Last year about this time, I posted about some local high school girls who decided to dress up and play Indian at Stanford’s powwow. The post caused a huge ruckus, I ended up getting “legal threats” from the girls’ parents, and a lot of people hated me for a minute. But since the internet has a memory of about 2 weeks, if that, it blew over and everyone forgot. But being the person that I am, I’m stirring the pot again, and have a couple of offenders from this year’s powwow.
First we’ve got the guy above, all decked out in his floor length chicken feather headdress, warpaint, and a serape (equally opportunity appropriator–pulling in the south of the border Indigenous peoples). Spotted Friday night by a couple of the undergrads, and gladly posed for a picture with them.
Then this girl, taken on my cell phone, so much of the effect is lost. But she had multi-colored feathers in her hair and warpaint on her face, and right before I snapped the picture, was war whooping (hand over mouth, other hand in the air) to her friend across the way (who was also wearing feathers and paint). There were a couple more I spotted, especially out in the dance circle during inter-tribals (where everyone, including spectators, is invited to dance), including a guy wearing a poncho/serape with a cowboy hat, and beating a hand-drum, and another guy with an entire coyote or puma or something (very dead) draped over his back.
In the grand scheme of powwows, Stanford powwow tends to have a lower ratio of wannabes “liberally interpreting” Indianess (i.e. creating an image of what they think an Indian is based off things they read on the internet and supplies they can find at a craft shop) than some powwow’s I’ve been to, but it still makes me angry.
I still don’t know why people think it’s ok to don feathers and warpaint and come to a Native community cultural event. I still maintain that it would be exactly the same as donning blackface and wandering into a Black community event. These people are dressing up as a race other than their own, based off of egregious and racist stereotypes from hollywood and other forms of pop culture. All they have to do is look out in the powwow dance circle to see that they look nothing like “real” Indians. But the American narrative of “playing Indian” is so ingrained, people don’t seem to see it as taboo, the way blackface remains today.
The other big trend that everyone was sporting were these (really unattractive) feather hair-clips, which unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of, but they were kinda like this:
(if you really like it, you can buy it here for $9.50. Or you could go for a walk in the woods for the feathers and pick up some string and plastic beads and make it for less than a buck…if you like the look of dirty woodland feathers and cheap twine in your hair.)
The vendor booth of people who were selling them was overflowing the whole weekend. They came in a bunch of colors, and had more feathers and were (if you can believe it) more unattractive.
The feather clips don’t inherently bother me, much like these feather hair extensions that are all the rage right now don’t bother me as-is, but it’s the whole aesthetic that the powwow goers were buying into that bothers me. I can bet you anything that those people would not have been nearly as interested in the feather clips if they were at the Stanford Mall instead of the Stanford Powwow. They see it as a “safe” way of playing Indian–though most of them would say “oh, it was just pretty!”–I think it really runs a lot deeper than that.
So, clearly, the idea of dressing up as an Indian at a powwow is still alive and well. Excuse me, I think I’m going to go put on my blonde wig and pearls and go crash a WASP-y cocktail party. What? It doesn’t work that way? ::shakes fist:: Damn you, white privilege!!!
and for a more detailed look at why wearing a headdress is wrong: But why can’t I wear a hipster headdress?