Someone posted a link to the “Yay Life Tribe” on the Native Appropriations Facebook page a couple of days ago. The “Yay Life Tribe” is the brainchild of a 20-something named Tucker, who got a spirit hood, it changed his life, and then he quit his job to devote all his time to spreading the message of loving life and positivity. The way he plans to do this is through selling Spirit Hoods, having a blog, twitter, and facebook page, and traveling around to music festivals this year where he will spread the gospel (and make a documentary while he’s at it).
I spent a fair amount of time that night looking at the facebook page, clicking through fan photos, and watched the trailer to the documentary. When I was done, I shrugged, and thought “I’m all for positivity and loving life. If this is how they want to do it, whatever.” I was perturbed at the use of the “tribe” idea–but I’m clearly not going to claim that American Indians are the only people who can use the word. There was also something else that really bothered me about the whole thing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until yesterday.
Yesterday afternoon, I got a comment on my Spirit Hood takedown from the founder of the “Yay Life Tribe” himself, Tucker Gumber:
You guys are amazing. You are taking a product that actually adds happiness to the world and make it come off as some jab at native americans. Spirithoods have changed my life and inspired me to start a movement to get the world to realize that being happy is a decision (one that it seems like many of you on here need to make). Just google Yay Life Tribe to find our Trailer to the documentary we are making. You should also get used to seeing Spirithoods…. this is only the beginning.
I would be honored if you would join our tribe.
Tucker, Chief Of The Yay Life Tribe
I really had to take a step back here, and read the message twice. It’s rare these days, when I get constant emails of horrible outright appropriations and stereotypes, that I get a burn of outright rage in my chest. For some reason, this did it.
The bottom line is, The Yay Life Tribe, and Tucker’s message, reek of privilege and self-promotion.
Unfortunately, I can’t conquer the complexities of power and privilege in this post. What I can do is offer my interpretation of his words, and point out how it makes me feel.
Tucker, perhaps for the first time in his life, has felt the pinch of privilege. All of a sudden, someone tried to burst his bubble–taking something that he is intensely proud of and protective over, and told him that it exploits an entire group of people, and continues to contribute to the oppression and marginalization of Indigenous peoples. That’s a lot to handle. So he reacts. He reacts by blaming me for being overly sensitive (a classic tenet of colorblind racism), that I’m “making it come off as some jab at Native Americans.” He tells us that we need to “realize that being happy is a decision,” and then, in closing, to “get used to seeing Spirit Hoods.” He was happy in his land of protected privilege–a land where he had the ability to quit his job, cash out his 401K, and spend the summer traveling to music festivals where he will hang out with others who have the ability to shell out hundreds of dollars for a ticket, and propose that we all love each other, and that somehow will change the world. Who am I to come along and burst his happy bubble? How dare I.
First of all, honey, I didn’t “make it come off as a jab at Native Americans”. The darn thing is called a “Navajo Black Wolf” hood, and the founder of your beloved Spirit Hoods confirmed that he is “influenced” by Indian “culture.” I didn’t make that up. I’m really glad that a disembodied animal head changed your life. But for someone who is all about happiness, your message really hurt me. You dismissed my opinion, didn’t listen to what I had to say, and basically wrote me off as a party pooper trying to ruin your dream. The tone of saccharine laced with malice is what gets me the most. A “get used to it” threat in closing does not paint you as a peace-loving happy freak.
And then, THEN, you have the audacity to list yourself as the “chief” of your “tribe”. I’m sorry. Chiefs of our communities are respected, honored, revered figures–leaders who serve the people, not 25 year olds who run around with stuffed animals on their heads.
The thing is, I honestly don’t give a flying eff about your campaign to change the world one drunk music festival goer at a time. But there is absolutely no reason to bring Native cultures into this. Celebrate loving life, talk about how awesome you are for giving away your iphone, promote the hell out of your documentary, paint yourself as a martyr for the cause, gain some of the fame you clearly desire in the process, but why do you have to call yourself a “tribe”? Why do you have to paint yourself up and wear a breastplate? Just wear the animal on your head. Leave it at that. There is nothing that inherently screams cultural appropriation about “Spirit Hoods”–the cultural appropriative and exploitative aspects have all been added on after the fact–and that’s what bothers me.
So no, I won’t be a member of your “tribe.” Sorry. #yaylife?