Archives For June 2010

I was waiting for my connecting flight at Chicago O’Hare, and spotted this advertisement on the opposite side of our gate. Close up on the text:

It reads:

“Chicago is the Potawatomi word for onion field. Apparently, the Potawatomis didn’t have a word for global business center.”

This is an example of the use of Indigenous language and imagery that many people wouldn’t think twice about, or find any inherent issues with. But let’s look at this a little deeper:

  •  The use of past tense. It’s not “The Potawatomis don’t have a word for…” it’s “The Potawatomis didn’t…” Implying that the Potawatomi no longer exist or are using their language. 
  • The implication that “Indians” and “Global Business Center” aren’t in congruence. Which is assuming that Natives are static, unchanging, and unable to be modern and contemporary. “Potawatomi” and “Onion Field” are fine together, because American society associates Indians with the natural world, plants, animals, etc. But there is definitely not an association between “Potawatomi” and “Global Business”. 

But, in reality, of course Potawotomis still exist today, are still speaking their language, and do have a word for Global Business Center (or multiple words…).

Language is constantly evolving, adapting to new technology (remember when google wasn’t a verb?) and community changes.  I remember reading a long time ago in one of my Native studies classes about the Navajo Nation convening a committee to discuss how one would say things like “computer” or “ipod” in Navajo language, in an effort to preserve language and culture and promote the use of Navajo language among the younger generation.

In fact, here’s an awesome video of a guy describing his ipod in Navajo, complete with concepts like “downloading” (there are subtitles/translations):

To imply that Native peoples wouldn’t have the ability to describe a “Global Business Center” reeks of a colonialist perspective (we must “civilize” the savage! show him the ways of capitalism and personal property, for they know not of society!). Native peoples have been trading and communicating “globally” for centuries, long before the arrival of Europeans.

Thanks, Chicago, for giving me one more reason to strongly dislike your airport, because all the canceled flights, lost luggage, overnights in airport hotels, and 10 hour delays (all true stories) weren’t enough.

(Thanks to Hillary for taking the picture, since my sidekick pales in comparison to the iphone)

As of this week, schools in Wisconsin using race-based mascots can be fined up to $1,000 a day. This law has been a long time coming, the first form of it was presented to the state over 30 years ago. The way the law works is that parties can submit complaints to the state, and after a hearing, if the school is found to be in violation, they can face fines of up to $1,000 per day if they continue to use the image and name.

This is awesome news, and I can only hope that this is signaling a change that many other states will follow! Yay Wisconsin!

Read the whole article here:

AK Programming note: I thought this was a fitting time to talk about Wisconsin, since I’m actually at the airport, en route to Wisconsin. I’m headed to Lawrence University, which is hosting College Horizons, an incredible program for Native high school students to learn about the college application process. I’m an alum of the program, and this is my third time returning as faculty. If you know of any Native high schoolers, encourage them to apply for next summer! They also host a graduate school version called Graduate Horizons for those of you a bit older. Seriously one of the best programs for Native students out there. 

(Thanks Mom and Katie for sending the article!)

As I was scanning the pile of new releases at the local library, my eye caught a line on the back of a book called “The Wives of Henry Oades.” The paragraph ended with: “…the native Maori stage an uprising, kidnapping Margaret and her children.”

You knew that book was coming home with me.

Quick synopsis (taken from the back and online reviews, I didn’t get past page 40 as you’ll soon see): Book takes place in the late 1800′s. Husband gets a kick ass job in colonial New Zealand, moves wife and kids to Wellington. Maori come and kidnap wife and kids, burn down house, make them slaves. Husband thinks family is dead, eventually moves to San Fran, finds new wife, has more kids. 16 years later, old wife and (remaining) kids show up in SF. Hilarity ensues! Well, a court case for bigamy ensues. THE END.

Awesome plotline, yes? The best part is it’s based on a “true” story! well, the author thought it was true, until it got debunked as a load of bull. oops. More on that later.

So. The first 35 pages of the book are filled with the description of the journey over, on a boat, then establishing their life in NZ, ect. Then, out of nowhere, Henry (the patriarch) mentions at dinner that they publicly flogged a Maori boy in the square that day. And, oh eff, they found out he’s a royal. “There’s bound to be trouble.” dun dun duuuun.

And trouble there is. The Maori, out of the blue, decide that this random family, that had nothing to do with the flogging of the kid, but happen to be white and work for the governor, would be a great way to enact revenge. So they attack. Ready? Here’s the description of the kidnapping:

“The Maori filled the room, brandishing rifles and whips, a hideous tattooed four, with mouths yawning wide, tongues wagging obscenely” (pg 41)

“Margaret bent and scooped up Mary, in the next instant the baby was snatched from her arms and stuffed inside a flax sack. She fell on the sweating creature, clawing, drawing blood. He shoved her off…Margaret shrieked, searing her throat, “Please God! My baby!” (pg 41)

There’s plenty more. But note the vocab: “hideous”? “creature”? and the stereotypical weak white woman at the hands of a blood-thirsty savage crying “Please God! My baby!”? Really original.

So the Maori stuff the twin babies in sacks, kill the family dogs, literally hog-tie the neighbor’s son, light the house on fire, burning the neighbor woman to death, and then force Margaret and her two older kids to walk for like a bazillion miles. There are even graphic details of them “wetting” themselves. Thanks, for that.

Along the march, the Maori are only referred to as “savages,” or “brutes”. “The lead savage,” “A savage in the rear,” “the brute ahead turned and glared” (pg 45).

When they arrive at the Maori village, the response of the villagers is described as “rapturous barking and shouting” (pg 47, emphasis mine). Barking. like dogs.

And when I decided to stop reading was when Margaret is begging for water, and the old Maori woman who is “guarding” them farts in response. farts. (pg 48)

I flipped through the rest of the book, looking to see if anything changed later on. It doesn’t. Eventually the family escapes because they contract smallpox and the village throws them out so they don’t infect everyone.

To break up all that text, and before I delve into the analysis, here’s a picture of the author who wrote those passages:

Hi Johanna Moran. Thanks for contributing to the continuing stereotypes of Native people!

My analysis:

Initial thoughts: yes, this is historical fiction–so presumably, perhaps, this is the lens through which a colonial white woman would see the Indigenous people, since her society has trained her to see them as “savages” in need of “civilization,” or why else would it be okay that she and her family were there? That’s the whole argument for colonization.

But, my deepest issues are the one-sidedness of the portrayals of the Maori. The family is “enslaved” by the Maori for a long time, like years and years, yet even until the day they “escape,” Margaret never refers to them by name, never uses a positive adjective to describe the village, and continues to see their ways as completely backwards. There is absolutely no nuance in the portrayal. They are savage, through and through. The one act of compassion in the whole ordeal is when the Maori let her run away rather than be shot with the other small pox victims, but it is to their own benefit, because Margaret has been helping with births in the village, and they fear retribution from the gods in the form of harm to their babies.

It’s not like there wasn’t opportunity to provide an alternate view, the narration in the novel switches several times, from Margaret, to her husband, to the new wife in Berkeley, ect. Moran just chose not to include an additional perspective.

I would still be mad if this were based on the words of the actual Margaret Oades, who this supposedly happened to, but as I mentioned before, the story came out as a complete hoax. So this is the complete and total fabrication of the author, who was not bound by any “fact” in her descriptions and characters.

It wouldn’t have taken away from the story, in fact, I think it would have added a little depth. There’s no plot-related reason to portray the Indigenous people as solely savage, from what I could see anyway.

This book was published this year. In 2010. And it’s still deemed acceptable to have Little House on the Prairie-like  savages. “The Wives of Henry Oades” is touted as a great book club read, and I cringe at the thought of people sitting around discussing the ruthless Maori and how they effed everything up.

Maybe I’ll give these fictitious people the benefit of the doubt and picture them talking through the stereotypes and wondering if Moran could have done better. Perhaps they’ll use it as a teaching moment? Maybe?

But more than likely people will read the book without a second thought, and tuck those images of blood-thirsty baby-killing Indigenous Peoples away, to be pulled out next time they read an article, encounter an image, or hear about contemporary Native people. I don’t see many mainstream book-club novels with accurate, contemporary portrayals of Natives being published lately, so this is all they’ve got to work with.

So, for her horribly stereotypical “savages” I give Johanna Moran’s “The Wives of Henry Oades” two big ‘ol thumbs down.

“It often seems as if America has only two frames through which to view its Native culture: ceremony and pageantry or poverty and addiction.”
The New York Times has an incredible slide show on the web of photographs by Adam Sings In The Timber, a member of the Crow Nation in Montana. The above quote is so powerful and so true, and Adam says that his work seeks to fill in the space between the extremes, to show that the members of his Nation are so much more than the stereotypes that abound. He says,
“The rhythm of life on the reservation isn’t that much different from the rest of the country, just on a smaller scale.We have those who live in poverty and those who are upper middle class. The real difference is that we also have our identities as Crows. Those identities stem from our tribe’s culture, language and history.”

The article points out that people just want to see dramatic images, not the “common bonds of normalcy.” Sings In The Timber does an amazing job at striking the balance. Here are some of the images, definitely check out the whole slide show here, and his website here.

(all images (c) Adam Sings In The Timber and can be found here)

I actually really struggled with putting up my post on Thursday about the sexualization of Native women, with the heartbreaking statistics and the film from Current TV. I struggled, because clearly those issues are so incredibly important and need to be brought to the forefront, but at the same time, it continues the process of otherization and helplessness that are so often associated with images of Indigenous Peoples from around the world and in the US.

I worry about feeding those stereotypes and creating a cycle that has been discussed at length by scholars studying the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa–how powerful images of suffering meant to stir viewers to action actually create the opposite affect:

[This type of photography] hinges on the assumption that images of suffering can invoke compassion in viewers, and that this compassion can become a catalyst for positive change. By examining a widely circulated iconic photograph of a Ugandan woman and her child affected by AIDS-related illnesses, we show that such representations can nevertheless feed into stereotypical portrayals of African people as nameless and passive victims, removed from the everyday realities of the western world.

That quote comes from a great academic article called “Representing HIV/AIDS in Africa: Pluralist Photography and Local Empowerment” by Amy Kay. Her solution to the representation issues? Put the cameras in the hands of the local people and create a more nuanced dialog–exactly what Adam Sings In the Timber is doing with his work.

So this is me attempting to bring a balanced portrayal to the table–our tribes and communities are not all about powwow feathers and beads, nor are we completely and totally consumed by poverty, abuse, and addiction. There is truth at both ends of the spectrum, but there is a whole lot in between.  

NYtimes–Familial Bonds Among the Crow:

Adam Sings In The Timber’s webpage:

“Representing HIV/AIDS in Africa: Pluralist Photography and Local Empowerment”:


Nudie Neon Indians and the Sexualization of Native Women:

(Thanks so much Katie!)

One of these things is not like the others, one of these things doesn’t belong…let’s see: Minnie Mouse, Tom Sawyer’s Island, Fantasmic Logo…In’jun Donald?!

Reader Audra sent over this image, taken at Disneyland, of the side of the penny-stretching machine (remember those? you stick a penny and like 50 cents in, and get a smooshed penny with a souvenir design in it?). Here’s the penny itself (the middle one):

It’s a little hard to see, but the image is of Donald Duck, looking angry, and wearing a headdress. Here’s another image of Donald in a headdress I found on an antiques website, it’s a puzzle from 1955:

He looks remarkably more happy in that one, though is still brandishing a tomahawk and surrounded by stereotypical “Indian” gear.

Audra actually went to City Hall at Disney to inquire more (you go!) and said the cast member was shocked they still used that term on the penny machine.

Of course, Disney is on my worst offenders list for Native cultural appropriation and straight-up racism. They’re no strangers to blatantly offensive, ignorant, and insensitive portrayals of Indigenous peoples in their movies, marketing, and parks. Some of my first posts on this blog were inspired by a trip to Disney World. The posts can be found here:

Disneyworld Part I: Magic Kingdom

Disneyworld Part II: Epcot and Animal Kingdom

Disneyworld Part III: Disney Wilderness Lodge (this one’s crazy–an entire hotel based on appropriations of Native culture)

If you’d like to submit a complaint to Disney (I’m not promising they’ll listen, but feel free to link to the blog), Audra pointed me to this site:


(Thanks Audra!)

Neon Indian is a hipster-indie band that has been gaining some notoriety as of late. They performed on Jimmy Fallon, and have been making the music festival circuit as well. Though the name annoys me, I hadn’t actually associated them with any cultural appropriation, since nothing I’ve read about the band references anything Native. I figured maybe they were talking about the other kind of Indian. Their name actually comes from (if you believe teh blogz) a make-believe band front man Alan Palomo (who is Latino) had in high school

So, even if the name wasn’t a direct reference, and the band has avoided Native stereotypes (send me images if you find otherwise), you can’t control your fans (Clearly, as we saw with the Blackhawks and Flyers fans last week).

The fans in that picture above crashed the Neon Indian stage at the music festival Bonaroo (more music festivals and headdresses, of course), wearing headdresses, feathers, and pasties on their bare breasts. According to hipster runoff, this is how it went down:

And it got even stranger during a riveting, bulked-up version of “Deadbeat Summer,” when a crew of scantily-clad ladies wearing homemade feather headdresses (two of whom were fully topless with colorfully painted boobs) bounded onto the stage, seemingly by design, and cavorted around aimlessly, jiggling to the wistful musings about sunlit streets and a starlit abyss. Depending on your vantage point, it was either hilarious or pathetic, but Palomo just laughed and shrugged.

Apparently the girls jumped up there on their own, and it wasn’t actually part of the set at all.

Here’s another image of the girls:

 (image source)

Yes, the headdresses are wrong. But what gets me even more is the topless/feather pasties part. There’s a legacy and history there that many people don’t know or understand.

Native women have been highly sexualized throughout history and in pop culture. There are any number of examples I can pull from, the “Indian Princess” stereotype is everwhere–think the story of Pocahontas, or Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, or Cher in her “half breed” video, or the land ‘o’ lakes girl, seriously almost any image of a Native woman that you’ve seen in popular culture. We’re either sexy squaws (the most offensive term out there), wise grandmas, or overweight ogres. But the pervasive “sexy squaw” is the most dangerous, especially when you know the basic facts about sexual violence against Native women:

  • 1 in 3 Native women will be raped in their lifetime 
  • 70% of sexual violence against Native women is committed by non-Natives

This Amnesty International study details, at great length, the gruesome truth about sexual violence in Indian Country.  Also, recently, Vanguard (a show on current TV) did a special called “Rape on the Reservation”. The show is about 45 minutes long, but so powerful, and so heartbreaking. Please watch it if you have time, even the intro is enough to shock you back to reality:

Now can you see why my heart breaks and I feel sick every time I see an image of a naked or scantily clad woman in a headdress? This is not just about cultural appropriation. This is about a serious, scary, and continuing legacy of violence against women in Indian Country. These girls probably thought they were just being “counter-culture” or “edgy,” but by perpetuating the stereotypes of Native women as sexual objects, they are aiding and continuing the cycle of violence.


But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?

Educating non-Natives at Lightning in a Bottle

The Hipster Headdress Abounds at Coachella

Headdresses and Music Festivals go together like PB and…Racism?

“The Sexiest Rain Dance Ever” 

(Thanks Ben and Virtue for sending me the pics)

My friend Ricky (who made this awesome graphic I’ve posted before) headed out to the Lightning in a Bottle (LIB) music festival a few weeks ago, and was prepared to approach the concert-goers in headdresses and other forms of cultural appropriation in the mindset of an educator. He encountered many headdresses, and more. I’ll let him tell the story himself:

I went to Lightning in a Bottle a few weeks ago. As a Native who is considered pretty ‘alternative’ (ie goes to festivals frequently and likes Electro House music, although I also love Swing Dancing, Break Dancing, and Freestyle MC-ing) I knew that this trip would be wrought with challenges of Fashion Identity, Racial Politics, and overt appropriation of Native American Cultures, Symbols and Practices… It was very difficult to be amongst so many people of the new age belief, and to constantly stay silent so as not to be rude. Speaking out then would be akin to quantifying the Pope as the Anti-Christ in a Catholic church in Boston. That’s the kinda heat I was around.

In this journey which i prepare for by sweating, I also needed feathers from my Eagle which I had recently cleaned. I prayed for a whole day on these two feathers so that i would have the A) Strength to continue educating non-native, as i predicted it would be very fatiguing to do so, and B) Patience so that i would not get frustrated by their lack of perspective, respect or recognition of Native Symbols. While I had some good conversations and even had people offer to take off their feathers, i also had people viciously defending their ‘right’ to expression. Its’ a very American concept, this right to act however you please. Its also this kind of thinking that lead to the genocide 100+ million original natives from the America’s over 500 years.

I went as an educator of expression that is too often undeserved, and more than not, ignored. By being a Native presence at this kind of festival I attract a lot of attention to my self, especially when i wear my feathers, for the purposes listed above. When I offer cleansing I make sure to be in sober spirit. More then I can say for many of the Plastic Shaman that I saw out there. I was also fasting for about 30 hours and with dancing and constant walking in the mix, I did not need to partake of other medicines to be enlightened. At that point it was pretty full on.

May we have greater recognition amongst Non-Natives so that we are not merely known about, but understood. If you live in America then you benefit from our subjugation, please do not perpetuate the actions of the past, by staying ignorant and blind from our shared History.

I can only imagine the strength it took to remain calm and collected in that environment. Here are the pictures that Ricky sent over of other concert goers:

and here’s Ricky (he shaded out his eyes):

The other interesting part about LIB is that they bill themselves to be a progressive, environmental, save-the-rainforest type event. If you go to their website here, and look under the tab that says “environment” you can see more about their mission. This page caught my attention as well: which includes two images of Indigenous men from the Amazon and information about the “critical beats” organization, which uses indigenous songs, music, stories, and spoken word combined with western artists’ music to create new songs that they sell to raise money and awareness on Indigenous issues. Interesting stuff, but I don’t know enough about it to formulate a total opinion.

Anyway, my point is that I always find it hard to believe when people who are “aware” and “tuned in” still think it’s ok to don a headdress or offer “Native” ceremonies. I’m sure they would use the “honoring” argument, which we know is just as offensive as wearing the headdress itself.

So, thanks to Ricky for the story and images, and I’m so glad he was there to talk to the participants, though I know it must have been exhausting and frustrating. Keep fighting!


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

The Hipster Headdress Abounds at Coachella:

Headdresses and Music Festivals go together like PB and…Racism?:

Apparently Clairol has a color of their “Natural Instincts” line called “Navajo Bronze”–a “light caramel brown”. Of course, since Clariol wants you to think that this line of hair dye is “natural” and stuff, they have to use Natives for marketing, since we’re all tied to nature and pure and whatever else they think. Frustrating.

Amazon listing:

(Thanks Scott!)

TLC is not exactly known for its normal, run of the mill programming. While I’m sure we can all admit to paying rapt attention to “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” at one point or another, the network’s stunts for ratings have gotten weirder and weirder lately. I think the topper might be their recent special “Extreme Poodles,” a show that chronicled participants in an “Extreme” poodle grooming contest.

As I might have mentioned before, I (sadly) don’t have cable. I know, I’m crazy. So I haven’t actually seen the episode, and am just going off of the links and descriptions around the internets. But apparently, this is how it went down.

Contestants were allowed to “pre-dye” their poodles (with non-toxic veggie dye), but all cutting, trimming, and styling was done on a stage, in front of an audience and judges. Each poodle had a theme, and when the groomers presented the final product, they dressed up and had music relating to their dog’s “theme”. Other themes? Lion king, Roller Derby, Garden of Eden….and then the family you see above, with their entry titled “Cherokee Heritage”.

If you can’t tell from the image, that’s a poodle, shaved to look like a buffalo, with an Indian head carved on his side, complete with a headdress. The family are dressed as “Indians” with wigs, turkey feathers, and fake buckskin.

here’s another image of the dog:

According to this blog, written from the point of view of a poodle (?) here’s how the Cherokee Heritage team presented themselves:

Her companion Josh is groomed as a buffalo at the head, and with the face and headdress at one of the rear legs. Apparently, Angela is part Cherokee, so she is celebrating her own heritage which Poodle Bitch supposes makes the whole idea less offensive…

In addition to the actual groom of the dog, there is a presentation period, in which the groomers display the dog in a tableau meant to illustrate the theme of the groom. For Angela’s part, she has conscripted her father and nephew into wearing Cherokee headdresses and bird costumes to stand and prance around the dog, while Angela herself beats a drum (Poodle Bitch is unsure if the proper term for such a drum is “tomtom”).

 Wow. I can only imagine how that looked. If you can see from the first image, her son is wearing a bird costume with wings, so I’m sure he was busy flapping around the table. And beating a “tomtom” (you can see it on the edge of the second picture)? That’s not totally stereotypical or anything.

There are many cringe-inducing and anger-inducing parts of this, but the one that is bothering me more than anything is that she says she’s “honoring her Cherokee heritage” through this display.

We can debate the finer points of tradition and whether or not Cherokees hunted buffalo (there were definitely some bison/buffalo running through the Eastern Woodlands way back in the day, but Cherokee aren’t considered a buffalo culture like the Lakota/Dakota), but my point is that the stereotypes this woman drew on were Plains Indian stereotypes–the Hollywood Indian. Not anything close to Cherokee culture.

The write-ups I’m reading seem to be giving her a free pass because of her claims of “honoring,” but me, not so much. If you really want to honor your supposed heritage, do some research. Talk to your elders. Learn. I bet about 5 minutes into your education you’ll realize how terribly messed up it is to “honor” your heritage by shaving a poodle, dressing up in turkey feathers, and beating a stereotypical drum.

Why all the crazies gotta be Cherokee? That, my friends, is a whole post in itself.

Here’s the only video I can find, a “teaser” from TLC, but it does show the groomer in action “I’m trying to color in this Indian face in right here” (at about the 1:05 mark):

Oh, and I forgot to mention, “Cherokee Heritage” won third place.

(Thanks Bree and Rachel!)
(image source)

Vince Vaughn is shooting a new movie called “Cheating Hearts,” and apparently some scenes take place at a Chicago Blackhawks game. The casting agency put a call out for extras–”Blackhawk fans”–and some of the participants were a little overly enthusiastic with the Blackhawks “regalia” (like the pair above). describes the casting call:

An estimated 1,100 persons eager to be extras in the currently shooting Vince Vaughan movie, “Cheating Hearts,” turned out for Atmosphere Casting’s call last Saturday — most in full Blackhawks’ regalia and then some…

The majority took instructions to wear Blackhawks gear to heart, but a few went beyond jerseys and caps They came dressed as authentic Indian chiefs, Blackhawks, no doubt, wearing full feather head dresses to moccasins. Many others added hockey sticks and brooms to confirm their status as fans.

First of all, “authentic”? Not so much. Not at all. Also, “Blackhawks” are not a group of Indians, the team name is taken from Chief Blackhawk, of the Sauk/Sac Nation.  But poor wording of the reporting aside, I’m not excited (to say the least) to see these guys in the background of the newest romcom.

Also, these fools are dressed like plains Indians. The full headdress-buckskin-warpaint thing isn’t even close to the traditional regalia of the Sauk/Sac Nation. Here’s a portrait of Chief Blackhawk himself:

And here’s Chief Mokohoko, a leader of the Sac and Fox during the removal era:

(image source)

But at least we can be glad that the scenes don’t take place at a Philly Flyers game, lest we get an audience full of guys like this:

(My earlier post on that incident)
Earlier: Thanks for the severed head, you’ve proved my point– “Blackhawks fans go that extra mile”–

(Thanks Jenny!)