Archives For November 2010

 (image via HuffPo)

AK Note: Hi, remember me? My apologies for the sudden post drop off, school has been ridiculously busy. But I’m back, promise. And I’m still always looking for guest posts if anyone is interested…
A few days ago, Huffington Post posted some preview pictures of Tom Ford’s photo spread in French Vogue (he’s a fashion designer, btw). The first picture of the spread is of Ford, sporting a warbonnet. So, we all know why it’s wrong, and we can add him to the list of recent celebrity redface transgressions. Not that exciting. 
What I am fascinated by, however, are the comments on the article on HuffPo, but mostly on the re-post over at Jezebel. We all know I’m not a big fan of the Jezebel commenting community on issues of race, especially on Native issues, but check some of these out (the whole comment thread is here):

“That photo is many types of wrong.  I have never seen a racist as big as a horse before.”

“Nothing like a little cultural insensitivity to start out a… lunch.

“Why has the NA/1st Nations type headdress become the new hipster fashion statement? Was blackface just too messy?

“You guys!! I’m sure he’s 1/16 Cherokee! Totes ok!”

“If I were a Native American I would have a complete wardrobe of religious headgear from every possible sector of Anglo culture and I would wear them at the most inappropriate times and places. I would dress up as the Virgin Mary for Halloween and wear my sporty pope hat to the beach.”

and I liked this one, as a reference to the whole Meghan-McCain-Trail-of-Tears-tag debacle (thanks!):

“Doesn’t Tom know that such things are only tasteful if you include a handy trail of tears tag?”

 Some Native voices even came out of the woodwork:

“As a first nations woman, I challenge all headdress wearing hipsters to come to any powwow, next year in your fake feathers. If you are arrogant enough to wear them, then I assume you’re brave enough to wear them around those who earn their headdress one feather at a time.

“Dear Tom Ford,
My culture is not a photoshoot prop.
You’re an ignorant douche.”

or this woman, married to a Navajo man (her screenname is “DineBoo”–just cute):

“What is it with people wearing headdresses? Heck, I’m married to a Navajo man and I don’t bust out the turquoise, the velvet, and the squash blossoms to wear out in public.

The headdress is sacred, which carries individual meanings to each different tribe. It is not a flashy hat. The way people have been wear the headdress makes it look like there is only one tribe in existence now.

Um, what happened? Where are all the cultural appropriation defenders? Where are the people telling me to “get over it?” Why can’t I fill my Bingo Card?! There is one woman, who posts a question about wearing a headdress and Indian jewelry, but she then thanks the commenters who respond and send her links about why its wrong. She thanks them.

The HuffPo article has one comment about the wrongness of wearing a headdress as well–and no one pushed back. The replies thank her (him?) and agree.

Have we just witnessed a shift in the space-time continuum? Has the message started to get across? Definitely too soon to tell, but I can’t even tell you how refreshing and uplifting it was to see these comment chains. I mean, it was barely a month ago that we were talking about Paris Hilton on Halloween.

Thoughts? Are people getting sick of the trend? Is this just an anomaly? Are the people who click through to an article about high fashion a different, more enlightened subset of the population? Whatever it is, this is ridiculous. In a good way.

Jezebel: Tom Ford Shows French Vogue His Headdress Collection
Huffington Post: Inside Tom Ford’s French Vogue

(Thanks Alicia!)

I saw this pop up on my friend Jerry’s Facebook wall, and immediately thought it was going to be a “Random Appropriation of the Day”–but I was pleasantly and unexpectedly wrong. Walmart now sells potatoes grown on the Navajo Nation. How cool is that?

Update: commenter Bill posted the “About Us” from the Navajo Pride webpage:

“We produce premier Navajo Pride brand agricultural products, guaranteed to be the highest quality on the market today. We are located in the heart of the Four Corners region near Farmington, New Mexico, and are the largest contiguous farmland in the nation.

Our agribusiness features state-of-the-art farming technology including a multimillion dollar water management system. NAPI produces the finest and freshest varieties of Navajo Pride brand potatoes, corn, alfalfa, beans, and small grains, such as barley, wheat and oats. We are also expanding our Navajo Pride brand product selection at all times, so be sure and check our product availability frequently.
What makes Navajo Pride brand so unique? We are owned and operated by the Navajo people–those who understand and have been farming the land for centuries.
At NAPI, we take pride in producing Navajo Pride brand premium products for retail purposes, repackaging or for direct sale to our customers.”


(Thanks Jerry!)
 (Obama on the Crow reservation, source here)

Every year since 1990, the president of the United States has issued a proclamation declaring the month of November as “National Native American Heritage Month.” As a result, November often brings an influx of “Native American Awareness” programming at local libraries, schools, and community organizations, culminating with the one day Indians come up in casual conversation–Thanksgiving. I thought I would share Obama’s presidential proclamation, which he issued at the end of last month. I’m curious how everyone will perceive the language choices throughout, and what was included and excluded. The proclamation is also posted in full on this site.

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
October 29, 2010
Presidential Proclamation — National Native American Heritage Month

For millennia before Europeans settled in North America, the indigenous peoples of this continent flourished with vibrant cultures and were the original stewards of the land. From generation to generation, they handed down invaluable cultural knowledge and rich traditions, which continue to thrive in Native American communities across our country today. During National Native American Heritage Month, we honor and celebrate their importance to our great Nation and our world.

America’s journey has been marked both by bright times of progress and dark moments of injustice for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Since the birth of America, they have contributed immeasurably to our country and our heritage, distinguishing themselves as scholars, artists, entrepreneurs, and leaders in all aspects of our society. Native Americans have also served in the United States Armed Forces with honor and distinction, defending the security of our Nation with their lives. Yet, our tribal communities face stark realities, including disproportionately high rates of poverty, unemployment, crime, and disease. These disparities are unacceptable, and we must acknowledge both our history and our current challenges if we are to ensure that all of our children have an equal opportunity to pursue the American dream. From upholding the tribal sovereignty recognized and reaffirmed in our Constitution and laws to strengthening our unique nation-to- nation relationship, my Administration stands firm in fulfilling our Nation’s commitments.

Over the past 2 years, we have made important steps towards working as partners with Native Americans to build sustainable and healthy native communities. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act continues to impact the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives, including through important projects to improve, rebuild, and renovate schools so our children can get the education and skills they will need to compete in the global economy. At last year’s White House Tribal Nations Conference, I also announced a new consultation process to improve communication and coordination between the Federal Government and tribal governments.

This year, I was proud to sign the landmark Affordable Care Act, which permanently reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, a cornerstone of health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives. This vital legislation will help modernize the Indian health care system and improve health care for 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. To combat the high rates of crime and sexual violence in Native communities, I signed the Tribal Law and Order Act in July to bolster tribal law enforcement and enhance their abilities to prosecute and fight crime more effectively. And, recently, my Administration reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought by Native American farmers against the United States Department of Agriculture that underscores our commitment to treat all our citizens fairly.

As we celebrate the contributions and heritage of Native Americans during this month, we also recommit to supporting tribal self-determination, security, and prosperity for all Native Americans. While we cannot erase the scourges or broken promises of our past, we will move ahead together in writing a new, brighter chapter in our joint history.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2010 as National Native American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities, and to celebrate November 26, 2010, as Native American Heritage Day.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.


So what do you think? I was initially struck by the first paragraph, it seems a little cliched, and very much past-centric. I would venture to guess that most Americans already think of American Indians as only existing in the past, so it could have been more powerful to start with a statement that strongly affirmed our current presence and continued existence. Instead, it seems to honor our past rather than our present and future…but that’s just my opinion. I’d love to hear your thoughts. In addition, what do you think about having a “Native American Heritage Month” in general?

More information about Native American Heritage Month:

(Random people at the Harvard Sigma Chi house…thanks google images)

After my post on the Conquistabros and Navajos party at Harvard, I fired off a few angry emails to the National Chapter of Sigma Chi, linking back to my blog. When the apology came out in the Crimson last week, I assumed that was it. Yesterday, however, I received a personal response to my angry email from an officer at the National level:

Dear Ms. K,

I am sorry you were offended by the chapters theme party. While the theme was felt to be insensitive, I can assure you the men of the Harvard Chapter of the Sigma Chi Fraternity meant no harm by it. I too have a native lineage and I can assure you the chapter will be dealt with appropriately at the local level. It is my understanding that they have already issued an apology for their insensitivity, and I am sure they will think twice about the message their themes may relate in the future. 


(I took his name off because I don’t want to totally humiliate him)

So I’m not going to completely tear it apart, and I do realize he was trying to be nice–but there are a couple of things I’d like to point out that are classic responses to racist acts in society’s current framework of “colorblindness.”

First, the phrase “I’m sorry you were offended” instead of “I’m sorry they were offensive” (which, to be fair, Sigma Chi totally did use the second phrasing in their apology in the newspaper) implying that I’m being “overly sensitive,” rather than that there could have been an actual problem. This is then putting the weight of “proof” on the subject of the racist act, rather than the actor, which happens all the time in incidents of this kind.

Then, “I can assure you…they meant no harm by it”–intent, it’s effing magic.

and finally, the “I too have native lineage”–minimizing my identity and my response as a Native person. That’s actually the common response to anyone confronted wearing an “Indian” costume, “but I’m Indian too! My great-grandma was a Cherokee Princess!” It bothers me to no end, because there’s no easy response. I can’t just be like “no, you’re not.” I usually think of something along the lines of “you may have Native heritage, but I have close ties to my community, and I know my elders would be very upset by your [comment, costume, etc].” But the dismissing of my opinion because you’re “native too” doesn’t help anything.

If you want more info about “Colorblind Racism,” this is a great book we’ve been reading for my Critical Race Theory in Education course: Racism without racists: Colorblind Racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. Definitely a great resource.

But am I glad he emailed me back? Absolutely. Am I surprised at the language in the email? Absolutely not. Anything else would have been far outside the societal norms we’ve set for dealing with issues involving race. One step at a time.

Harvard’s “Conquistabros and Navajos” Frat Party
Harvard Sigma Chi Update: They’ve Apologized

I am a human being.
I am not your Halloween costume.
I am not your party theme.
I am not your mascot. 
I am not your costume.

These are some of my awesome friends and classmates from the Stanford Native community, protesting the use of “Native” themes at campus frat parties back in 2009. I thought it was fitting to bring it back today, given our recent discussions of frat parties and halloween costumes.

Also, awesomely (and the reason I re-found it), the picture made it all the way to a blog I am a huge fan of, a allure garconniere, for her halloween post–and she’s in Quebec! The words under the picture actually came from this tumblr, and I’m amazed at how many people re-posted it. So cool.

Here’s another shot of Kanani, Edie, and Rachel, some of the beautiful Stanford Native Hawaiians:

You guys continue to inspire me from afar. So proud of y’all. Even in the face of injustice and racism, there are always people fighting the good fight.

(Thanks Leon (they’re his pictures), and Julia!)
(Click for bigger, source here)

Add Rachel Zoe to the list of celebrities donning racial drag this Halloween. She posted this picture October 30th on her twitter account and blog with the tweet:
“headed out as a make shift Indian warrior! Happy almost Halloween! XoRZ”
The plastic tomahawk is a nice touch, right? sigh.
Here’s the post:
The Zoe Report: Halloween Tweet
(Thanks Becky!)
(image source–there are like 40 more pictures if you’re curious)
These pictures of Paris Hilton at the Playboy Halloween Party have been making the rounds on the internets today. Jezebel put the photo up with a “ZOMG RACISMZ” headline–but no follow up or further information, so in typical Jezebel commenter fashion, the comments have descended into crazy. Check them out if you want to get pissed off (as per usual). 

I (noticeably) didn’t do a big “Halloween Post”, though I can say that I probably started one about 200 times. Every time I would open up my browser to get started, and click on costume pages like this one, I would get overwhelmed, upset, and start to feel physically ill. So I’d stop. The sheer enormity of the task seemed too much to tackle in a 250-500 word post. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about it constantly, and wishing I could easily put into words how frustrating it is to see non-Natives gallivanting around in fake Indian attire.
So as the Halloween pictures start popping up on your Facebook feeds and twitpics–feel free to send them over (I’ll block out faces, don’t worry), or if you have stories or encounters with treat-o-treaters dressed as “Indians” and want to share how you felt or dealt with it, please don’t hesitate to comment or write. Let’s put some personal narratives to the “abstract” ideas about why dressing in redface is wrong. 
Though I was quiet on the issue, others were not. Here are some other bloggers’ takes on the Native costume debacle: (Note: I don’t agree with everything in all of these posts, but it’s interesting to see multiple approaches to the same issue)
If you have any others I might have missed, let me know. Now I’d like to end with something that I think sums up perfectly my disgust and disappointment with all the Native costumes this Halloween, from Paris herself:

Yes Paris, I’m grossed out too.

and for all the Jezebel commenters wandering over, read this please: But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?

(Thanks Liza and everyone else who sent this over!)