Archives For August 2010

CrazyHorse Memorial, South Dakota
(Image source.)

AK note: Today’s posting comes from Simon Moya-Smith, the author behind I Am Not A Mascot. Simon is Oglala Lakota, writes for the Denver Post, and offers engaging and poignant commentary about what it means to be a contemporary Indian in America. You can also follow him on twitter, @IAmNotAMascot. 

So the controversy – for the moment – is over the mosque slated to be built near the site of the World Trade Center bombings in New York City. Don’t you worry, though. We’ll get back to that ugly immigration debate momentarily.

None the less, I feel compelled to share some not-widely-known wisdom with my mosque-naysayers, for if there’s one thing citizens in this country get instantly aroused by it is some good old American Indian wisdom, so here you go, folks:

Since time immemorial, the Black Hills in South Dakota have been a holy place for the Lakota Sioux – my people. And to the Lakota the Black Hills is where Life began. Although the story of creation significantly differs between Sioux and Christians (our messenger from The Creator came in the form of a woman) Paha Sapa is not unlike Christianity’s Eden in its significance.

But here is where today’s debate over the mosque and my peoples’ sacred site come together: It didn’t matter to the Christians, those innumerable settlers who came west seeking gold, land, riches and religious freedom (ironically) that the Black Hills was our holy site, our sacred location, our Jerusalem. No. What mattered was that their monument – Mount Rushmore – be chiseled into it.

And the key word here is “on,” not “near.” The American Muslim community wants to build their 13-story mosque near the World Trade Center bombing site, not on it. Only if we – American Indians – were lucky enough to have seen Christians build their much coveted religious institutions and monuments to their leaders near our holy sites, and not on them.

And for some odd reason, the desecration of the Black Hills continues in the form of the Crazy Horse monument, still in construction. Although it is said that Lakota councils support the depiction of the never-photographed war leader on its rock face, I remain of the opinion that Crazy Horse would want his likeness carved into the Black Hills as much as a priest would like someone disfiguring his cathedral.

Sadly, and much to my chagrin, there seems to be no stopping in sight for the desecration of American Indian sacred locations. Take DIA in Colorado for example.

Denver International Airport, built in 1995 and residing only 20 minutes east of downtown, is on sacred Indian burial ground, and it now appears the city is considering a $1 billion facelift of the airport including the construction of more facilities.

Albeit, if the voices of protest aren’t speaking loudly enough, the spirits most certainly are.

Pass through any one of the concourses at DIA – especially Terminal A – and one will detect the subtle, familiar sounds of American Indian flute. The high harmonies play on a continual loop, serenading frequent fliers from out camouflaged speakers behind glass cases displaying old Indian trinkets and blouses.

These flute tunes aren’t there to pay homage to the plains Indians that once inhabited the area. Nor do they play to create a “Welcome to the West” ambiance for airport patrons on layover to Seattle. No. The Indian flute plays to pause the pranks and creepy occurrences that sweep the facility.

During construction, innumerable unexplained phenomenon occurred at DIA, and reportedly continues today 15 years after its unveiling. In the late 1990s, airport big shots summoned Colorado American Indian elders to place blessings on the airport in a last ditch effort to rest the restless spirits and mitigate the often frightening, reoccurring events airport staff were reporting on a consistent basis.

In 2000, paranormal researcher Dennis William Hauck placed Denver International Airport on his list of spooky spots around the world in his book “The International Directory of Haunted Places.” Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, the principle matter still looms: A building was constructed on a sacred site.

Christians obviously feel they have the constitutional right to build what they want, where they want, when they want. I find it most hypocritical that the same Christians who are for building edifices on sacred Indian sites are the very same voices of opposition regarding the erection of a Muslim mosque near Ground Zero.

So I present the obvious: Why not build a mosque near the hallowed grounds of the WTC? American Indian holy sites are desecrated by Christians all the time.

I am one of the last few true natives in this country, and I don’t expect many – or any outside of Indian Country for that matter – to subscribe to or even comprehend this rare perspective. But for the sake of doing away with double standards, I think this unfortunate reality for Indian peoples was worth pointing out today.

OK. Now back to the immigration debate.

Still Not A Mascot,

-Simon Moya-Smith

See the original posing here:
I Am Not A Mascot: Monuments and Mosques: The Debate Over What’s Sacred (An American Indian’s Perspective)

(Thanks Simon!)
PS-Want to see your writing on Native Appropriations? I’m always looking for guest posts. Send an idea, completed piece, or any questions over to Don’t hesitate, just do it!

One of the things I love most about having this blog is getting Random Appropriations from my friends as they go about their lives all over the world. Last week I got a text message from my friend Shane in Taipei showing an “aboriginal” cartoon at the airport, my friend Steven sent me some great ones as he drove cross country this summer, and then this weekend my friend Genia tags me on Facebook…as this. I burst out laughing in the middle of the library. I love it.

Let’s discuss.

Things I am partial to: “100% Genuine!” and “Contains Genuine ‘Indian Strawberry’”(?) and the nice aesthetics of the Mr. Stereotypical Plains (we’re getting pretty well acquainted on this blog, aren’t we?) with the cornucopia of strawberries. Award-winning graphic design, right there.

But the best part is the “Money House Blessing.” While, as Genia pointed out, we all can probably use some Money House Blessings…I’m not sure even the included “Genuine Indian Strawberry” is gonna get it for you. Sorry.

I’m guessing the company is playing off of the tradition of smudging (burning of certain sacred herbs, roots, or grasses) that many tribes use as a form of blessing or purification, but trying to commodify that in a pink can? Ridiculous.  

Also amazing, I googled to see if I could find any more information about the company, and found this: has a glorious typo–“Monkey House Blessing.” Pretty fitting, actually. Cause there’s about the same probability spraying this stuff will bring monkey blessings to your house as there is that it’ll bring money blessings. That’s all I’ve got to say.

(Thanks Genia!)
(via my culture is not a trend, click for bigger version)

Cultural appropriation in fashion has now gone seriously mainstream. The favorite read of tweens and teens everywhere, Seventeen Magazine, featured this “Navajo” fall fashion spread in their August issue. On many levels, I find this even more offensive than having a generic “tribal fashion” spread. I know I always point out that those spreads lump a million different Native tribes, images, and traditions into one catch-all, otherizing, “tribal” idea–and at least this one listed a tribe, right? Yeah, not so much. 

They still rely on generalized Native stereotypes, but this time are referring to a specific culture. This points to the fact that in the collective American consciousness, all tribes are interchangeable. Navajo, Ojibwe, Kootenai, take your pick. They’re all the same! For instance, dream catchers: definitely not Navajo. Would I still be upset if they had paid attention and made taken inspiration from actual Navajo culture? Like if they had a white model dressed up in a rug dress? Of course. But hopefully you see my point.

My friend Marlon did a little research, and found out that in January 1973 Seventeen actually did a cover story entitled: “Special Report: Today’s Young Navajos”. I love the cover image (below) for many reasons, but mainly because they didn’t have her pose in traditional clothes or try and have her conform to a more stereotypical image. She looks like she’s about to laugh, just hanging out with her friends. Well done. I can’t find the article, so I have no idea if the accompanying story was a shining example or a cringe-inducing piece, but it’s still pretty interesting to examine the cover alone: 

As I was pulling together this post, I wanted a shocking, over-the-top example to illustrate how these fashion spreads make me feel every time I encounter them in magazines or on other fashion blogs…so I turned to polyvore and MS Paint, and made this:

UPDATE 8/28: After sleeping on it, I took it down. What was here was a “fashion” spread made up of various Africa/Urban/other Black stereotype “inspirations”. It didn’t illustrate my point, and any point it did make was at the expense of another marginalized group with not nearly enough context or description given. I was going for a visceral reaction, but in a blogging world where most page views are a matter of seconds, it’s definitely not enough to throw that up there alone. I also want you to focus on the juxtaposition of the two Seventeen images rather than my misguided attempts at making a point. Apologies for my initial transgressions, and in the words of Kanye West’s prolific Twitter: IT’S A PROCESS.  Thanks for bearing with me.  
I bet every fashion blogger making an Native-inspired version relies on the same tatic–pulling together complete stereotypes of what they think of when they hear “Native American”. We are so much more than that–but to the readers of the August issue of Seventeen and the fashion blogosphere, we are simply feathers, dream catchers, headdresses, warpaint, moccasins, and beads. Nothing more. 

(Thanks Lauren and Marlon!)
(image source, (c) Bunky Echohawk)

Reader Carleen sent over this image, which comes from an exhibition of contemporary Native art that Susan Shown Harjo curated in DC back in 2007. I know it’s old, but you know how much I like art and images that call into question preconceived notions about Indian identity, clashing with stereotypes and challenging ideas of Natives in the historic past, as fantasy characters, ect. This painting definitely fits the bill, and let’s be honest, it’s pretty fun too.

Lots of other great images from the show can be found at the Washington Post here. The show was entitled “American Icons Through Indigenous Eyes”, and The Post noted that the exhibition was a “rare chance to see modern works by Native Americans that don’t necessarily reflect craft traditions, anthropology or history, but instead a viewpoint and a vision for art.” Exactly what I love about contemporary Indian art. There are even some images that play with cultural appropriation–I especially liked this one by David Bradly, called “Land O Fakes”:

 Have I mentioned my undergrad thesis was on contemporary Indian art? It might be obvious by now. :)

Today’s my first-ish day of class (still “shopping”), so expect posting to return to normal next week!

Colorlines: Must See Political Native American Art
Washington Post: American Icons Through Indigenous Eyes

Masking Tape and Markers=Beautiful Native Street Poetry

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

Native-themed Banksy Street Art in San Francisco

(Thanks Carleen!)
  • Hipster Wife Hunting did a piece on appropriation of Native culture in fashion. I thought it was satire at first. I was wrong. Though, all my curiosities about the hipster headdress have been cleared up in this sentence: “Hipsters like to put things on their heads”. But of course! And here I was giving them credit for trying to make a societal statement or something! 
  • Sociological Images looks at a vintage tobacco ad showing an ethereal (and benevolent) white woman bringing the gift of tobacco to the wild Natives. 
  • Charles Trimble proposes a tax on “Wanabee” Indians. “This past week I had the opportunity to attend a social event, and to observe white culture in action. There were 80 people at this event and five of them represented to me that they had a great-great-grandfather who married a Cherokee” (story of my life).

Just some cool stuff to keep you posted on what’s been happening around the ‘ol internets in the last few weeks. Thanks to everyone who sent me these–sorry I was bad about keeping track this time. But I am very much in appreciation for your tips!

If anyone needs an extra push to make it through your Wednesday, check out this awesome video via Sociological Images. This mash-up came out of a class assignment to use art to “inspire a critical perspective”. Socimages gives the context:

Last semester my colleague, Mary Christianakis, assigned her students a mash up.  The idea was to take two forms of art (loosely defined) and combine them to inspire, instead of state, a critical perspective.  Below is one of the exemplars, by her student, Samantha Figueroa.  It combines scenes from Pocahontas with a spoken word poem, Slip of the Tongue, by Adriel Luis.

 I’ve watched this almost daily since it was posted, so I thought I would share. Here are the full lyrics to Luis’ piece:

My glares burn through her.
And I’m sure that such actions aren’t foreign to her
because the essence of her beauty is, well, the essence of beauty.
And in the presence of this higher being,
the weakness of my masculinity kicks in,
causing me to personify my wannabe big-baller, shot-caller,
God’s gift to the female species with shiny suit wrapping rapping like,
“Yo, what’s crackin shorty how you livin’ what’s your sign what’s your size I dig your style, yo.”
Now, this girl was no fool.
She gives me a dirty look with the quickness like,
“Boy, you must be stupid.”
so I’m looking at myself,
“Boy, you must be stupid.”
But looking upon her I am kinda feelin’ her style.
So I try again.
But, instead of addressing her properly,
I blurt out one of my fake-ass playalistic lines like,
“Gurl, you must be a traffic ticket cuz you got fine written all over you.”
Now, she’s trying to leave and I’m trying to keep her here.
So at a final attempt, I utter,
“Gurl, what is your ethnic makeup?”
At this point, her glare was scorching through me,
and somehow she manages to make her brown eyes
resemble some kinda brown fire or something,
but there’s no snap or head moement,
no palm to face, click of tongue, middle finger,
roll of eyes, twist of lips, or girl power chant.
She just glares through me with these burning eyes
and her gaze grabs you by the throat.
She says, “Ethnic makeup?”
She says, “First of all, makeup’s just an anglicized, colonized, commodified utility
that my sisters have been programmed to consume,
forcing them to cover up their natural state
in order to imitate what another sister looks like in her natural state
because people keep telling her
that the other sister’s natural state is more beautiful
than the first sister’s natural state.
At the same time,
the other sister isn’t even in her natural state,
because she’s trying to imitate yet another sister,
so in actuality, the natural state that the first sister’s trying to imitate
wasn’t even natural in the first place.”
Now I’m thinking, “Damn, this girl’s kicking knowledge!”
But, meanwhile, she keeps spitting on it like
“Fine. I’ll tell you bout my ‘ethnic makeup.’
I wear foundation,
not that powdery shit,
I wear the foundation laid by my indigenous people.
It’s that foundation that makes it so that past being globalized,
I can still vocalize with confidence that i know where my roots are.
I wear this foundation not upon my face, but within my soul,
and I take this from my ancestors
because I’ll be damned if I’d ever let an American or European corporation
tell me what my foundation
should look like.”
I wear lipstick,
for my lips stick to the ears of men,
so they can experience in surround sound my screams of agony
with each lash of rulers, measuring tape, and scales,
as if my waistline and weight are inversely propotional to my value as a human being.
See my lips, they stick, but not together.
Rather, they flail open with flames to burn down this culture that once kept them shut.
Now, I mess with eye shadow,
but my eyes shadow over this time where you’ve gone at ends to keep me blind.
But you can’t cover my eyes, look into them.
My eyes foreshadow change.
My eyes foreshadow light.
and I’m not into hair dyeing.
but I’m here, dying, because this oppression won’t get out of my hair.
I have these highlights.
They are highlights of my past atrocities,
they form this oppression I can’t wash off.
It tangles around my mind and twists and braids me in layers,
this oppression manifests,
it’s stressing me so that even though I don’t color my hair,
in a couple of years it’ll look like I dyed it gray.
So what’s my ethnic makeup ?
I don’t have any.
Because your ethnicity isn’t something you can just make up.
And as for that crap my sisters paint on their faces, that’s not makeup, it’s make-believe.”
I can’t seem to look up at her.
and I’m sure that such actions aren’t foreign to her
because the expression on her face
shows that she knows that my mind is in a trance.
As her footsteps fade, my ego is left in crutches.
And rejection never sounded so sweet.

So powerful. I love it. Enjoy!

Sociological Images: Pocahontas Meets Adriel Luis’ Slip of the Tongue
Youtube: Once Tongue Tied

(Leather postcard found at an estate sale by Jodi–great use of the alcohol, right? geez.)
Many of you have probably noticed the blog has been a bit quiet this summer, going from about five posts a week during the school year to, like, one–if that. I’m not going anywhere, I promise! I’ve just been finding it a bit hard to balance summer life with its lack of schedule and blogging, which requires a fair amount of discipline. But it’s given me some time to think about the direction of Native Appropriations, and definitely lots of time to reflect on what I’ve learned over the last few months of writing.

Back in January, when I started Native Appropriations, it started with a Facebook-note blitz to all of my friends, asking for suggestions and contributions, for a “project” on cultural appropriation and images of Natives. The response I received was overwhelmingly positive, and I never realized how many of my friends kept files on their computer (like me) where they stuck the offensive images they encountered in everyday life. From that, le blog was born.

I can’t believe it’s really only been 7 months, I’ve learned so much since that first trip to urban outfitters. We’ve dealt extensively with The Strange Case of the Hipster Headdress, endured a wave (that’s turned into a tsunami) of tribal fashion, seen an “Indigenous Olympics,” and survived a sh*t storm created by discussing non-Native participation at powwows. But there were some great things too–like Native street art, powerful advertising campaigns, representing ourselves, and beading contemporary life
I should also thank the “big” blogs–Sociological Images, Racialicious, Shakesville, and even Jezebel(!), for believing in the message and featuring my blog. I’ve truly been humbled by the response.
Through it all, I’ve had my identity as a Native person questioned more times than I can count, had my character attacked (“no better than a pedophile” I think was the best one), and been told I have “no life” or should find “something better to do.” But for every scathing, negative comment, there have been 10 people who’ve emailed to say how happy they are to have found the blog. I’ve definitely gained a thicker skin and a desire for constructive criticism, which has already begun to serve me well in my grad student life. 
So, Dear Readers, thank you. Thanks for sticking with me, for coming around even in these dry months of summer, telling your friends, neighbors, and colleagues, and sending in all the fantastic tips from around the world. I truly wouldn’t be anywhere without you! 
With that, here are some things (minor changes) to be expecting from Native Appropriations this fall:
Guest Posts:
I want more voices than my own on this blog. This started as a collaboration, and I want it to return to that. There are millions of Native perspectives on these issues, and I represent only one. I’m in the process of trying to work out some formalized relationships, but I’d rather just have you send in your thoughts on an issue. Write it up: 250-500 words (or a little more), include some pics, a little snark, and you’re on the blog. Truly. Don’t hesitate, just send it over! 
I’m going to start moderating comments on older posts–it’s not productive to the conversation to have trolls jumping in on old issues. I’m also going to try and contribute in the comments a little more, up until now I’ve tried to stay out, since I didn’t want to seem like the all-knowing “expert” on everything. (see #1) But do know that I read and appreciate all of your contributions, and do take them to heart.
I read them. All of them. I get a ton of tips, and admittedly I’ve been bad about responding–so I’m going to be better! I love hearing your thoughts.
Expect a bigger mix of the usual Random Appropriations and longer posts, but I’m also going to start talking about some of the “bigger” issues in Indian Country too, and linking Native Approp’s readers up with some other great Native blogs and resources on the internets. 
What are your thoughts? What would you like to see more of on the blog? Less of? Anything I didn’t cover that’s been bugging you? Let me know! 
Thanks for a great start, and let’s get the word out about Native Appropriations–remember, you can also interact with the blog in other ways:
Facebook: (I tend to post some interesting articles and links here in between posts, and “fans” post some great stuff too, so check it out!)

I initially didn’t have much to say about these “Totem Cups” by designer Rob Southcott–they’re cups. That look like a totem pole. Oh, but they are made in the land of many great Native appropriations: China.

Southcott is a Toronto-based artist, and his pieces seem to incorporate a lot of the natural world with “functionality”. Lots of driftwood looking things, kinda pretty.

But then I got to thinking. What irks me about this product is not only the “totem pole” as interpreted by a non-Native who has no knowledge of the sacredness or intentionality behind the designs of Northwest coast/Alaska totem poles, but also the fact that the revenue of this product, clearly based off Indigenous designs, goes to the non-Native artist. So he benefits, while the tribes that created and maintained this style of art do not. That doesn’t seem fair, does it?

If I decided to market a product that was clearly a direct rip off of one of Southcott’s other designs, I would have a lawsuit slapped on me before it even hit shelves. The slippery slope of intellectual property clearly falls on the side of those in power, doesn’t it? 

Totem Cups:

Rob Southcott:

(Thanks Marj and arkityp!)
(image source)
It’s definitely an honor to have the place where dirty, disgusting water drains in rest stop bathrooms to be named after the most revered position in your tribe, right? According to the Sioux Chief Manufacturing Company, that’s exactly what they were going for.

Tipster Ann spotted this tribute to the “proud and resolute people” of the Sioux Nation in a skeezy rest stop bathroom somewhere in Indiana. She did a little research and found the website of the company, where they describe the origin of their company’s name and logo:
Sioux Chief’s founder, Martin E. “Ed” Ismert Jr., was greatly interested in Western Americana. Ed’s father, Martin Sr., was a collector and Midwest authority of Western and Native American artifacts in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. When the time came to name his new company, it did not take Ed long, as he had learned from his father all about the Sioux Indian Nation. The Sioux Nation were a very proud and resolute people that, while being fierce and competitive, held in highest regard the family, the Earth, and especially Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit. Ed commissioned his brother Bud, an artist who studied under Thomas Hart Benton, to draw the “Young Determined Sioux Chief” in full ceremonial dress as the logo for his young determined company. Sioux Chief Manufacturing, being named and patterned after such a distinctive people would put forth an image not easily forgotten.

Let’s examine this language a bit, shall we? So Ed learned from his father (a white collector and “authority” on Indian stuff) “all about the Sioux Indian Nation”. Another great example of how many non-Natives can have extremely limited encounters with Native peoples but then call themselves “experts” and sell themselves as foremost authorities on all things Native. I’m sure he knows all about the Lakota/Dakota. All about them.

Then there’s the ubiquitous past tense–The Sioux “were a very proud and resolute people”, “held in highest regard”, etc. He also manages to throw in a whole bunch ‘o stereotypes in there too–The “Spiritual Warrior” syndrome. Competitive and fierce, yet deeply tied to the earth and “The Great Spirit”. And hey, Mr. Ismert, the Lakota didn’t go anywhere. They’re still here.

So then we asks his non-Native brother, with presumably the same limited knowledge as himself, to draw a “Young, Determined, Sioux Chief” for their logo, in ceremonial dress, of course (with no regard to how that might be, you know, special or sacred):

…and we get the stereotypical Plains Indian Warrior. At least they got the regalia semi-right? considering how often this dress is attributed to other tribes for advertising and marketing. Not that it makes it any better.

I also keep coming back to the fact that it’s the Sioux Chief company. Chiefs and leaders of tribes are deeply revered positions of power, and to me it just seems so absolutely degrading to have that position of wisdom, trust, and authority placed on a bathroom drain. People are literally (excuse the language) pissing on our culture.

If any Lakota or Dakota tribal members want to weigh in, definitely let me know.

 Sioux Chief Manufacturing Company:

(Thanks Ann!)

Another Random Appropriation courtesy of my parent’s house in San Diego. My mom got some beautiful new rugs for our bathroom from the Crate & Barrel outlet, and I don’t know if you can read it, but this style of rug is called a “Hogan” rug.

Still missing the Native connection? This is a Hogan:

 (image source)

Hogans are the traditional home of the Navajo–which are definitely still widely in use today for ceremonial purposes, driving through the Navajo Nation you often see a hogan next to the more “modern” homes.

Just I thought it was a random name for a rug, and immediately thought of the Navajo/weaving/rugs connection. But I’ll admit, it could be an appropriation of another Hogan:

 (image source)

I mean, that bandanna looks kinda like the rug… :)

But here’s the screen grab of the Crate & Barrel rug:

I’m beginning to be more and more intrigued by the use of Native names/imagery in product naming, even when the product has nothing to do with Natives.