The Today Show thinks "Tribal Jewelry" is a "Summer Outfit Maker!"

In cultural appropriation, jewelry, Today Show, tribal fashion by Adrienne K.19 Comments

 Right on the heels of our great discussion on Al Jazeera’s The Stream, the Today Show decided to feature “tribal jewelry” as one of its go-to summer “outfit makers.” I’ll embed the video clip below, but I don’t know how long it’ll be up on the site, so I took some screen shots and made a quick transcript as well:

 Text of their conversation (more or less…they should learn to listen while someone else is speaking!) is below:

“Our next trend is that all that tribal look has morphed into more of an American Indian vibe. And this is a look that is in summer, we see it a lot in summer…” (Kathy interrupts)

“well you always see this out there in Arizona and those western states…”

“true,true,  but this is actually something that is carrying into Fall. We saw it on the runway. This necklace is from Lauren Wells, it’s inspiration, it’s 96 dollars, but I promise you this with a white t shirt and jeans is a great go to summer look. it’s a really strong look, and these are from express, these earrings here are good if you just want to try the trend.”

“So is the feather thing still going to last?”

“Well yes, I think so, it’s that Hollywood-Coachella festival kind of vibe…”

Here’s the Lauren Wells Necklace:

and the Express earrings:

So, basically this one minute clip is demonstrating a lot of the points I try to get across with this trend. The use of generic “tribal” to represent some random stereotype of “Indigenous”–or even the term “American Indian vibe”–Honestly, what does that even mean? And which American Indians are you talking about?

Then, the fact that all of the pieces are shoddy knock offs of Indian artisan work–Lauren Wells seems to be a designer that takes a LOT of “inspiration” from Native designs, and those express earrings look just like ones you could buy at any powwow from, you know, a real Native artist. What a novel concept.

Finally, the “feather trend” which Kathy (or Hoda, I can’t tell, they’re all talking at once) says she’s “sick of” and that people should “go to Las Vegas” where they’ll see “plenty of feathers.” The “feather trends” are based off of Native practices of wearing feathers as part of regalia or traditional clothing, and their comments are reducing a sacred practice (feathers in many communities are given as part of special ceremonies, or in honor of large accomplishments) into a trend that you can be “sick of” or akin to a showgirl’s headdress in Vegas. Exactly the same thing, right?

The last point about the feathers is part of a larger issue I’ve been grappling with–while I look forward to the day that I no longer see Native cultures mis-represented in store windows, the whole process of “discarding” the trend as “over” or “so last year” by default makes Native peoples and cultures disposable as well. The dominant culture can take what they want, use it as they see fit, and then ultimately throw it away.

So in one minute, the Today Show manages to condense millions of Native people into a single, incorrect, otherizing stereotype, encourage viewers to buy Native style jewelery from non-Natives, and minimize an important and sacred cultural marker of many tribes. Bet the producers didn’t think about all that.

Today Show: Summer Outfit Makers

(Thanks Myrton!)
  • Didn’t you say in a previous blog post or on your Ustream interview that you don’t have much issue with the feathers because its popular use doesn’t come adequately close to Native culture to offend?

    You write: “those express earrings look just like ones you could buy at any powwow from, you know, a real Native artist. What a novel concept.”

    Wouldn’t a large retailer picking up the Native earrings make it widely more popular, increasing the potential customer base for those selling at a pow wow? Seems to me like a situation where a rising tide lifts all ships.

    It seems like you want nothing of Native culture to be ever grasped, used, thought about, or looked at by a wider audience…all in the name of “cultural appropriation”. I’m generalizing here a bit but it seems like your starting reaction to anything Native ever being adopted by a wider audience is extremely negative rather than thinking about each situation individually.

  • For example, some Japanese would consider your profile “haiku” a very egregious appropriation of Japanese culture:

    Cherokee (really!)/ Studying for PhD/ In Boston-it’s cold.

    The haiku has been traditionally written about nature and the place of humans within it. It’s never used to write solely about oneself – especially in such a boisterous, self-serving tone (pursuing PhD).

    This appropriation is okay though because it’s 5000 miles away right?

  • I am Cherokee, and I have a College Degree. History shows that some Cherokees were willing to drop their culture and blend in with the White people. So, I am not against other peoples wanting to wear our tribal earrings, or other goods. Cherokee’s of the past traded beadwork,pottery,and baskets for goods that they wanted or needed. So, some of your idealogy is your personal feelings, and how you feel about other (white)people. I feel you are starting to sound prejudice. I have a degree also, and some of your opinions do make sense, but now you are going too far. So you want us Cherokees to go away from all cultures, and hide our artwork, so we can’t make a living. You are insane.

  • I think you perfectly explained what the problem is with “trends” encompassing sacred practices and Native cultures in this way. I’m going to bookmark this entry and refer people to it when I need to explain the problem there.

  • I do agree to a certain extent with what Eric says about the haiku, but I think that you are doing an extremely important thing with this blog and that it should be commended. It is my opinion that the best way to stop native appropriation is to educate, and to chasten someone for the statements they make is not going to help them learn (this was in relation to the first two commenters, not you, Adrienne). I really understand what you say in this post – the feather comment (‘sick of’ it…) was particularly enraging, not just because it was very rude, but because it clearly stemmed from a lack of education on how offensive saying such a thing could be, and not from a place of hate (I presume).
    And to Martin & co., I don’t think Adrienne was suggesting that people from Native cultures shouldn’t trade with or sell to people from other cultures, just that people from other cultures creating ‘tribal inspired’ work, in doing so, can be very offensive and insensitive and are, essentially, downplaying the history and the importance of certain traditions of the cultures that are being borrowed from.
    Then again, maybe I have no idea what I am talking about, and I am basically just trying to educate myself. However, even as a white, English woman, who is not affected by this personally, I can see why this is offensive and just plain disappointing to see.

  • Actually, in modern Japan the haiku is not restricted to being about nature. It’s not even restricted to 17 on. Many modern Japanese haiku explore themes of sex, violence, ego, and other topics that are far removed from its history. Its traditional use and its modern-day use are two entirely different things. Times change and art evolves.

  • Times change and meanings of Pendleton blankets/feathers/etc evolve.

  • Eric, newsflash, you are a douchbag and a mansplainer, and I would say likely a troll. Continually insulting a blog mistress (you’ve done so in multiple comments on multiple posts) and telling her how “wrong” her beliefs/experiences/knowledge are is really rude, and an obvious silencing technique, and you should stop now. Remember, this blog belongs to Adrienne, it’s not a public forum.

    A Martin, you obviously haven’t read or listened to anything Adrienne has said. She’s specifically stated multiple times in multiple ways that she is very happy to have Native artwork, crafts, jewelry, etc. purchased and worn by non-Natives when it is Native made. And I’m Sac and Fox and also have a degree, as if that’s really pertinent.

  • Thank you, snuffycup. It seems like the wider exposure the blog is getting is drawing in some really unpleasant commentary. What Adrienne does is amazing. She urges people to support Native artisans and educate themselves. I have never seen her write that non-Natives shouldn’t buy from Native artisans!

  • I never said her beliefs are wrong. I’ve challenged the thinking behind them. After all, it is a public blog with an open comments forum. She’s more than welcome to respond and embarrass me.

    Interesting you bring gender into this, you couldn’t be more wrong.

  • I do agree with with Adrienne on a lot of things. If people want to buy Native Fashion or beadwork that is their choice. I would prefer other cultures to only purchase Native Artwork from Native Americans, but in this day and age there are millions of people out there and if someone who is non Native wants to learn Native American art. What they do with their knowledge and sell their artwork is non of my business. I do get upset when foreign companies make Native artwork so cheap that a real artist cannot survive.
    You did not get what I was trying to say, but that is okay. I do not intend to make anyone upset with my comment. It was a thought provoking comment, and shook the table. I am a peaceable person and may you all have a wonderful day.

  • Misogyny can be promoted by anyone of any gender. Regardless of your’s, you’re still acting like a racist, know-it-all troll.

  • And A Martin, calling someone “insane” doesn’t exactly sound like you agree with them. Plus it’s ableist.

  • “”So in one minute, the Today Show manages to condense millions of Native people into a single, incorrect, otherizing stereotype, encourage viewers to buy Native style jewelery from non-Natives, and minimize an important and sacred cultural marker of many tribes.””

    I think that point right there is what some commentors (and others) are SERIOUSLY failing to comprehend, let alone having us and our cultural being used as a disposable commidity for (mainly) white people’s status.

    Try staying on that topic instead of these useless non sequiturs and baseless ad hominems that contribute nothing to the topic but derailment.

  • Please. Haikus are not used to objectify and oppress Japanese peoples (geisha, on the other hand…).

    Marketing trends as ‘native’ or ‘tribal’ perpetuates the myth of the Invisible Indian. The Native peoples of American are not a trend. Fucking seriously. Africa isn’t a single people. Asia isn’t a single people. We are not disposable, convenient, nor ambiguous cultures for you to take what you want from, while ignoring the rest. And Adrienne is done being silent about it. <3 Love this blog, girl.

    Producing cultural-inspired-pieces without bothering to understand a people is called Appropriation. Period. You’re trying to own the parts of them that you like while discarding all the rest– discarding the fact that they were mass murdered and suffered a continent-wide genocide so that we can live how we live today (USA), the fact that they’re still being denied basic human rights and sovereignty of nation, the fact that alcoholism and poverty still haunt their people because WE (Americans) actively keep them down (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go get educated pls? racism 101?). And still, we want to exploit them. We still want them to give give give and let us take take take. Pretend they’ve disappeared and don’t exist so we can take it for free, no consequences.

    This is as condescending as talking about someone as they’re standing right there. The feathers are not the problem. The Appropriation and the culture of invisibility is.

    Thanks Adrienne. For weathering this shit and continuing to educate us so generously. I’ve wanted to say for a while that you’re extremely ‘well-spoken’. ^_^

  • You’d think people would come up w/ an original response every now and then but it’s the same damn ignorance…

  • As a black Metis from Nova Scotia it saddens me when I see people grabbing for “Native Inspired” accessories at my retail store. I feel like saying, “Hey, I could actually make these for you because I’ve learned the techniques from my mother, who learned from hers and so on.” I wouldn’t charge them because I’d rather have them sit and learn these techniques, learning the significance of glass beads, feathers and weaving to Aboriginal culture.
    It was hilarious selling the manitobah mukluks during winter, because people would complain that the beading on every shoe wasn’t the same. When I explained why; because they represented different Aboriginal groups across Canada, do you think they cared or even asked which one they represented! No! They just wanted a certain colour for their boot.
    People ask me where I’ve gotten my various items (none which are worn because of this new “tribal” trend, they were gifts from family members because of reaching pivotal points in my life) and I proudly say my nation in NS, where my people do the best to continue what they have left of their way of life. They respond in shock, oh really, what store, is there one in this city, my answer look online and go to your next Pow Wow, and one piece of advice, don’t wear all this gaudy shit!!!!
    Thanks Adrienne! Keep on truckin’

  • thanks !

  • Very well written article on “tribal jewelry is summer outfit makers”. I read it with great interest and indeed enjoyed it till the last line.