Archives For June 2011

My friend K. is applying to dental school (you go!), and sent me these pictures of the online application. The app asks applicants: “Dental students interact with patients from many backgrounds. Other than English, indicate any language in which you feel comfortable conversing with native speakers”

The list looks pretty extensive, and awesomely they include Native languages–in the picture above you can see Cherokee, and further down the list, Hawaiian. The picture below shows Lakota, Navajo, Maori, and  Ojibwe, and I’m sure there were more.

Kinda cool, right? It’s little things like this that make me happy. Consider this some (late) mid-week motivation.

…and if anyone was wondering where I’ve escaped off to, I’ve been working with College Horizons–an incredible program for Native high school students, and the subject of my qualifying paper research for school. I was in Colorado last week, and am off to upstate New York this coming week. I’ll post more about my experiences soon, and be back to a regular posting schedule the first week in July!

(Thanks dude!)

Just a quick post for today, check out the tipi in the storefront of JCrew out here on the East Coast. We love to encourage “playing Indian“, right?

I’m still pulling together a big post on the major transgressions over at Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters, but this is just a preview of what the mainstream fashion scene is doing this season. Yikes.

Baby Teepees are like, totally, in.
Hoya Hoya Cultural Appropriation! or why suburban white folks shouldn’t play Indian. 

(Thanks Tiffanie!)

I’m really hating Urban Outfitters right now. Their endorsement of the “tribal” trend is seriously out of control, and seems to only be getting worse. So today I stopped in to the store near my office to check out for myself what all of my friends had been emailing me about. And it was bad. Bad enough that I will most definitely be doing a long post about them very soon.

But then, I went down to the bargain basement, and I saw the BEAUTIFUL Pendleton blanket above. Gorgeous, right? and guess what?

…it was only $40. Amazing!

So I happily marched up to the checkout counter and bought it. Then I started to feel guilty that maybe I was buying into the horrible Urban Outfitters empire and am now part of the problem. But it’s a real Pendleton Blanket!

I’m conflicted. What do you think? Clearly I have mixed feelings about the Pendleton trends, but I also love the blankets and think Pendleton has a good relationship with Indian Country.

EDIT: I should have added a little more context. I just threw this up here quickly because I wanted to show that I’m not infallible when it comes to these issues, and I get confused and conflicted all the time too. I don’t make it a habit to shop at UO, definitely don’t support their politics, and find them pretty vile overall. I saw the blanket, got super excited by the price, and bought it. Had I stood there and thought about it more, maybe I wouldn’t have. But I posted it to just make a quick point about how even for me, who blogs about this stuff day after day, I don’t have a perfect set of rules to follow.

As a couple of commenters pointed out (quite humorously–thanks Scott), I guess in a backwards way I did “save” the blanket from someone who wouldn’t appreciate it for the right reasons. Maybe? (or just let me think that so I feel better?)

It made me think about how when I was in undergrad, the assistant director of the Native program at Stanford used to keep a box of random memorabilia sporting the Stanford “Indian” mascot from pre-1971. They were things she had found at thrift shops, garage sales, etc., and her whole philosophy was that she would buy it so somebody else wouldn’t. I contributed a shirt to the box that I found at at thrift store in San Diego–even paying $14.99 for it, way overpriced for an old tshirt–because I couldn’t bear the thought of somebody buying it and wearing it because it was “cool” and “vintage.” Is that the same thing as this blanket? No, but thought it might have some relevance here. ha.

Thanks for bearing with me as we figure this out together. :)

Let’s Talk About Pendleton
It starts with a trip to Urban Outfitters (my very first post ever!)

The YMCA Responds

June 9, 2011 — 13 Comments
(image source)

On Tuesday, I sent my local YMCA this letter asking them to remove an offensive picture in their fitness facility and to reconsider the overt cultural appropriation and racism in their “Indian Guides” programming, which I initially wrote about here.

I was pleasantly surprised that less than an hour after I sent the email, I received a response directly from the Executive Director:


Thank you for writing this letter and bringing these most critical things to my attention.  Please know I apologize on behalf of the Y and will do everything to ensure this is changed.

I am meeting with my staff tomorrow and will have a response to you then regarding the action we are taking.

Again, thank you. 

That was Tuesday afternoon, so I’m still waiting to hear what was decided at the staff meeting, but a good first step, don’t you think?

Pretty cool.

UPDATE 6/10: The Associate Executive Director of the Y emailed me to ask if we could set up an in-person meeting:


I am the Associate Executive Director for the [name] YMCA. My supervisor, [Executive Director] has shared with me your letter and we have met to discuss the issues in which you have brought to our attention. I have also shared your letter with [employee] who directly supervises the program.

We would like to set up a time to meet with you to further discuss and work together to accomplish a positive outcome. If you are open to meeting with us, please let me know your availability next week.

Thank you for your time,

Unfortunately, I’m in Boston, so I’m hoping we can set up a phone call to talk more. What I’m worried about is that they’ll ask for a compromise, because it doesn’t seem feasible to change the entire culture of a program like the Indian Guides overnight–but I don’t know what a middle ground would look like, or if it’s even possible. I’d welcome any ideas.


Hoya, Hoya Cultural Appropriation! Or why suburban white folks shouldn’t play Indian.
Dear YMCA, I haz the sads.

Happy Wednesday! Here are a few great videos that have been giving me some inspiration this week:

First, Sam Bradford (Cherokee pride!) launches the “Let’s Move” Campaign for Indian Country:

More info on the campaign can be found here.

EDIT 6/10: There is some ongoing debate about the merits of the “Let’s Move” campaign’s focus on childhood obesity (ie fat-shaming) while ignoring larger contextual issues, and I wanted to present that side of the campaign as well. This post breaks it down (scroll until after the DWTS clip). I just liked the video because it featured Natives, Sam Bradford, and the fact Indians weren’t being ignored in a national program (though we’re being recognized for our high rates of obesity and diabetes…). Thanks to the commenters for clueing me in.

Next,a Dartmouth undergrad made this short video featuring Native students, powwow footage, and sound clips discussing the history of Indians at Dartmouth:

Then, on the more creative front, this poem by Ryan RedCorn and Dallas Goldtooth (of the 1491′s) in response to Osama Bin Ladin’s code name is absolutely beautiful:

Finally, Matt Leach Sterlin Harjo made this awesome mini-documentary about Michael Loman, also known as “Indian Elvis”:

Enjoy! Feel free to share any other inspiring clips in the comments.

On Friday, I wrote about the Indian Guides program at my local YMCA. I decided to write a letter to the director of the YMCA, as a community member and former employee–telling them exactly why the practices employed by the Indian Guides are so hurtful. I’m posting it here, but I also sent it directly to the Executive Director. (If some of it sounds familiar, it’s because I paraphrased myself)

Dear Ms. [Director],

My name is Adrienne K., I am a life-long [city name] resident, and former camper and employee at [this YMCA]’s summer programs. I am also a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and care very deeply about issues concerning Native peoples. Recently, I went to use the fitness facilities at the Y, and came across the picture I’ve attached to this email, of a mother and child wearing feathered warbonnets. I was extremely taken aback, because I knew that in 2001 the national YMCA had reformed the “Indian Guides” program and done away with the Indian theme out of respect for Native American communities. I know that your YMCA is dedicated to serving the community and does fantastic work, but I was very hurt by the image, and respectfully request that it be removed, for several reasons.

First, wearing headdresses promotes the continuing stereotyping of Native peoples. The image of a warbonnet and warpaint wearing Indian is one that has been created and perpetuated by Hollywood and only bears minimal resemblance to traditional regalia of Plains tribes. It furthers the stereotype that Native peoples are one monolithic culture, when in fact there are 500+ distinct tribes, each with their own cultures. It also places Native people in the historic past, as something that cannot exist in modern society. We don’t walk around in ceremonial attire every day, but we still exist and are still Native.

In addition, headdresses, feathers, and warbonnets have deep spiritual significance. The wearing of feathers and warbonnets in Native communities is not a fashion choice. Eagle feathers are presented as symbols of honor and respect and have to be earned. Some communities give them to children when they become adults through special ceremonies, others present the feathers as a way of commemorating an act or event of deep significance. Warbonnets especially are reserved for respected figures of power.

I see the wearing of a fake feathered headdress as akin to dressing in blackface—it is the donning of a costume of a racial group that is not one’s own, based off of stereotyped caricatures that allow for the continuing subordination of Indian people.

I know that this mother and child would probably say that they are “honoring” Native Americans or “paying respect” to Indians, but the reality is that most Native people find no honor or respect in taking sacred objects out of context with no regard to their significance or origins.

I am further saddened, because in a minimal internet search, I found an abundance of evidence that [this] YMCA groups have not ceased in the use of the Indian theme at all. I would encourage you to watch this clip of a 2007 guide encampment, and try to picture how it feels, as a Native person, to watch your culture being misrepresented, mocked, and distorted beyond recognition.

There are so many aspects of this video that are deeply rooted in stereotypes and racism, including the use of the terms “medicine man” and “chief” to apply to leaders, but the use of our tribal names is especially disheartening. The names of our communities are not just labels that can be applied to a recreational group; they are representations of our living cultures, our histories, and our contemporary nations–not something that should be able to be manipulated to fulfill Indian fantasies. The fact that all of these “tribes” are represented by the same plains “costume” is also very upsetting.

In addition, I take issue with the process of giving “Indian names” that the video highlights–traditional names are sacred, and in most communities only certain elders or community members can be entrusted to give out names. The reality is that very few traditional names follow the extremely stereotypical “adjective + animal” format that the guides seem to favor.

Your mission statement states that your YMCA is “dedicated to improving the quality of human life and to helping all people realize their fullest potential as children of God through development of the spirit, mind and body.” I know that the acts of the Indian Guides are not done with malicious intent, but as it stands, it feels like Native American people are not included in your concepts of “human life” and “all people”. The Indian Guides practices demote Native peoples to a sub-human status, something that can be reduced to a series of stereotypes and inaccurate representations. The reality is that there are 13 Indian reservations in San Diego County, meaning there are far more Native residents in our community than you realize, and these acts marginalize them from the very community in which they live.

The national YMCA released guidelines for the “responsible use of the Indian theme”—but it is clear that these groups have not reviewed them or taken them to heart. The guidelines make a number of very good points, but it is still my opinion that there is no way to “responsibly” play Indian. The “guides” program is supposed to be about parent-child bonding, and I feel the program would actually be stronger if it weren’t rooted in racist acts.

I urge you to remove the photo in question, but it is also apparent that the entire guides program needs a substantive review. I encourage you to deeply think about the consequences of allowing this type of programming to continue.

I also write a blog called “Native Appropriations” where I discuss issues of cultural appropriation and representations of Native people. I have written about the guides program here, and will also be posting a copy of this letter. Please feel free to read other postings to gain an understanding of how pervasive these issues are and their continued effects on Native peoples.

Wado (thank you) for your time,
Adrienne K

A few weeks ago I was home visiting my family in southern California, and went to my local YMCA with my sister to work out. They’ve done a lot of remodeling since the last time I was there, including adding oversize (like 4 feet tall) photos on the walls of staff, kids, members, and events. Most of them are nice, but as I was leaving, I stopped in my tracks at the photo above.

I don’t know if all readers are familiar with the YMCA “Indian Guides” program (check out this facebook note for a history), but the basic premise is that it is/was a Father/Son bonding activity. Kinda like boy scouts, but with way more cultural appropriation. There is/was also “Indian Princesses” (father/daughter), “Indian Maidens” (mother/daughter), and “Indian Braves” (mother/son). But don’t worry, it was started with the help of “Joe Friday,” an Ojibwe, so that makes it all ok, right?

Typing this out, I can’t believe how outwardly offensive it seems from the get-go, but this was SO normalized in my hometown growing up, that I didn’t even begin to question it until I moved away.

I say is/was because technically, in the early 2000′s, the “Indian” part was dropped and the organization released guidelines for the “respectful use of the Indian theme.” My research online is showing that this really meant nothing, and the picture shows that even YMCA’s are still supporting the “Indian theme”.You’ll see in a minute exactly what this entails.

In my community, our annual “Holiday Parade” is a big deal. We used to joke that we couldn’t believe there was anyone left to watch the parade, since every single kid in town was marching in it. Girl and Boy Scout troops, dance classes (I marched when I was about 4 with my “Robin’s Rhythm and Moves” class), local dog rescues, 4H, you name it. And a huge portion of the parade growing up was dedicated to Indian Guides.

The whole scene would make adult Adrienne K. cry, but at the time I just remember feeling a little confused and annoyed by how into it all the “tribes” got. We’re talking banners proclaiming their “tribe”–”Arapaho,” “Mohawk,” “Blackfeet,” dads (and moms) in full, floor length headdresses, everyone in war paint, fringed vests covered in “Indian designs” and dangling plastic pony beads. The leaders were called “chiefs” and I remember everyone always shouting “Hoya hoya!”–their “Indian Greeting.”

Of course, every tribe, regardless of region, was represented by the horrific buckskin and feathers routine.

Don’t believe me? Watch this video. Take a deep breath, I almost started screaming in my office. This was taken in 2007, at an Indian Guides encampment put on by my YMCA.

The video starts with a “roll call” of all of the “tribes” in attendance–by an MC in a full “buckskin” and a headdress. The “tribes” include real tribal names, like “Sioux,” “Yurok,” or even “Bella Coola,” mixed with stereotypical Indian names like “soaring eagle” and “wolf.” They each have a “cheer”–wait until you get to the “Bella Coola” (a small First Nations community): “Bella Coola, makes us hula!!” Then they pass the mic to the “Chief” who calls up a boy from the “Soaring Eagle” tribe, asking him “what’s your Indian name?”. As the boy hesitates, the crowd jokes that his name is “Sticky Bun!!”, but he answers with “Little Surfing Fox.” It’s his birthday, so the whole crowd sings Happy Birthday, accented with “Hoya Hoya!”, of course.

This video is one of those things that is so blatantly racist, the stereotypes are so deep and egregious, that I don’t even know what to say. The part that gets me is that this was in 2007. This was not in the 70′s. This is after Indian Guides supposedly “reformed” their ways. The scary part is these are my neighbors, my mom’s students, the folks I see at the grocery store and at the beach. I am a member of a community that supports this.

So when I’m walking around wearing my powwow shirts, or driving my car with a big feather sticker on the back, my neighbors are conjuring images of these “tribes.” That scares me.

People often argue that there is nothing wrong with playing Indian–that dressing up or donning headdresses does no harm. I find it hard to imagine that someone could watch that video and think that a young Native child encountering that scene would walk away unscathed.

I should add that I have been very involved with the YMCA through the years, I was a summer camp counselor at this very YMCA the summer after my freshman year of college, and I have been a camper, counselor, and director over the past 10 years at one of their camps on Catalina Island (not the one in the video above). That’s why this hurts me even more to know that all along I’ve been supporting an organization that condones racism against Native peoples.

I’m going to write them a heartfelt letter with the point by point breakdown, I’ll definitely post it here when I’m done.

 (click to make it bigger, read more at Today’s Document)

American Indians were granted US citizenship. Ironic, right? The original peoples of this land were among the last to be granted citizenship (and along with it, voting rights). While the declaration was signed into law on June 2, 1924 by President Coolidge, most Natives were not given full suffrage until the late 1940′s, due to individual state laws.
The issue of US citizenship is actually one that still resonates in Indian communities today. American Indians have extremely high rates of military service (12,000 Natives served in WWI, before they were technically even citizens!), and many Natives are very proud to serve, protect, and be citizens of the United States. On the other side of the argument, some tribes believe that the automatic granting of US citizenship undermines tribal sovereignty. I have friends who actually refuse to vote in US elections because they see it as voting in an election of a foreign country.

This quote is all around the internet, but only attributed to “one Native American” (really? you couldn’t have recorded his or her name?), but I think that the message is clear:  

“United States citizenship was just another way of absorbing us and destroying our customs and our government. How could these Europeans come over and tell us we were citizens in our country? We had our own citizenship. By its [the Citizenship Act of 1924] provisions all Indians were automatically made United States citizens whether they wanted to be so or not. This was a violation of our sovereignty. Our citizenship was in our nations.”

I’m even struggling with the language a bit as I’m writing this post–words like “granted” and “given” are words that I always avoid when talking about Indian sovereignty. We weren’t “given” sovereignty or “rights”, it was just that our sovereignty and rights that we always had were finally recognized by the US. They didn’t “give” us anything.

So it’s weird to type that Indians were “granted” or “given” US citizenship–what does that really even mean? To me, it again puts power in the hands of the US and takes it away from Natives, like that Indians didn’t exist in the US until they were formally “granted” citizenship by a foreign power. But I can’t really think of a better way to word it.

So whether you believe that the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 was a good thing, a necessary thing, or a bad thing, take a moment to reflect on the fact that it was in the very recent past that American Indians weren’t even considered full citizens of the land that had been theirs since time immemorial. I still find it hard to wrap my head around–my Grandma was born in 1927, had she been born a few years earlier, she would not have been born a US citizen.

More info:

Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

Today’s Document: June 2

(Thanks @goodfox for the tip this morning!)