Archives For July 2010

(via Ecouterre)

I read a fair amount of fashion blogs, but only recently did I discover the fabulous story and photos over at The Uniform Project. The designer of the now-famous little black dress featured on the site is Eliza Starbuck, who apparently is launching a new line called “Bright Young Things.”

To commemorate the launch, she offered up this project on the blog Ecouterre, “guaranteed to turn heads”. Yes friends, you can now make your very own hipster headdress.

The post offers step-by-step instructions, and I found it hilariously ironic that either Starbuck or Ecoterre reminds you to “just be sure to choose cruelty-free feathers (faux, vintage, or found), rather than pluck the plumage of some hapless bird.” Definitely, worry about the birds, but not the people you may be offending (They are a sustainable fashion site, though, so I’m not totally surprised about the bird reminder).

That’s one weird trend I’ve been noticing with some of the hipster-headdress wearers–many of them are quick to jump on other causes, environmental sustainability, relief for Africa, etc, hinting at some sort of solidarity with those fighting for what’s right…yet they clamp down on the headdress and staunchly defend their “right” to wear it. If someone of a marginalized group tells you, to your face, that what you’re doing is hurtful and offensive, how can you, as an “activist,” still wear it? I don’t get it. But that’s just one of my personal pet peeves with the whole thing.

(via Ecouterre)

A commenter named Margo posted the first comment on the site (thanks!), linking to my hipster headdress manifesto and my culture is not a trend, to which Starbuck responded:

E. Starbuck: @Margo,thank you for the reminder. I think EVERYONE is aware of stereotypes and what is and isn’t “PC” at this point in time. A handmade headdress (and not the dime store “cowboys and indians” plastic version) is sacred to anyone who wears it and certainly to anyone who makes it.

and then an E.J. Starbuck commented on my hipster headdress post:

I think this point of view is painfully old-fashioned. The Internet has created a melting pot of Ancient, Present, Past, and Future cultures from all around the world. And at this point, everyone is fully aware of what stereotypes are and what “PC” is, and going on about them is only going to perpetuate them. Practice sacred culture, don’t preach it. Making efforts to keep sacred cultures segregated and separated in the name of respect and cultural preservation maybe honorable, but it is quite impossible and impractical. If that were the way, then the spirit of the Native American culture would be long dead, and we know that isn’t true, it’s just evolved. Everyone is connected and everyone is mixed, this is a new tribe of people. A handmade headdress (and not the dime store “cowboys and indians” plastic version) is sacred to anyone who wears it and certainly to anyone who makes it. To limit that sacred experience to Native Americans when people from every part of the planet have been using feathers as decorations on their heads all throughout history is just wrong.

So this is a new argument to me–that creating the headdress yourself makes it “sacred”?

I’ll turn this one over to you, readers, since I want some more voices than just my own on this issue. Thoughts? 

Ecouterre:  Make a DIY Feathered Headdress by Eliza Starbuck of Bright Young Things

Earlier: But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress? (for the full breakdown)

(Thanks Amy and Margo!)

Chrissy, one of my Twitter followers, came across this can of Korean Oysters while shopping at her local grocery store (I believe in Alabama?). From what I can gather with a quick google search, Dafuskie (with an “e”) Island in South Carolina used to be a big oyster producing area. But this website gives us this additional piece of Dafuskie trivia:

Indian pottery found on the island is among the oldest of its kind in North America, dating back more than 9,000 years.  Their history on the island ended in the early 18th century, after a battle with English soldiers in 1715. After the sand ran red with Indian blood, the southern tip of the island was given the moniker Bloody Point, a name it carries to this day.

Horrible.  How would you like to live in “Bloody Point” knowing that is the history of your home? That’s a whole post in itself.

Back to the oysters. These are, today, produced in Korea, but I found some images of early ads, from the 1950′s:

(image source)

If they are referencing the Daufuskie-Indian connection, they might want to look into traditional regalia of South Carolina, cause I’m about 100% positive they didn’t wear plains headdresses. In addition, I don’t think the proper way to memorialize slaughtering all of your island’s Native inhabitants is to put them on a can of oysters. But that’s just my opinion.

(Thanks Chrissy!)

Red Bull, the energy drink of the masses, presents us with a winner of an appropriation. This commercial reads like a check list of Native stereotypes. Apparently this ad aired heavily overseas (it can be found in many different languages on youtube), and first aired in the US back in 2009. However, it seems that Red Bull decided stereotypical imagery works, because I’ve gotten multiple tips in the last few weeks noting that they’ve started airing it again.

Here’s the transcript of the commercial:

(war whoops and drumming)

Brown Bear: Greetings White Dove, my heart is heavy
White Dove: Mine too, Brown Bear
BB: The end of the year is near, and we still can’t get together. Brown bear can’t jump that far!
WD: And White Dove can’t fly! We are only united in mind.
BB: Yes, but my body longs for you too.
WD: Oooh. *sigh*
Narrator: No Red Bull, no happy ending.
Watch the commercial here (sorry the embedding isn’t working):  

 So let’s see:

  • Tipis?
  • Smoke Signals?
  • War Whoops?
  • “Tom-Tom” Drumming?
  • “Indian” Names? (Brown Bear and White Dove? Really?)
  • Speaking in third person/broken English?
  • Sexualization of the Natives?

Check, check, check, check…

I also found this other Red Bull commercial that uses Indigenous people as “cannibals” (who the smart white man can escape by drinking red bull and getting wings!). Especially note the “daughter” with her exposed breasts and buck teeth. (Oh, and it’s in Italian, but I think it’s pretty easy to understand what’s going on):

So there you have it, Red Bull Gives You Wings Stereotypes!(TM)

(Thanks Virtue and Harsh!)
White Man: The Superior Indian 

My friend Amy, who is the best internet browser in the history of the world, sent over this movie poster after my Dances with Wolves post last week. I love it. The whole slide show is pretty creative and entertaining.

Can anyone think of any other “honest” movie titles for movies about Indians?

Last of the Mohicans (I finally saw that one too!): Lots of Blood and Gore but Who Cares I’m Looking at Eric Schweig?

The New World: Waving Grass and Rushing Water But No Plot or Dialogue?

Leave more ideas in the comments! “If Movie Titles Were Honest Photoshop Contest”:

(Thanks Amy!)

Last Friday I headed over to the Harvard Med School (HMS) to listen to the final presentations of the students involved in HMS’s Native American High School Summer Program. I was so blown away and impressed by the students and what they managed to accomplish in three weeks, their presentations were incredible, powerful, and moving.

But back to the issue at hand, the image above. I was waiting for my flatbread pizza in the schmancy new HMS cafeteria and noticed this sign next to the ordering station. Text reads:

Did You Know?

There are only three fruits native to North America: blueberries, cranberries, and Concord grapes. Legend has it that Native Americans gave blueberries to the new settlers, helping them make it through their first winter.

Not completely outright offensive, but I still find it troublesome. The main issues I find with the ad:

  • The use of the phrase “legend has it…”, which implies a mystical or mythical connection, not a historical fact. It could have easily said “historical accounts tell us” or omitted the phrase all together. To me, “legend has it…” draws up imagery of campfire story time, furthering the stereotypes of Natives as connected to myth or the mystical. 

  • The use of generic “Native American” instead of an actual tribe. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again and again until it gets into everyone’s head–there are over 500 distinct tribes and communities. Not every tribe saved the settlers’ butts that first winter. Not every tribe used/uses blueberries traditionally. 

  • The fact that they chose a “fact” that relates Natives to the white settlers, rather than the numerous other connections New England area tribes have with blueberries. How about mentioning that local tribes (like Wampanoag) have used and been aware of the medicinal properties of blueberries long before America caught onto the “antioxidant” trend? Why does it have to be viewed through a colonial lens?

The best part of all of this, guess who was in the cafeteria with me while I discovered the ad? about ten Wampanoag tribal members (from both Aquinnah and Mashpee), as well as all the other Native participants in the summer program. I pointed out the ad to one of the Wampanoag mentors, who was holding her beautiful baby boy (who’s name means “brave” in their language), and she just shook her head and walked away.

It was her people who “helped” the settlers through that first winter, only to be memorialized in a generic, random ad in a university cafeteria. Imagine how that must feel.

So, I realize the ad isn’t as outright offensive as the Potowatomi Chicago ad we looked at before, but I still think it is important to interrogate and re-examine images we take at face value, and problematize how seemingly simple and benign words can carry much deeper meaning.

Earlier: The Potawatomi didn’t have a word for global business center?

(Thanks Rachel for being my lookout as I stole the sign to take pictures of it!)
(screen shot from the new N.E.R.D. and Nelly Furtado video)

Welcome to a new Friday feature, where I round-up all the awesome tips I get in my inbox, but don’t have a chance to write full posts about.

Consider it a work-in-progress (I still need a name for it–ideas? let me know!). If anything in here strikes your fancy, and you’d like me to write more about it, post in the comments. Tips with highest number of “votes” will get a full write up!

Ready? Here we go…

  • Actress Erin Cummings has an image of her dressed in a headdress as her Twitter background, and when contacted about it, said the CBS producers liked it and approved it.
  • The Little Marc Jacobs Store in Manhattan uses a Tipi in its window display
  • Taylor Lautner, aka Jacob Black in the Twilight movies, comes to the shocking realization that Natives are just like everyone else! They hang out! They play basketball! Shocking!!
  • Zimbio has an image of Izia (a model)  and fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac at the launch of the new clothing line in Paris, France. Izia is wearing a full warbonnet and feathered dress.
  • Shrinky Dinks (yes they’re still around) is selling a “Wild West Party Pack“–i.e. Cowboys and Indians. Interestingly, the Indians have a range of skin tones, and are shown doing the “modern” activities, but also are all wearing feathers and doing stereotypical activities as well (peace pipes, tom toms, canoeing, etc)

I have more, but I thought this was a good start! Keep the tips coming, and thanks to everyone who contributed.

(Thanks Lici, Peggy, Sarah, Tanis, Liz, Katie, Laurie, Christina, Kannon, Denise, Ben, Mom, Mar, and Lauren)

Holy Headdress Batman! (omg I’m so creative I know).

Reader Brianna sent over this image of Batman, in a headdress, punching what appears to be an Indian (POW!). She didn’t know the context, but a little googling this morning led me to this blog, with more images of Batman, plus other superheros, all dressed up in racial drag: (all images courtesy of Everyday is Like Wednesday)

That’s the cover of the issue that the first image came from. Then there’s Superman:

And Captain Marvel:

and even Rex the Wonder Dog:

Everyday is Like Wednesday offers a plot synopsis of the Batman comic, filling in the gaps to demonstrate just how Batman ended up dressed like a stereotypical Plains Chief. Definitely head over for a read. Here’s a screen shot of the comic:

 (click to make it bigger and readable)

The main plot point is that Batman must disguise himself as an Indian in order to fight the bad guy. Awesome?

These were released in the 1950′s, so back at the height of Westerns and an American fascination with Cowboys and Indians, so I’m not surprised that the trend bled into the comic book realm. I’d love to see the full comics, I’m really curious to see the full portrayals of the Native people. 

For more: Everyday is like Wednesday: Chief-Man-of-the-Bats

(Thanks Brianna!)
(image via Salon)

Welcome to guest blogger Kaeleigh H., who is a student at Indiana University in the Archaeology and Social Context Program. She sent this post over as a tip, but I thought it was so awesome I’d just go ahead and publish it. Want to see your writing on Native Appropriations? Just send me an email!

AK note: This summer, residents of the wealthy suburban  community of Mystic, Connecticut are playing host to researchers armed with metal detectors and shovels, as they scour the manicured lawns and tidy flowerbeds looking artifacts and remnants of the Pequot War, a bloody battle that took place in the mid 1600′s. The AP decided to cover the story, and Kaeleigh gives us her take on the language choices made by the reporter throughout: 

Archaeological surveys and excavations are taking place in Mystic, Connecticut on the site of a battle of the Pequot War. Members of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe and the Eastern Pequot tribe are taking part in the project, which is the joint venture of Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center at Foxwoods and the University of Connecticut.

It sounds like a good collaborative, community-based project, but the following statement from the article about the battle and the archaeological work being done on the site is where it gets problematic:

“Historians are split to this day on whether the Pequots were victims of cruel English settlers who wanted their land — or brought the attack on themselves by raiding a settlement a month earlier in Wethersfield, killing nine people and carrying off two girls. The researchers in Mystic aren’t taking sides.”

They “aren’t taking sides,” sure. This statement completely avoids any discussion of what right the English settlers had to be there in the first place. Oh, and what the author means by “the attack” is “the massacre of 400-700 Pequot people (mostly women, children, and the elderly, according to Wikipedia) and the enslavement of any survivors.”

The horrible question of “But did they deserve it?” implies that the Pequots’ killing of nine people and kidnapping of two in order to defend themselves from further hostile advances by the English is the same as the English settlers taking Pequot land and then killing and enslaving several hundred Pequot people, many of whom may not have been in a position to defend themselves during the battle. The very question/comparison shows me that they’ve already “taken sides”. In this limited and dualistic interpretation of events, it’s heads the settlers win, tails the Pequot lose. On one hand the Pequot are just victims of the English, and on the other they’re murderers and kidnappers who “brought the attack on themselves.”

And then there’s this:

“Some homeowners even worried that the wealthy Mashantucket Pequots could use the archaeology project as a way to take their property. McBride says convincing the landowners that the Pequots can’t do so has been one of his biggest challenges.”

Given the fact that archaeology was (and sometimes still is) a tool of colonization in North America–part of the legacy of widespread violence committed by western settlers against Native peoples in attempts to control them and their resources–it’s pretty ironic that the area homeowners are worried that the Pequot could use this project as a means of “taking their property”.

Obviously they see this as a real danger and had to be convinced that should they participate, the project’s findings wouldn’t negatively affect their lives in any way. This attitude is really troubling to me, because it seems that local people are very aware of the massacre and know the story of it, but archaeological “evidence” would somehow make it more real to them…real enough that it might change their lives. By denying the archaeologists permission to dig up the “evidence,” area residents are thinking that they’ll somehow be better able to dismiss the realities of the massacre and hang onto their own present-day reality, which involves living on Pequot land and not having to think too much (as one resident said in the beginning of the article) about the battle that took place there.

Notice also that the Pequot are referred to in the article as “powerful” and “aggressive” (in the past) and “wealthy” (in the present), the latter descriptor being a result of the “phenomenal success” of their casino, which annoys everybody else in the area because of all the extra traffic it brings. The last quote I used even kind of portrays the Mashantucket Pequot as some kind of greedy corporation out to get area residents (that might be a slight exaggeration, but it definitely wasn’t a positive tone).

I don’t mean to be overly negative about the article; I just wanted to point out and discuss some of the problematic attitudes I feel are represented within it. I think the project itself sounds really good, and I believe archaeology can be a really powerful and transformative force when communities are willing to collaborate, listen, learn, compromise, and respect one another. I hope that the archaeological crew will address some of the issues that area residents are bringing up.

AK note: Additionally, the “wealthy” Mashantucket  Pequot is actually a misnomer, as the tribe has been going through a ton of financial trouble as of late. The tribe is facing the repayment of a $700 million dollar loan, and restructuring over 2 billion dollars in debt. In addition, tribal members, as of August, will no longer be receiving “per capita” payments (individual payouts from casino earnings).  They are not the all-powerful rich casino tribe the article paints them to be.

(Thanks Kaeleigh!)

After my Dances with Wolves post, I held an informal poll over on the Native Appropriations Facebook page (are you a fan? you should be!) of the best Native films. I think the resulting list is a nice mix of documentary, comedy, and drama, and brings in some international perspectives as well. Let me know what you think. Here, in no particular order, are the films recommended by Facebook readers, with links, director, and year!

    I realize that some of these are made for TV movies, some are film festival picks, and some are just plain hard to track down. But try checking libraries, film institutes, etc. If anyone has resources, ways to get a hold of any of these films, or has any to add to the list, please put links in the comments.

    DISCLAIMER: I haven’t seen all of these films, so I can’t vouch for the whole list, but I trust my readers!

    (Click to make it grande, source here)

    I’m a huge fan of the street art movement, I love art that incorporates social commentary and appears in unexpected forms and places. UK artist Banksy is arguably the leader of the movement, with his pieces appearing all over the world, in galleries and sold-out shows, but also on everything from nondescript alleys to the wall between Gaza/the west bank and Jerusalem.

    I love the image above, from the Mission district in San Francisco, playing with the whole immigration debate. I like when artist’s juxtapose historic and modern, I think it calls into question some of the preconceived notions the public holds about Native peoples.

    Similarly, though not exactly the same, I really like the work of Apache Skateboards‘ founder Douglas Miles, because (clearly) I love anything that subverts stereotypes and allows Natives to exist as contemporary beings, instead of being situated in the pepetual past. Miles’ bio describes his art as:

    “Graphic imagery of Apache warriors and contemporary “Rez” portraits brings a Native aesthetic and sensibility to the skateboard culture. The Apache skateboards break through a seemingly closed mainstream boundary, reasserting and affirming Indian youth’s presence in the mainstream culture of today.”

    Love it. “…reasserting and affirming Indian youth’s presence in the mainstream culture of today.” Miles is also active in engaging Native youth in art and the art making process, which is even better.

    Here are some of his pieces:

    All images can be found on the Apache Skateboards website.

    For those of you interested in the Street Art Movement, I saw Banksy’s awesome documentary last week called “Exit Through the Gift Shop” about street art and the emergence of controversial artist “Mr. Brainwash”–a would-be filmmaker and friend of Banksy/Shepard Fairey/etc turned artist. Really calls into question the art world and the strange boundaries we as a society draw around what is deemed “art.” Definitely recommend it!

    If anyone has any other cool Native street art, send it over!


    Masking Tape and Markers=Beautiful Native Street Art

    “I bead contemporary Native life”: The Art of Teri Greeves