Nudie Neon Indians and the Sexualization of Native Women

In "sexy squaw", bonaroo, headdress, hipster headdress, neon indian, violence against Native women by Adrienne K.14 Comments

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)
  • That movie made me cry from beginning to end.
    Here is a movie about the movie industry and the appropriation of First Nations Culture.
    I apologize if you’ve already written about this before and it’s just a re-post. (I just loved the movie so much I had to share it)

  • There is a culture of counterculture which is appropriation, exploitation and privilege.

    I would also like to share with you this report called Shattered Hearts: The Commercial Sexual Exploitation Of American Indian Women And Girls In Minnesota –

    I just interviewed for a job with MIWRC and didn’t get it but now I am aware of this report which I thought I would share!

    I also started watching Rape of the Reservation last night. I am going to finish watching it tonight. Yes, it made me cry but these are important tears in my healing and the healing in our communities. I can cry and get a fire in my heart to start this organization in Michigan for Native women. There is no Native Women’s Resource Center in Michigan. I am interested in starting a center here as it is HUGE need. But, there is a huge need for Native women’s issues everywhere.

    Thank you/Miigwech for this post and all of the great resources in it.

  • those are shocking facts! I am so glad that this is has been brought to my attention. It is truely shocking in the USA.

  • Wow, what an eye opening documentary. I, as a woman in Oklahoma, live amongst many native people, though not reservations. However, the statistic of 70% of crimes against native women are committed by non-natives was not protrayed in this documentary. Was that an oversight, or was this community an exception?

  • Amber, they did actually go over that statistic in the documentary. If I remember correctly they actually debunked that as being a really skewed statistic.

    The documentary itself was heart breaking. Asian women are also over-sexualized, but there’s just so much more to the situation of the Indian woman than I would have believed.

  • Well, I know that the band can’t control what their fans decide to do, but it would have been nice if they’d have realized enough to issue some sort of statement saying ‘thanks but please support us in other ways’… as in “We love our fans; we love their participation, but this is the history behind the headdress and the issues facing Native women in North America… We recognize that a lot of people are maybe not aware of these things, but because of them we prefer that people not come dressed in Native dress.”

    Don’t know… just a thought?

  • i don’t understand why ‘ghosthustler’ necesitates ‘neon indian’ (as in where the name came from.) i mean, what was his friend’s reason for naming her make believe band that?

  • What a fantastic post. Thank you for sharing your point of view!

  • anon

    Cultural Appropriation confuses me immensely…I am constantly trying not to offend anyone. I bought Minnetonka Moccasins once and cried when I found out they weren’t made by Native Americans (I was 14). It makes me very sad because I very much respect and appreciate other cultures…Is it inappropriate to go to other countries and take part in their traditions? The festivals in Spain? Yoga and meditation in India? Singing with choirs in Africa? I would hate to live separately from such beautiful things. I love reading about cultures, but sometimes it isn’t enough. Sometimes I want to experience those cultures. I like to think of it as learning. People consider white people to be narrow-minded and racist. How do we become educated without knowing about these cultures? I’m just really confused. Someone please help me out with this.

  • anon is attending this festival appropriation?

  • Kalikalay

    thank you for the above article, this is a very important point to make around cultural appropriation-
    i am a little worried about how the film you’ve attached here seems to portray Aboriginal communities as being unable to govern themselves, this inevitably leads to advocating for more state control of Aboriginal communities which has proven to be devastating-(residential schools, reserves and etc.)

    also the film seems to miss the UNDERLYING causes of violence against Aboriginal women-
    the SYSTEMIC RACISM and SEXISM rooted in mainstream society that devalues Aboriginal womens lives-

    In my opinion this RACISM and SEXISM is deeply rooted in American COLONIAL attitudes towards Indigenous women, The United States AND Canada were founded through violence against Aboriginal communities and specifically against Aboriginal women-the violence we see today is the legacy of COLONIALISM and the continuation of colonization through NEO COLONIALISM-

  • Sam

    It’s definitely okay to do that! At least, I’d say so. I think when people talk about cultural appropriation they mean stereotyping in an offensive manner. Wanting to experience the traditions and local culture of a place isn’t wrong – in fact, it’s wonderful.

  • I can’t but help notice the age of those girls….they look 15? 16? and are dancing around topless? Besides the whole idiotic racism they exude. their age is ew.