Archives For March 2010

Last week, the New York Times published a really interesting article concerning Mardi Gras Indians, specifically looking at the possibility of  the “Indians” copyrighting their costumes so their images can’t be used in things like calendars, promotional materials, etc, without their consent. I’ll get to that issue in a second post, but I think the entire concept of Mardi Gras Indians deserves a deeper look.
Let’s look at the ‘culture’ of the Mardi Gras Indians, independent of history and context (something the anthropologist in me cringes at, but work with me), then we’ll backtrack a bit.

These men and women call themselves “Indians.” They are members of “tribes,” with names like “Yellow Pocahontas,” “Geronimo Hunters,” and “Flaming Arrows” (a complete list of the tribes is here). They wear over-the-top, elaborate costumes based (very) loosely on American Indian powwow regalia–with headdresses, feathers, and beading (there is a slideshow on that can be found here):

(image via

They have an anthem called “Indian Red” whose lyrics include:

I’ve got a Big Chief, Big Chief, Big Chief of the Nation
Wild, wild creation
He won’t bow down, down on the ground
Oh how I love to hear him call Indian Red
When I throw my net in the river
I will take only what I need
Just enough for me and my lover

Objectively, out of context, this is by-definition cultural appropriation. Imagine if these were white men and women. I should be offended…right?

But it’s complicated. The history of Mardi Gras Indians comes out of a history of shared oppression and marginality between the Black and Native residents, or some stories point to a desire to honor Native communities who took in escaped slaves. Wikipedia (again, the academic cringes, ha.) notes, of the history:

Mardi Gras Indians have been parading in New Orleans at least since the mid-19th century, possibly before. The tradition was said to have originated from an affinity between Africans and Indians as minorities within the dominant culture, and blacks’ circumventing some of the worst racial segregation; laws by representing themselves as Indians. There is also the story that the tradition began as an African American tribute to American Indians who helped runaway slaves.

I still see some problems with that, the “honoring” argument is what many proponents of Indian mascots use, but what it boils down to, for me, is the question:

Can one marginalized group appropriate another?

Inherent in the concept of cultural appropriation is the notion of power. The group in power takes cultural aspects of a subordinate community out of context and uses them how they see fit. These Mardi Gras Indians are African American, and arguably at the lowest economic strata of society (the nytimes article talks about copyrighting as a means to recoup money for these performers). They are by no means in a position of power over Native communities in Louisiana or elsewhere. The Mardi Gras Indian culture does not appear to come out of a desire to “play Indian”, and in many ways, it has moved outside of the realm of cultural appropriation into a distinct culture and community of it’s own. But above all, it seems the history comes not out of a relationship of power, but out of a shared position of marginality and discrimination.

So, in this sense, I find it hard to write my usual rant on an insensitive appropriation of Native culture, but, on the other hand, it still makes me uncomfortable.


(thanks for sticking with me, I know that was a long one)

Nytimes article: In New Orleans, Getting Serious Over Suits:

NYtimes slideshow:

Wikipedia on Mardi Gras Indians:

(Thanks MK, Sees, and Kimball!)
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Via my friend Allison’s friend Kip–taken in Versailles, France. If you can’t tell, the orange peel is wearing a headdress, and the flavor is called “Indien” (you can click to make it bigger). It’s flavored with grenadine, which gives it the pinkish-red color. I was sitting here, trying to figure out the connection between grenadine and Indians–like were pomegranates indigenous to the New World or something? But grenadine is a French word!

Then my friend was like “duh Adrienne, they called it Indian because it’s RED.”

Sometimes, I guess I forget that not everything requires deep analysis and interpretation. Sometimes, it’s just straight up racist. Insensitivity ftw!

Also, if anyone out there speaks French and I’m missing something, please let me know.

(Thanks Allison!)

I remember seeing this sign at the entrance to the campus health center, and raising my eyebrows at the randomness and hypocrisy of it all, but only when Leon sent it over, did I start to realize how straight-up nonsensical it is.

I am, of course, referring to that dream catcher.

I would assume that we’re supposed to believe that these are all “Healing Traditions” supported by the health center–but honestly, can we put massage and chicken soup on the same level as Native spiritual traditions? And how is a dreamcatcher representative of healing/medicine in any Native community?

And as Leon pointed out: “not sure when Vaden has ever incorporated “Native healing traditions” in its services, much less, helped a Native out before…but apparently they like to say they do.” I don’t think anyone would argue that Vaden is anything less than a western-style medical facility, and I know the Native community has come up against some issues there, especially in the mental health services. Not exactly incorporating Native healing traditions.

I can just picture the meeting where they were developing this campaign: “so we’ve got the Eastern traditions represented with a buddah and some non descript written asian characters…we should throw something Native American up there. ideas?” “what about a dream catcher? that’s Indian!”

Overall, just a weird, silly, way for them to proclaim understanding and multiculturalism by relying on a ubiquitous stereotype.

(Thanks Leon!)

Tribal Fashion Roundup!

March 25, 2010 — 6 Comments
I’ve gotten a few tips this week about more tribal fashion appropriations, so I thought I would compile a few of them into a single post, because let’s be honest, I’m a little lazy this week.
I found the image above thanks to Lanova posting my hipster headdress piece on a blog that “loved” this headdress (thanks girl!). It’s from Coyote Pheonix’s Etsy shop, and the description reads:
Great piece for burningman or other festivals. Looks great as a decoration piece hanging on the wall as well. Ties at the base of the neck like a headband with leather strap.

Also, one of the tags on the headdress is “shaman”. Ok, appropriations aside, are there actually people out there who see this, swoon, and say “I must have this! my life is not complete until I have a dead coyote to wear on my head!”. But, I guess, considering 14% of this fine nation thinks President Obama is, in fact, the Antichrist, I wouldn’t be surprised that such people exist (related? not at all. but I just read these poll results, so…).

This one comes from my sister’s fabulous suitemate Kathleen:

Belt and keychains from Jack Spade in Soho, website here. These seem pretty out of place with the whole Jack Spade asthetic, to me anyway. They’re known for their preppy men’s bags and accessories, with military inspirations and “timeless” pieces. Not usually what we’d associate with the Native trends. interesting.

Finally, a picture of a page from Lucky Magazine via my friend Genia (click to make it bigger):

The mocassins front and center are the Nicole Richie mocs I posted earlier, and there’s a pendleton bag on the left. I love how Native American trends are “global”–um, you can’t get more American than the styles of the original peoples in the US.

Just a few samples of many…I think I could start an entire blog of just Native Appropriations in fashion. sigh. 

Coyote headdress post:

Earlier posts:
Tribal Fashion, the newest trend?:

Nicole Richie’s baby mocs:

The Strange Case of the Hipster Headdress:

(Thanks Lanova, Kathleen, and Genia!)

Feather lollipop, anyone?

Photo taken by my friend (and prolific contributor!) Leon at Casa de Fruta in Gilroy, CA–it’s kinda like a touristy pit stop as you’re headed out of Northern California towards SoCal. He looks a bit annoyed, doesn’t he?

(Thanks Leon!)
Amy, you’re funny. I like you. But the headdress? It’s not irreverent, it’s not quirky, it’s not funny, and I don’t like it. And frankly, it’s starting to be a bit played out now. Celebrities in headdresses are taking over the internets. Not. Cool. 
Previous entries for background on the issue:
(Thanks Adam!)

I don’t watch American Idol. But, this morning I woke up to a flurry of text messages and emails about Ke$ha’s performance last night–looks like another pop star decided donning a headdress would be an awesome way to show how “raw” and “counterculture” she was.

Here’s the selection (via MTV) with her sporting a headdress and face paint: UPDATE 2/25: MTV took down the link, so here’s a youtube version. The headdress comes out at 2:26.

After the jump, some more blogger’s thoughts, an Outkast flashback, and analysis.

I’m not the first to post on this today, fellow Native blogger Lisa Charleyboy has a post on Urban Native Girl Stuff here, Racialicious has an open thread going here, and most of the news bulletins about her performance mention Ke$ha donning a “Native American headdress.”

The thing that annoys me, besides the obvious, is that the headdress had absolutely nothing to do with the song, the performance, anything. The song is about picking up a guy at a bar, or something, and has such deep and fantastically well written lyrics as:

I dont really care where you live at just turn around boy and let me hit that.
Dont be a little b***h with your chit chat just show me where your d**k’s at.

So beautiful, right? The asthetic of the performance was more futuristic/technological, with dancing TV screens, silver, black, electrical chords, the like. Her dress is even metallic silver. So where does a headdress even come into play here?

There has been a lot of outrage from Native outlets, and rightly so, but this isn’t a new phenomenon. Anyone remember the 2004 Grammy’s? And this performance by Outkast?

That one still makes me mad. Think of how many layers of approval these performances have to go through–executives, publicists, set designers, lighting, performers–and not one person thought these might be offensive? That’s so troubling.

Headdresses aren’t traditional to my community (though many wanabees would have you thinking otherwise–so many “Cherokee Headdresses” out there. ugh), but when I see them in the mainstream media, it usually is associated with people who deserve deep respect in Indian country; Rick West (former director of NMAI) wore his at the opening of the museum, Joe Medicine Crow wore his when accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom…I could go on. Lisa Charleyboy pointed out that warbonnets like the one Ke$ha is wearing have true spiritual significance:

The significance of the war bonnet in traditional Native cultures is huge. It is used in ceremonies, and it is only worn by those who are awarded them after many years of effort, and usually only be men. No artist would dare don a kippah or a turban so the same respect should be given to Native peoples and their traditional, ceremonial wear.

It’s so true. We come back to it again and again…why is it deemed ‘ok’ to appropriate Native culture, religion, and spirituality, and not others?

The fact that this “trend” is catching on really bothers me. I was out at the mall in SF today (I’m on spring break!), and spotted the window displays at Juicy Couture. Their mannequins are wearing headdresses. They even had a tie-dyed tipi inside the store! I didn’t have my camera, and my cell phone pictures turned out horribly, but I’ll try to snap some tomorrow. I keep hoping this will fade out, but unfortunately it seems to be just catching speed.

Earlier Post: The Strange Case of the Hipster Headdress–

Urban Native Girl Stuff:


(Thanks Jenny Bean!)

Fashion Foiegras posted a first look at French Glamour’s new spread on American Indian fashion trends, with the caption: “American Indian is back in style! Rock the look with a first glimpse from French Glamour.” But my first question: did we ever go out of style? ;)

A lot of the Navajo-style jewelry is gorgeous, but (even with my limited french skills) it doesn’t look like they’re Native made. sad.

After the jump, more images from the shoot. (all taken from

(Thanks to my fashionista friend Alicia!)
Kinda like the hipster puppy, but worse. 
(Thanks Scott!)