Archives For May 2010

Feast your eyes upon the “Spirit Guides Native American Style Tomahawk Replica” from a company called “Collectibles Today.” In case its use was unclear, it’s a wall hanging. duh. Besides the obvious stereotypes–tomahawk, wolves, feathers, beading, connection to the mystical, etc, you MUST read the description:

Be guided by the wolf’s commanding spirit and remarkable courage with this awe-inspiring sculptural collectible Native American style tomahawk replica. This magnificent wall display combines a rich tradition and wolf artistry. Just look at the custom piercing on the sculpted blade as it creates the image of a majestic wolf howling at the moon on a starlit night.

Celebrate a creature of mystery and great power with this striking handcrafted limited-edition Native American style tomahawk replica, available exclusively from The Hamilton Collection. This tomahawk replica boasts wolf art “carvings” of a pack of wolves on the handle, and is decorated with real feathers, leather cording, “beadwork” and simulated turquoise. Makes unique wall decor and it’s a fantastic wolf art gift. Heavy demand is expected, and you won’t want to miss out. Order now!

Wow. Just one question: what is “wolf artistry?” I didn’t know wolves could sculpt!

This beauty can be yours for the low, low price of only one payment of $39.95 (+$7.99 shipping and handling). It says heavy demand is expected, so you better get on it.

Also, my friend Steven found this from a Facebook ad. If anyone else comes across similar examples, please send them my way.

May the great power and commanding spirit of the wolf be with you!

“Spirit Guides Native American Style Tomahawk Replica”: 

(I also recommend clicking on “Native American Style” on the upper lefthand side to see their other great products)

(Thanks Steven!)

Sunday was “Class Day” at an Ivy League university, and I sat with 5 of my family members, watching my little sister graduate. Class Day tradition at this school dictates students wear “funny hats” along with their graduation robes (the traditional mortar boards are saved for commencement the next day). As I waited for my sister to enter through the gates (she was wearing a flower wreath), my dad grabbed my arm and said “AJ, look at the jumbotron.”

Yep, a student decided it would be a great idea if his “funny hat” was a full on warbonnet. Then, a few seconds later, this girl walked by:

(I apologize for the photo quality, if anyone who was there has better photos, send em over)

I had to seriously pick my jaw up off the floor. I mean, imagine–dragon hat, football helmet, captain’s hat, glittery baseball cap…warbonnet?! I felt completely disrespected and embarrassed.

To these graduating students’ credit, I will point out that out of 1,300 graduates, there were only two headdresses that we saw. Considering how “trendy” the headdress look is right now, and the fact that they were told to wear “crazy hats”, I’m actually surprised there weren’t more. But I would still argue that two is too many.

Especially when another student who was at the ceremony told me that one of the Native graduates asked a girl in a headdress to please remove it because it was embarrassing him in front of his family. She refused.

There are many issues with the students wearing the warbonnets, which I’ve discussed when Ke$ha first wore one on MTV, and again at The Bamboozle, the headdresses at Coachella, and at Bay to Breakers. And for the manifesto, as always, But why can’t I wear a hipster headdress?

This is also the perfect illustration of how Natives are placed in a “fantasy” category, along with wizards, magical creatures, and other forms of “dress up” costumes. Indians aren’t “real”. They are imaginary people, perfect for playing pretend–they can’t possibly be contemporary people sitting a few rows behind you at a graduation ceremony.

This particular school has a very small, but strong, Native community with only a handful of graduating students. What an additional slap in the face to my sister and her fellow Native students to see this on a day that was supposed to be celebrating their achievements. To already be in an environment where you feel invisible and marginalized, and to see someone outright disrespecting your culture? Upsetting, to say the least.

And, as an aside, we went to a celebratory graduation dinner at a well-known seafood restaurant about 15 minutes away from campus, and I was greeted by this:

Our restaurant? “Lenny’s Indian Head Inn”. Located in a town called “Indian Neck”. It just doesn’t stop, does it?

(Thanks Dad, MPK, and Kia!)

PS–Can I take a minute to say how proud of my sister I am? She worked her butt off for the last four years to get her degree, and I know it was not easy. She studied Art History, and did her senior thesis on Edward Curtis photography–looking at the issues with his philosophies on Indians and his methodologies, but also how they have begun to inspire contemporary Native photographers to reclaim the images.  She’s got an awesome internship for the summer working with the Native collections at a local museum in Boston, and coordinating tours for a visiting Native youth summer program. This girl is awesome and is doing our family proud. Congrats Sees! :)

Not Again, Ke$ha.

May 22, 2010 — 4 Comments

Our favorite warbonnet-wearing-hot-mess of a musician sported another headdress at The Bamboozle (a big  music festival). The photographer calls her get up a “psuedo-patriotic costume of a feather headdress, aviator sunglasses, and the American flag”. Right.

Plenty more pictures at the photog’s site:

A couple of tipsters had sent over Ke$ha’s new video for “Your Love is My Drug”, a song which boasts the lyric “Do I make your heart beat like a native drum (an 808 drum–I stand corrected!)?”, and this seems like an appropriate time to share it:

In the video she’s running around in the desert, and sports blue warpaint, a heavy dose of “Native” jewelry (including turquoise, silver, and bone), and feathers:
She even is sitting atop an elephant wearing a feather headdress for a few shots:
and then later in the video she goes into psychedelic neon painted aboriginal mode (same look she debuted on SNL a few weeks back), complete with a boa constrictor ala Britney Spears:
We’ve discussed it before with her American Idol performance. Girl, get your act together. Cultural appropriation isn’t cool. 
Earlier: Ke$ha, the headdress, and the trend that won’t go away:
(Thanks Crystal!)
It took me a minute to even get the joke in this cartoon. Let’s break it down:
We all know all Indians do rain dances, right? (riiiight)
And high roller strip club patrons “make it rain” by throwing money up in the air so it falls down like rain on the stripper. 
Therefore, it’s funny, get it? 
When they dance, it’s making it rain (cause they’re Native), but instead of rain, it’s money (cause they’re a stripper)! 
ZOMG so funny. 
And all the stereotypes managed to be jam packed in one little cartoon (caution: sarcasm ahead):

  • The lovely warbonnet. since we all know ALL Natives wear those (especially the women, duh)  
  • The rain dance.  I mean, at least for me anyway, I can’t even bust a move outside without running the risk of starting a thunderstorm! It’s a real problem. No outdoor wedding for me. 
  • The tomahawk. Cause we know Natives are war-like people that like to scalp teh whitez (watch me as I war whoop! Awooo!) 
  • The casinos. Cause we ALL are super rich and make lots and lots of untaxed money! And we steal it all from you!

And on a serious note (/sarcasm):

  • The bikini and stripper theme generally, cause Native women haven’t been sexualized enough throughout history. Makes me so mad. 

Don’t you dare get on my case about “it’s a comic, it’s just a joke, it’s satire”–it’s not. Images like these are what create the false stereotypes to which Native people are expected to ascribe. Because if all of the world thinks that Indians wear headdresses, carry tomahawks, do rain dances, or own casinos; it erases our current existence as a diverse group of contemporary people living contemporary lives and trivializes the continued struggles of Native peoples. Just because a tribe has a casino doesn’t mean everything is all better after 500+ years of mistreatment and historical trauma.

And if anyone is still confused about “making it rain,” the first time I remember hearing the term in pop culture was this song from Fat Joe and Lil Wayne (I put the clean version, but there’s still lots shots of strippers, so perhaps NSFW? I mean, unless you work somewhere where watching music videos of bikini clad girls on stripper poles is accepted viewing…):

The original cartoon:

UPDATE: For information on the “satire defense” see this piece from Rob Schmidt over at Blue Corn Comics:
(Thanks Leah and Yazzie!) 

Bay to Breakers is an annual San Francisco Bay Area tradition, now in its 99th year. Technically it’s a 12k race, starting downtown (the bay) and ending at the beach (the breakers). I don’t know the exact history, or how it has (d)evolved through the years, but I can tell you it is now one part serious road race, and about 100 parts drunken costumed debauchery.

Early sunday morning I positioned myself on the side of the road, ready to capture what I figured would be a few rouge headdresses. I quickly spotted one, then another, and another…and before I knew it, I had to stop because there were just too many and it was getting redundant. My album on my computer has 53 pictures, and that was in about the course of an hour and a half. yikes.

Below, a few of the many “Indians” to grace B2B:

These guys were the worst offenders of the day.  They were in a group of about 10, all dressed up and painted, and were running in circles around the racers waiting for the port-a-potties, war-whooping and waving their tomahawks.

Cowboys and Indians.  Creative.

Ok, a few more points for creativity. A headdress and…batman?

Me (as these guys walked by a few inches from me): “Hey, can I take your picture?!”
Them: “Yaaaaaah! Why?”
Me: “For my blog, is that ok?”
Them: “Aweeesommme.”

This dude: “Hey, you were taking my picture!”
Me: “yeah, is that ok? I wanted to get a picture of you and your friends in headdresses for my blog.”
Dude: “you’re wearing a snuggie! Can I snuggie in your snuggie?!”
Me (wearing a leopard print snuggie at the time): “um, ok?”
Dude (as rubbing his face on the sleeve of my snuggie): “so soft.”

She and her friends were a bit more caveman-esq, with bones in their hair and such. No less offensive.

Neon paint war paint and Rayban wayfarers. hipster at its best.

Fringe and a 40. Definitely honoring Native culture, right?

So, a mere sampling of the hundreds of “Indians” to grace B2B. They ranged from just a headdress to full-on buckskin and floor length warbonnets, and were everywhere. This image even made it to the SF Gate web coverage of the event:

Before anyone gets on my case for posting these photos, a few disclaimers:

1) As you can see from the dialogues below the pictures, anyone who made eye contact I asked permission to take their picture “for my blog.” No one cared. Most of them probably don’t remember talking to me anyway. Also, it was a public event, with news/media cameras everywhere. People knew they were being photographed. (I hate that I even have to include this, but you know)

2) Indian costumes were by no means the only form of racist costumes. There were plenty of “Mexicans” in sombreros and mustaches, “Asians” with kimonos and stereotypical rice paddy hats, even some “Tibetan monks” (I have a picture of those):

 All equally racist, all equally offensive. But considering my blog is on Natives, I thought I would focus on the Indian appropriations. But I did want to point out that the images of Natives are the not only instances of this behavior at the event.

In fact, next year I plan to print up about 5000 of these stickers and running around putting them on everyone dressed as any of the aforementioned costumes:

Good idea? or GREAT idea?

Still want to know why wearing a headdress is wrong?: But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?

and earlier, showing it’s not just exclusive to B2B:

The Hipster Headdress Abounds at Coachella:

(Thanks to Bill for sending over the sf gate pic, and to Q, Freeman, EJ, and Katie for putting up with me playing “spot the Indian” all morning, and Annie for the idea!)

I was browsing twitter trending topics this afternoon, and saw that #powwow was a trending topic–way far down, but still! So I investigated, only to find out that none of the posts had anything to do with any powwow I had ever attended.

Apparently this weekend was the 39th annual “Orlando International Pow Wow,” a travel trade show. read the description in the screenshot above.

An image of this “powwow”:

They don’t seem to appropriate any images of Native culture, other than the name, but it does seem weird to associate a travel trade show with a “powwow.” I know there is the business-y “let’s have a powwow about this” reference (which I always bug my friends not to use), but it’s not like powwows don’t exist anymore and the term can be reused to represent a trade show.

here’s the website: 

Random. I wonder if the participants think about the connotations of the name? Or if anyone ever get’s confused? “Eh, I hear theres a big powwow in orlando this weekend! International! maybe we can get some Italian frybread? aye.” :)

AK note: Repost from the always fabulous Beyond Buckskin‘s Jessica Metcalfe. If you haven’t seen her blog, I highly recommend it. She blogs about Native fashion and Indigenous designers, and always has insightful and interesting commentary. This is one of her “Designer Profiles”.

Teri Greeves

Teri Greeves grew up on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and began beading when she was eight years old. Since then, she has developed her own style and has become known for beading on unusual surfaces. Her medium of choice, beadwork, represents Native adaptability to new materials because it references the interaction and cultural exchange with Europeans who first introduced trade beads to Native Americans centuries ago.

Eclectic and vibrantly colored, her fully beaded high-top shoes combine contemporary Native realities with traditional oral historical themes, and modernizes the tradition of beading moccasins. Through her work she hopes to educate by sharing the history and values of her people, and to bring beauty into the world in new ways. Although many of Greeves’ pieces are for adornment, essentially, she says, “I bead contemporary Native life.”

Greeves’ Indian Couture book (pictured below) features six powwow outfits and highlights how each small accessory works with the dress to create an overall “look.” The handmade hairpieces, footwear, belts, dresses, pouches and shawls are all made with the finest materials. Through this book, Greeves honors Native women’s contemporary dance and clothing, and shows that these specially-made Indian outfits are couture. She states that changes in Native ‘traditional’ clothing represent living Native cultures, and these garments, which fuse the new with the old, are beautiful representations of survival. Greeves explains that, “In their contemporary, often urban, often educated, often well-traveled way, the women who dance and make outfits today are not only couture, but also the very definition of ‘authentic’ Native America.”

AK commentary: When I worked at the NMAI in DC for a summer, there was a pair of Teri’s high tops in one of the galleries, and it was hands down my favorite piece in the museum. I used to go out of my way to stop by and stare at them. The detail was incredible.

I always love art and other media that creates a juxtaposition between traditional forms and contemporary identity, and Ms. Greeve’s beading does that and more. I love the idea of modern regalia in traditional styles as a representation of survival. Her descriptions of her work are powerful as well:

“I bead contemporary Native life.”

“In their contemporary, often urban, often educated, often well-traveled way, the women who dance and make outfits today are not only couture, but also the very definition of ‘authentic’ Native America.”

Just beautiful. Thank you so much Jessica for posting about her work!

Original post on Beyond Buckskin:

Another great find from (a blog that combs for weird and hilarious postings). This masterpiece was included in their “Top 10 Horrible Necklaces,” and awesomely titled “Dances with Plastic.” Beyond the ridiculousness of the necklace itself, we have the description:

“I love the native american culture”? right. He’s “hunting…perhaps for dinner. or lunch.”? awesome. 
But let’s also point out: she drilled a hole in a plastic Indian figurine, strung it on some ribbon…and someone bought it. (It’s been sold)
Earlier: Groundhog Native American Shield (also via regretsy)
 (image source)

Cause we all know that changing the “o” to an “i” in Cherokee makes it all ok and not racist, right?

Feast your eyes on Cherikee Red, a cherry flavored soda available (yes, in 2010) in the great states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Besides the appropriation of the Cherokee name and the fantastically insensitive connection to the word “red” (redskin, anyone?), do I have to point it out again?

Dear world, Cherokees don’t wear plains style warbonnets. Never have. Just because “Cherokee” seems to be the only tribe that 95% of the US knows doesn’t mean that we wear the same traditional regalia as the tribes represented in westerns. Just an FYI.

here are some more historical images of Cherikee Red, apparently things haven’t changed much (ie at all) in the past 10-20 years:

 (images via

(I can’t find the original tip for this one–one of my twitter followers sent me a picture of himself holding a 2 liter bottle of this stuff–but thanks!!)

Let’s set the scene: Friday afternoon, Stanford powwow–one of the largest powwow’s on the West Coast. Three Native powwow committee members and a friend are checking in on the vendor booths, making sure things are ready to go, and they come across the group pictured above. 6 non-Native girls, decked out in warpaint, feathers, fringe, and moccassins–playing Indian at its worst. I’ll let my friend Leon tell the whole story:

While we were walking around Powwow on Friday, checkin out the vendors, we saw this pack of little white girls come running in from the street. Now, needless to say, we were shocked at the sight. We pretty much all just stopped in our tracks, and were speechless for a minute, as we looked on in sheer disbelief. After going through a few (angry) options in our heads about what to do, we figured we should have a little fun with it first (especially since there was this crew of little like six year old Native girls who were already making fun of them)…anyways, me and Lisa devised a plan to get this picture of them for you and your blog. So Lisa approached the girls and said “Excuse me girls…” (silence fell upon the land)…”could we get a picture of you for our newsletter?” “Of course!!!” the girls replied with excitement…

So girls, here’s your “newsletter” debut.
After Leon and crew took the picture, the powwow security team talked to them and brought them over to the director of the Stanford Native Center for some education on the issue, so (hopefully) they at least walked away from the experience with a new understanding of their actions. If they didn’t, here, again, is my anti-headdress manifesto.

I was telling my mom about the incident, and she said, “Honey, you can’t be too hard on them. Clearly they just didn’t know any better.” The thing is, they should have known better.

These girls are students at Palo Alto High School. Definitely one of the best high schools in the area, if not the state. It is a high school that turns out tops students who go on to top colleges, and enrolls  children of professors, stanford employees, and other well educated silicon valley execs. To top it off, the school is literally across the street from Stanford. Across the street from a school that hosts the largest student run powwow in the nation for 39 years running, that is home to nearly 300 Native students, that has one of the strongest college Native communities in California.

I would like to think that the combination of those factors would equate some level of understanding, that a high school of their caliber would incorporate some type of curriculum on Native history, or at least a basic level of cultural sensitivity. Clearly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

If these girls survived a talking-to by Winona (the director of the Native Center), they know what they did was wrong, and why. I feel posting their picture and story is enough of a public shaming. But as I struggle to find an analogy to another community event to analyze this incident, I’m still left scratching my head.

Why did these girls think it was ok to dress up like ridiculous “Indians” to come to a Native community event? Would these girls have dressed in blackface to go to a African American community gathering? Wear a sombrero, poncho, and drawn on mustache to a Ballet Folklorico concert? No.

But powwows, at least in areas that are not majority-Native, tend to invite non-Native spectators, encourage their participation in things like intertribal dances, and allow time and space for education about Native history and powwow traditions. I think that’s a great thing. Powwows show the vibrancy and currency of our cultures and evolving traditions; they show we are still here, that traditions are strong, that our communities exist and will continue to exist. They expose thousands of people to Native cultures that they may not ever encounter otherwise. They allow for Native artists and craftspeople to make a living selling their jewelry and art.

However, this openness and encouragement of non-Native participation creates a fine line–we want you to come, to learn, to watch, to engage; but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to mock our cultures in your attempts at participation.

I felt like that line was crossed a couple of weeks ago at the Harvard powwow, where our MC (a well respected MC throughout Indian country, great man, very focused on the educational aspects of powwow) called for a “Spectator Special”.  He invited the non-Indian spectators out to for a dance competition at the end of the afternoon, to real contest songs.

There were separate songs for men and women, and multiple rounds–semi-finals, finals, ect. The winners were chosen by the audience, and given a cash prize (like $5). As I stood on the sidelines and watched, I couldn’t help but feel extremely uncomfortable. It was like we had just given these men and women permission to mock us.

They hopped and ran around–one man even took off his socks to spin around like the fancy dancers. The thing was, it wasn’t like they were clowning, or smiling, or being silly. They were dead serious. They had looks of concentration, were sweating, breathing hard. I think I would have felt better if it was a joke–a chance for the Native dancers to take a break and poke fun at the spectators, almost like the switch dance where the men dance like women and women like men. But instead, these spectators reverted to the worst of stereotypes, jumping around like “war dances” around the fire from a spaghetti western.

I want to share the video I took on my cell phone, but beware, the quality is, well, what you would expect from a cell phone. And the sound was so bad I had to plop a Northern Cree contest song behind it so you could still get the effect. In sum, don’t judge the filmmaker, judge the content of the film.

I’m hoping you can see the young girls running around the powwow circle, and the intensity of the mom in the tank top and baseball cap. She went on to “win”.

I don’t know if I’m being oversensitive on the spectator special, but it really made me feel weird, like it somehow belittled the talent and tradition of the Native dancers. Those dancers have been dancing since they were little, know the traditions and stories behind their style of dance, and have invested time and money in their regalia. To almost imply that spectators are just as good after a few hours of watching the dancing just seems wrong.

So, in sum, powwows are an amazing opportunity for education of the non-Native community on Native traditions and cultures, and may serve as one of the only chances that these spectators have to interact with Native peoples in a modern and culturally relevant setting. However, there’s a difference between learning and appropriating. Clearly some of these spectators need to learn the difference.

Earlier: But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?–

(Thanks Leon, Lisa, Kanani, and Alejandra!)