Archives For April 2010

A comet flew through my soul
Not far from Black Hills Gold
Uphill from a 
Snaking
River
Did yellow hair die sinners?
Cheyenne
Cherokee
Navajo 
Pontiac
How 
The
____
Did Indian
Names 
Wind up on
Cars?
Four Sleeping 
Giants
View a Corn Palace Circus
From a cold land
As spirits roam alone
Bury my car at wounded knee

Many years ago, back when I was a wee sophomore in college, my roommate Charlotte stumbled upon this poem in the streets of San Francisco. I’ve had it on my computer ever since, and I love it.

This blog is filled with negative images, instances of racism and ignorance that erase our current existence–but this image is the opposite. I like to picture the busy residents of San Francisco scurrying through their everyday lives, heads down, eyes lowered, and pausing–for even a moment–to read the poem. Reading the mix of recognizable references combined with contemporary Native identity, and realizing, for one second, that Native people might live in their very city, and questioning the preconceived notions they hold.

I love the temporary nature of the project, and the anonymity. I think it lends to it’s power. The poem is a fleeting moment, not meant to be permanent–guerrilla art in a rare Native form.

(Thanks Char!) 
(image from http://www.facebook.com/iamhowlingwolf, which is an entire post in itself. geez.)

I’ve posted a lot about the phenomenon that is the hipster headdress (see here, here, and here), but I’ve never really broken it down as to why this trend is so annoying and effed up. A lot of this will be review and is repeated elsewhere on the site, but I thought it was high time I pulled things together into a one-stop-anti-headdress shop. Much of this can also apply to any of the “tribal trends” I feature here, and you can also consider this a follow up to my “Cultural Appropriation Bingo” post. The many sources I drew from are included at the end of this post.


So why can’t I wear it? 
  • Headdresses promote stereotyping of Native cultures.
  • The image of a warbonnet and warpaint wearing Indian is one that has been created and perpetuated by Hollywood  and only bears minimal resemblance to traditional regalia of Plains tribes. It furthers the stereotype that Native peoples are one monolithic culture, when in fact there are 500+ distinct tribes with their own cultures. It also places Native people in the historic past, as something that cannot exist in modern society. We don’t walk around in ceremonial attire everyday, but we still exist and are still Native.

  • Headdresses, feathers, and warbonnets have deep spiritual significance.
    The wearing of feathers and warbonnets in Native communities is not a fashion choice. Eagle feathers are presented as symbols of honor and respect and have to be earned. Some communities give them to children when they become adults through special ceremonies, others present the feathers as a way of commemorating an act or event of deep significance. Warbonnets especially are reserved for respected figures of power. The other issue is that warbonnets are reserved for men in Native communities, and nearly all of these pictures show women sporting the headdresses. I can’t read it as an act of feminism or subverting the patriarchal society, it’s an act of utter disrespect for the origins of the practice. (see my post on sweatlodges for more on the misinterpretation of the role of women). This is just as bad as running around in a pope hat and a bikini, or a Sikh turban cause it’s “cute”.  
    • It’s just like wearing blackface.
      “Playing Indian” has a long history in the United States, all the way back to those original tea partiers in Boston, and in no way is it better than minstral shows or dressing up in blackface. You are pretending to be a race that you are not, and are drawing upon stereotypes to do so. Like my first point said, you’re collapsing distinct cultures, and in doing so, you’re asserting your power over them. Which leads me to the next issue.
      • There is a history of genocide and colonialism involved that continues today.
        By the sheer fact that you live in the United States you are benefiting from the history of genocide and continued colonialism of Native peoples. That land you’re standing on? Indian land. Taken illegally so your ancestor who came to the US could buy it and live off it, gaining valuable capital (both monetary and cultural) that passed down through the generations to you. Have I benefited as well, given I was raised in a white, suburban community? yes. absolutely. but by dismissing and minimizing the continued subordination and oppression of Natives in the US by donning your headdress, you are contributing to the culture of power that continues the cycle today.
        But I don’t mean it in that way, I just think it’s cute!
        • Well hopefully I’ve illuminated that there’s more at play here than just a “cute” fashion choice. Sorry for taking away your ignorance defense. 
        But I consider it honoring to Native Americans!
        • I think that this cartoon is a proper answer, but I’ll add that having a drunken girl wearing a headdress and a bikini dancing at an outdoor concert does not honor me. I remember reading somewhere that it was also “honoring the fine craftsmanship of Native Americans”. Those costume shop chicken feather headdresses aren’t honoring Native craftsmanship. And you will be very hard pressed to find a Native artist who is closely tied to their community making headdresses for sale. See the point about their sacredness and significance.
        I’m just wearing it because it’s “ironic”!
        • I’m all for irony. Finger mustaches, PBR, kanye glasses, old timey facial hair, 80′s spandex–fine, funny, a bit over-played, but ironic, I guess. Appropriating someone’s culture and cavorting around town in your skinny jeans with a feathered headdress, moccasins, and turquoise jewelry in an attempt to be ‘counterculture’? Not ironic. If you’re okay with being a walking representative of 500+ years of colonialism and racism, or don’t mind perpetuating the stereotypes that we as Native people have been fighting against for just as long, by all means, go for it. But by embracing the current tribal trends you aren’t asserting yourself as an individual, you are situating yourself in a culture of power that continues to oppress Native peoples in the US. And really, if everyone is doing it, doesn’t that take away from the irony? am I missing the point on the irony? maybe. how is this even ironic? I’m starting to confuse myself. but it’s still not a defense.
        Stop getting so defensive, it’s seriously just fashion!
        • Did you read anything I just wrote? It’s not “just” fashion. There is a lot more at play here. This is a matter of power and who has the right to represent my culture. (I also enjoy asking myself questions that elicit snarky answers.) 

        What about the bigger issues in Indian Country? Poverty, suicide rates, lack of resources, disease, etc? Aren’t those more important that hipster headdresses?

        • Yes, absolutely. But, I’ll paraphrase Jess Yee in this post, and say these are very real issues and challenges in our communities, but when the only images of Natives that Americans see are incorrect, and place Natives in the historic past, it erases our current presence, and makes it impossible for the current issues to exist in the collective American consciousness. Our cultures and lives are something that only exist in movies or in the past, not today. So it’s a cycle, and in order to break that cycle, we need to question and interrogate the stereotypes and images that erase our current presence–while we simultaneously tackle the pressing issues in Indian Country. They’re closely linked, and at least this is a place to start.   
        Well then, Miss Cultural Appropriation Police, what CAN I wear?
        • If you choose to wear something Native, buy it from a Native. There are federal laws that protect Native artists and craftspeople who make genuine jewelry, art, etc. (see info here about The Indian Arts and Crafts Act). Anything you buy should have a label that says “Indian made” or “Native made”. Talk to the artist. find out where they’re from. Be diligent. Don’t go out in a full “costume”. It’s ok to have on some beaded earrings or a turquoise ring, but don’t march down the street wearing a feather, with loaded on jewelry, and a ribbon shirt. Ask yourself: if you ran into a Native person, would you feel embarrassed or feel the need to justify yourself? As commenter Bree pointed out, it’s ok to own a shirt with kimono sleeves, but you wouldn’t go out wearing full kabuki makeup to a bar. Just take a minute to question your sartorial choices before you go out.       
        …and an editorial comment:  I should also note that I have absolutely nothing against hipsters. In fact, some would argue I have hipster-leaning tendencies. In my former San Francisco life, had been known to have a drink or two in the clouds of smoke outside at Zeitgeist, and enjoyed shopping on Haight street. I enjoy drinking PBR out of the can when I go to the dive bars near my apartment where I throw darts and talk about sticking it to ‘The Man’. I own several fringed hipster scarves, more than one pair of ironic fake ray-ban wayfarers, and two plaid button downs. I’m also not trying to stereotype and say that all hipsters do/wear the above, just like not every hipster thinks it’s cool to wear a headdress. So, I don’t hate hipsters, I hate ignorance and cultural appropriation. There is a difference. Just thought I should clear that up.

        This manifesto draws heavily from these awesome posts:

        I thought this one deserved its own post outside of the hipster headdresses. Observe the outright ignorant racism of The Sun in the UK:

        (original post: here)

        Notice 4 things:

        1. The headline: Katy’s “Poca face”?

        2. The text: “Katy Perry looks a sight for squaw eyes”? and she could have “doubled for Pocahontas”?

        3. Her pose: please tell me she’s acting demure and not war-whooping?

        4. The photo caption: “How girl”?

        The Sun managed to wrap four of the most egregious and horrible stereotypes into one little post. So, first of all, of course there’s the mention of Pocahontas, the only female Indian that anyone seems to know. Then, the use of the absolutely demeaning and offensive word “squaw” (read this article if you want/need more background on the term). Then, her pose, doing the stereotypical war whoop that is characteristic of almost any bad western movie or any non-Native attempting to do an “Indian dance”. Finally, the caption. Because we all know that every Native in the US greets each other with a solemn face and says “How.” Sigh. This is just a mess.

        Can we play a little imagination game and think of this with Katy in an African-inspired dress? would that fly at all?

        Here’s the article: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/bizarre/2937413/Katys-wearing-her-Poca-face.html

        (Thanks Lisa!)
        (image via www.shockhound.com)
        Can you believe it’s been almost 3 months since I first grappled with “The Strange Case of the Hipster Headdress?” Since then, I’ve definitely been shocked by just how much the trend has invaded indie/hipster culture, as well as more mainstream outlets (like Ke$ha on American Idol). Two weeks ago, the Coachella music festival was held in the desert of Southern California, and it seems like the go-to outfit of choice for attendees (and even some performers) included the now ubiquitous headdress. Abundant evidence below:

        (image via GQ.com)
        A commenter on the Coachella.com forum asks: “Why was every other douchebag at this year’s festival dressed in a colorful Native American Feather Headress with neon paint all over their bodies?”
        Twitter user evlauren tweeted from the event: “Coachella Indian head dress count so far=2″ (she got up to 4)
        Nylon Magazine reported that “The official uniform of Coachella is cut-off jean shorts, a drape-y, belly-baring white tee, and an Indian headdress.” 

        Twitter user krishaleanne tweeted, the day before coachella: “packed for coachella. but still needed: an indian headdress, more confetti, light-up toys . . .oh and a ticket to coachella.”
        Then there was Icelandic artist Jonsi, who performed his set in a full-on warbonnet-type thing:
        (via Nylon Magazine’s flickr feed)
        Which even made it to the bbc.com article on the festival:
        (article and image here)
        These are by no means exhaustive, there was a ridiculous amount of material to draw from. I just wanted to use this post to point out how prevalent it was, but look for a follow up that will offer a primer on just why and how this trend is harmful, hurtful, and effed up.

        UPDATE 4/27: Here’s the follow up post–But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress

        Earlier: 
        (Thanks Jesse, Lici, Lisa and anyone else who sent me links!)

         Lisa Charleyboy found this lovely display of cultural sensitivity here. It’s a pin/button to show the world your love for…costumed animals?

        but it gets worse, it’s called a “squaw badge”.

        In case you care for other forms of appropriation, don’t worry, there’s a “Bob Dog Badge” (Rastafarian dog with dreadlocks) too.

        “Squaw” Badge: http://www.takkoda.com/store/gifts-badges-c-38_43.html

        (Thanks Lisa!)
         (Awesome bingo card made by Dr. Sheila Addison)

        On all the fantastic articles on cultural appropriation that have been making the rounds these past couple of days (Threadbared has a awesome round up here, I definitely recommend a look), the comments are getting heated. People are getting defensive, people are throwing the “omg it’s just fashion, get over it!” card, and people are getting downright nasty. I think the worst offenders so far have come on Jessica Yee’s post over at Bitch Magazine–I couldn’t even make it through the whole comment thread I was so angry.

        a couple of highlights:

        Oh please.
        This is like saying its not cool to eat pizza unless you’re Italian. Or only the French can drink champagne. Learn to share your heritage. Stop holding on so tightly.
        My ancestors weren’t even around before the 1900′s. They didn’t kill your ancestors. Get over it.

        ugh. I get that one a lot. and my new favorite response (thanks jezebel) “Dear anonymous commenter, YOUR WHITE PRIVILEGE IS SHOWING.”  By the sheer fact that you live in the United States you are benefiting from the history of genocide and continued colonialism of Native peoples. That land you’re standing on? Indian land. Taken illegally so your ancestor who came in the 1900′s could buy it and live off it, gaining valuable capital (both monetary and cultural) that passed down through the generations to you. Have I benefited as well, given I was raised in a white, suburban community? yes. absolutely. but by dismissing and minimizing the continued subordination and oppression of Natives in the US, you are contributing to the culture of power that continues the cycle today. This could be a whole post in itself, so I’ll stop there.

        ..ok, you know what? I’m not even going to post any others. These people aren’t worth it. head over to the thread if you really want to read it. The article is here.

        I’m proud of Jess. Her points are things that bother me everyday. She has every right to be angry, and she doesn’t need to apologize for her article, her tone, or her points. It’s a voice that needs to be heard. 

        So why am I posting this? Not only to point out the ignorance of commenters on the internet, we all knew that already, but to point out how cliched and cyclical this conversation is. That awesome bingo card? made at least a year ago. This, sadly, isn’t new. These arguments continue to be brought up, and marginalized voices speaking out continue to be dismissed.

        That’s why I’m so glad there have been so many articles out on the internet, even in the few months since I started this project. It seems like the issue is being raised again and again, and the word is getting out. But how outrageous and offensive does it have to get before people stop and take notice? Rolling on the floor in a sacred war bonnet on national television (looking at you Ke$ha)? giving yourself a fake “Indian” name for the sake of publicity (that’s you Speidi)? Mocking religious practices and calling them “Bro Therapy” (thanks Details)?

        It’s not ok. It’s just not.

        So go ahead, pick an article, any article, and head over armed with your brand new “Cultural Appropriation Bingo Card”. Believe me, you’ll be a winner in no time.

        Threadbared roundup: http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/linkage-the-feather-in-your-native-cap/

        Jessica’s Bitch Magazine article: http://bitchmagazine.org/post/to-the-hipstershippies-on-native-culture-%E2%80%93-please-stop-annoying-the-fuck-out-of-me

        My friend Sam spotted this skirt at Gap Kids/Baby Gap, which seems to be inspired by a Native Plains-style star quilt. If you’re unfamiliar with the tradition of quilt-making in Native communities, here are a couple examples:

         

        I hesitate to call this an outright “appropriation” because I know I will get push back–”quilts aren’t ‘traditionally’ Native!”…
        “Other people besides Natives make star quilts!” “how can you lay claim to a quilt design?!” “It’s called a ‘chevron skirt’–it’s just diamonds!”. But anyone who is familiar with the history and ongoing tradition of star quilt making (and giving) in Indian Country (especially in Lakota/Dakota communities) might think otherwise.

        To start, quilting was brought to tribal communities by missionaries, but was quickly adapted to reflect designs that had adorned clothing and dwellings for centuries. For plains communities, one such design was the eight pointed star. These quilts have been around for a long time, as demonstrated by this photo of Chief Red Cloud’s wife, taken in the late 1800′s (look at the bed):

        (image via photowest.org)

        The quilts still hold deep significance in Indian Country, they are often given as symbols of honor, celebration, or thanks–at powwows, at basketball tournaments, at graduations, at baby showers, you name it. Like this picture of Kyle Langstaff, who received a quilt from his parents in honor of scoring 1000 career basketball points (they even made it in his school colors):

        So, for me, the baby gap dress represents a little more than just a cool design. I would venture to guess that most people wouldn’t associate the dress automatically with Natives, but I think it offers an interesting case to bring up the line of appropriation/inspiration and what crosses the line. Would I say this crosses the line? probably not. But I like to make people think about the images they see in everyday life, and this is an example of a product most people would walk by without thinking about any deeper significance.

        here’s a picture of the dress in real life:

        and the ad on the homepage of gap.com (I will say those are some adorable kiddies):

        Gap Kids “Chevron dress”: http://www.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=8743&vid=8&pid=740572&scid=740572002

        (Thanks Sam!) 
        (and an extra shout-out to my gram and great-granny who passed the Native quilters gene to me!)

        Tipster Lucia pointed me to this backyard “tepee” from Design Within Reach. It retails for $2,200, and is made by “Dave Ellis, who spent 10 years working in the canvas business before creating his own line of tents and tepees in 1982.”

        Here’s the screenshot of the page (click for a bigger version):

        The description reads:

        Tepee

        For adventurers of all ages, the classic Tepee (2008) is a simple solution for spending time outdoors with minimal impact on the surrounding landscape. This one was crafted for DWR Tools for Living by Dave Ellis, who spent 10 years working in the canvas business before creating his own line of tents and tepees in 1982. We chose his work because of his quality materials and construction that provides proper ventilation, flame resistance and reinforced stress points. What’s also unique about this design is the sewn-in floor liner that allows proper air flow, while ensuring that nothing accidentally leaves or enters the Tepee. This floor also makes it easier to see where the poles should be placed when building the Tepee. The floor liner is not waterproof, which Ellis did on purpose since material that breathes won’t kill the grass underneath. The exterior canvas is tightly woven, preshrunk 100% cotton Army Duck that’s finished with a Sunforger baked-in process to make the canvas mildew resistant and water repellent. Campfire songs and ghost stories not included.

        “Campfire songs and ghost stories not included.” At least it didn’t say “war paint and headdresses not included”? Also note it’s categorized under “Tepee–Outdoors–Play–Accessories”. Look, they even offer “location” shots so you can see how it will look next to your expensive mid-century modern patio furniture:

        or when you decide to lug it to a fake desert movie set:

        look at that comforting glow. ha. This is definitely for a very specific demographic–it’s a very small portion of America that can afford to spend $2200 on a backyard tent. Is there even a market for this?

        DWR “Tepee”: http://www.dwr.com/product/accessories/view-all/tepee.do?search=basic&keyword=tepee&sortby=ourPicks&page=1

        (Thanks Lucia!)

         Welcome to a new feature–The Ridiculously Maddening Quote of the Day! Today’s inaugural quote comes to us from James Cameron, director and screenwriter of Avatar (maybe you’ve heard of him?).

        Quote comes from this article, talking about his activism and involvement with indigenous peoples in Brazil:

        “I felt like I was 130 years back in time watching what the Lakota Sioux might have been saying at a point when they were being pushed and they were being killed and they were being asked to displace and they were being given some form of compensation,” he said. “This was a driving force for me in the writing of Avatar– I couldn’t help but think that if they [the Lakota Sioux] had had a time-window and they could see the future… and they could see their kids committing suicide at the highest suicide rates in the nation… because they were hopeless and they were a dead-end society – which is what is happening now – they would have fought a lot harder.”

        Wow, James Cameron. Wow. So, the contemporary Lakota are “hopeless” and a “dead-end society”? and the generations of fighting against colonialism and continued oppression weren’t and aren’t fighting hard enough? Talk about ignorance. He makes it seem like the Lakota just rolled over and let their land be taken away. Couldn’t be further from the truth.

        Ugh. So hear that Natives? We should have just fought harder, and the state of our Native nations would be different. right.

        Here’s the original article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/18/avatar-james-cameron-brazil-dam

         (Thanks Katie!)

        I’m about to let some of my major dorkiness show. Well friends, I have a confession to make. I, Adrienne K, am an unabashed Hanson fan. Yes, THAT Hanson. Of mmmbop fame. I’ve been a fan since I was 8 and I saw them at a county fair in Tulsa, and continue to be a loyal follower of their new music (which is actually really good!). The best birthday present I recieved in recent memory was a set of tickets to see their show in San Francisco for my 22nd birthday. So, yes, I am a nerd.

        Anyway, I posted the random appropriation from their newest music video above. Did you miss the it? don’t worry, I made it more explicit below:

        See it now? haha. Also, obviously, that’s not Hanson in the shot. It’s their band. But the big ‘ol cigar store Indian is in the background of most of the “studio” shots throughout. Their video is catchy and pretty good, and I think I might be the only one who caught the Indian in there–but I thought I would share.

        And, if you’re curious as to what the Hanson bros look like now:

        all grown up! And that’s Weird Al in the red pants, if you were curious about that too.

        Here’s the video:

        (Thanks Laksh!!)