Adrienne K.22 Comments

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(TW: mentions of sexual violence) Last night I went on a mini Twitter-rant when I discovered that Pocahontas was on Netflix. It wasn’t the fact that the move was just on the site, it was the description that they had assigned it. Oh the description:

“An American Indian woman is supposed to marry the village’s best warrior, but she yearns for something more–and soon meets Capt. John Smith.”

Apologies for those of you who already heard this on twitter, but let’s talk about this. So, in theory, yes, that is the plot of the movie. Well, part of it. But I want you to compare that description to the descriptions for a few other Disney films on Netflix, and then I want to talk about the context in which this porno sounding BS is situated:Read More

Notes from the field: Reconnecting through research

In Long form essays by Adrienne K.3 Comments

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This post comes from my dissertation journaling in 2013, when I had just returned from my first research trip to Cherokee, NC to visit one of my students in her home community. I came across it today, and as I’m searching for academic jobs and intensely thinking about my research and my own connections to culture and place–I thought I would share it. As I’ve talked about before on the blog, as Indigenous peoples we often are made to feel ashamed of our journeys of reconnection or disconnection to our heritage, and my experience has been no different. What are the ways that we can build and rebuild? And for me, as a scholar in an Ivy League environment that is about as white and western as you can get, how can my research be a tool for my own decolonization?

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I have a distinct memory of one of my early trips to Oklahoma, out on “the lake” with my cousins and parents. My cousin told us that he was going to take the “California cousins” (including me) to swim over Granny’s cornfields. Being so young, I had no concept of what that meant—and as my older cousins leapt from the boat in their brightly colored life jackets, I remember hesitantly easing off the back of the boat and into the water. The others shrieked, splashed, and laughed, swimming over what was once my family’s allotment land. I, instead, remember floating quietly, pulling my knees into my chest, afraid that if I let my toes reach downward I would feel the ghostly tops of granny’s corn stalks, which in my mind lurked below the surface like seaweed, swaying with the subtle currents of the lake. Because to me, that’s what my cousin must have meant when he said we’d be “swimming over granny’s cornfields.”

In my adult life I’ve often thought back to that memory, and how it feels symbolic to my connection to my own culture and identity. Much like my family’s allotment land, my life experiences have been flooded by the effects of colonization, but my cultural connection remains, albeit a ghostly memory below the surface–often feeling just out of reach.

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

In open letter by Adrienne K.5 Comments


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.8 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.”


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


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>


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


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