Miss Miley Cyrus was recently inked with her fifth tattoo, a dream catcher along her ribcage. It’s supposedly to protect her four siblings, or something like that. Honestly, dream catchers are probably one of the most appropriated and exploited Native images–you see them everywhere. So I’m not supremely bothered by the tattoo, but it is annoying. However, everyone’s favorite Disney starlet recently turned 18, and her 18th birthday was a “bohemian theme.” Apparently, “bohemian”=dream catchers and feathers. Have a look:
Note the “backdrop” of dream catchers and the abundance of feathers. There are a million more pictures at the bakery’s blog, here.
Cake close up. The bakery wanted to “incorporate golden sugar feathers, braiding, beading, and turquoise beading”.
Backdrop close up. Plastic pony beads are very authentic, right?
Miley got into the theme as well, wearing feathers hanging from her halter top, as well as feathered earrings. While the bakery was going for “bohemian,” clearly there’s a Native theme going on here. At least Miley didn’t wear a headdress?
Like I mentioned before, dream catchers are one of the most appropriated and commercialized Native images. They’re originally Ojibwe, but have been adopted by tribes across the US and Canada, mostly as items created for sale to tourists and non-Natives. The problem is, in many Ojibwe communities, dream catchers are still a sacred, and their creation involves specific ceremonies and prayers. The plastic commercial keychains sold in rest stops are making a mockery of a sacred object. When people buy the dream catchers because they’re “pretty” or to ward off bad dreams, and aren’t aware of the power and history behind the objects, it dilutes them to a commercial object disconnected from their origins and community.
I’m not saying that dream catchers are off-limits to non-Natives. But if you do choose to buy a dream catcher, as always, buy it from a Native artisan. The Indian Arts and Crafts Act states that artists who are selling Native-style arts must be tribal members, and if they are not, they must identify themselves as such, so ask.
I used to think that dream catchers had lost a lot of power in Native communities due to their over-commercialization and association with new-agey non-Natives, but last summer at a program I’m involved with for Native youth, I changed my mind. A guest speaker passed around a dream catcher (handmade by an Ojibwe elder), and had each of us hold it and think about our hopes and dreams for the future. After we had all held it, he presented it to the director of the program to keep on her wall as a reminder of all the dreams created and realized through her program. If that’s not reclaiming the dream catcher, I don’t know what is.