A search for “Cherokee” on the Urban Outfitters website reveals 1 result. A search for “Tribal”: 15. A search for “Native”: 10. “Indian”: 2. But Navajo? 24 products have Navajo in the name alone.
This post started as a massive Urban Outfitters take-down, I spent an hour or so last week scrolling through the pages of the website, and adding anything to my cart that was “Native inspired” or had a tribal name in the description. I got through JUST the women’s clothes and accessories (no mens or apartment), and had 58 items in my cart. So, then, like any good researcher, I began to code my cart for emergent themes, and the one that jumped out far above the rest? Urban Outfitters is obsessed with Navajos.
I want to show you some examples, and then talk a little about the issues with using tribal names in products that are decidedly not-. Finally, I want to share what the Navajo Nation in particular is doing about it, and the action they’ve taken is pretty cool.
Without further ado, some of the “Navajo” products to grace the pages of Urban:
From the basic:
To the totally random:
And, finally, the totally offensive:
So what’s inherently wrong with using Navajo in product names? And what can tribal nations do about it?
First of all, these products represent a stereotype of “southwest” Native cultures. The designs are loosely based on Navajo rug designs (maybe?) or Pendleton designs, but aren’t representations that are chosen by the tribe or truly representative of Navajo culture. Associating a sovereign Nation of hundreds of thousands of people witl a flask or women’s underwear isn’t exactly honoring.
Additionally, it’s more than likely that Urban chose “Navajo” for the international recognition–to most of the world Navajo (and Cherokee)= American Indian (my Jamaican friend didn’t even know there were other tribes in the US until she met me). This conflation of Navajo with “generic Indian” contributes to the further erasure of the distinct tribes and cultures in the US and solidifies the idea that there is only one “Native” culture, represented by plains feathers and southwest designs.
Navajo has taken a bold step, and actually holds trademarks for 12 derivatives of “Navajo”, three of which I’m citing below:
2061748: NAVAJO Sportswear; namely, slacks, shorts, skirts and jeans.
2237848: NAVAJO Clothing; namely, tops, vests, shirts, sport shorts, polo shirts, golf shirts, * jackets, * T-shirts and sweat shirts.
3602907: NAVAJO Online retail store services; namely, on-line ordering services in the field of clothing—specifically, men’s and women’s sportswear, namely, jeans, tops, shirts, sport shorts, polo shirts, golf shirts, T-shirts and sweatshirts.
I’m no law expert, but it feels like the products above might be violating the trademarks?
A few months ago, they Navajo Nation Attorney General actually sent a cease and desist letter to Urban Outfitters, and there are some great quotes from the letter (I’ll try and post it in full in another post):
Your corporation’s use of Navajo will cause confusion in the market and society concerning the source or origin of your corporation’s products. Consumers will incorrectly believe that the Nation has licensed, approved, or authorized your corporation’s use of the Navajo name and trademarks for its products – when the Nation has not – or that your corporation’s use of Navajo is an extension of the Nation’s family of trademarks – which it is not. This is bound to cause confusion, mistake, or deception with respect to the source or origin of your goods. This undermines the character and uniqueness of the Nation’s long-standing distinctive Navajo name and trademarks, which—because of its false connection with the Nation—dilutes and tarnishes the name and trademarks. Accordingly, please immediately cease and desist using the Navajo name and trademark with your products.
As a Nation with a distinguished legacy and unmistakable contemporary presence, the Nation is committed to retaining this distinction and preventing inaccuracy and confusion in society and the market The Nation must maintain distinctiveness and clarity of valid association with its government, its institutions, its entities, its people, and their products in commerce.When an entity attempts to falsely associate its products with the Nation and its products, the Nation does not regard this as benign or trivial. TheNation remains firmly committed to the cancellation of all marks that attempt to falsely associate with the institution, its entities, its people or its products. Accordingly, immediately cease and desist using Navajo withyour products.
I haven’t heard what the response was from Urban, if any, but I think it is a bold and positive choice for the tribe to take matters into their own hands and push back on instances of misrepresentation and cultural appropriation.
What do you think? Should tribes go the route of Navajo and trademark their tribal names? Do you think this will be an avenue for positive change or just mean tribal courts will be mired in lawsuits, taking away time from other important tribal business?
(Thanks Marj, Brian, and Aza!)