Archives For January 2012

Dear Drew Barrymore,

You know what? You’re a pretty cool chick. You were in ET back when you were little and adorable, and I respect that movie for scarring me for life when I was young and impressionable. You’re a female producer, which is bad-ass. You donate lots of money to good causes, and you seem kinda nice in your interviews and stuff. Despite your coolness, you did something totally uncool. And that something totally uncool was posting a picture of yourself in an “Indian headdress”–which is bad enough–but then you went even further and paired it with a Budweiser apron. An apron that has. to. do. with. alcohol.

So some of us are doing this thing where this week we document all the instances of “Stereotypical Indians” we come across in our daily lives, and I think yours might take the cake. For the whole week. And it’s only Tuesday. Cause not only do you give us the stereotypical war bonnet, you give us an association of Indians with alcohol, which is probably right up there with the worst possible stereotypes of Native people in the world ever. Nice work.

I know you probably didn’t think about it at all, in fact, I really hope you didn’t think about it, cause if it was intentional? That’s a whole other barrel of monkeys. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and think there was some context here we aren’t privileged to know about (like maybe you were shooting a PSA against Native stereotyping? Right?). But the fact that you (or your people, let’s be real) not only took this picture, but made it your PROFILE picture on The Facebook Dot Com, and have left it up ALL DAY despite a sh*t-ton of comments telling you it’s wrong? That’s more than uncool. That ish is straight up oppressive.

I’ve written a post that tells you exactly why wearing a headdress is wrong, so you should read it. You can read it here: But why can’t I wear a hipster headdress? My stats tell me that a whole lot of people have read that post, but apparently not you or your publicist. I guess I’m less cool than I thought. Shoot.

Yeah, I don’t really know what else to say, except that I am just tired of dealing with pretty white women in headdresses. Just tired. Just cause you’re all famous and stuff and donate lots of money to help hungry people doesn’t mean you can stomp all over Native cultures like that. WE ARE PEOPLE TOO.

So yeah. Thanks.

-Adrienne K.

Oh, and Facebook commenters? It’s not an effing “hat”. She is not wearing a cool “hat”. She is wearing a bastardized version of a sacred cultural object. Train conductors wear hats. Baseball players wear hats. That’s worse than calling powwow regalia a “costume”. Geez.

Drew Barrymore’s FB fan page:

(Thanks Rob and Monica!)

Today on Indian Country Today, columnist Vincent Schilling wrote a column detailing his numerous encounters with the “stereotypical Indian” over the course of one week, demonstrating how inundated we are with these images on a daily basis (the purpose of my blog!). I absolutely LOVE the idea, and I want to get a bunch of us to do it as well!

So, this week, I want you to document every instance of Indian stereotyping you come across. Include the things you would normally dismiss as “not a big deal”–The girl wearing a shirt with a stereotypical Indian design, the use of terms like “sitting Indian style” or “Let’s have a powwow about this”, the man wearing a Redskins jersey on the bus, the newspaper article that characterizes Indians as extinct, a bumper sticker, an old western on TV, etc. Write it all down, email it to me at the end of the week, and I’ll share the experiences on the blog. When possible, snap a picture! You can email me, or if you’re on Twitter, you can tweet things to me as they happen, use the hashtag  #n8vStereotype (kinda long, any better ideas?).

I’ll document my own encounters as well, though admittedly mine are way more prevalent than normal because I have google alerts and reader emails sending me constant images–but I’ll hone in on the everyday experiences to share with you.

In summary:

This week (January 30th-Feb 3rd)–”Week in the life of a Stereotypical Indian”
Document every instance of Indian/Native stereotyping
…and I’ll share it all next week!

For background, here’s Vincent’s experience:

So over the course of one week – I decide to pay very close attention to the stimulus that entered my brain regarding the definition of an American Indian person. I don’t know if it was coincidence – much like if you have ever ridden in a VW bug and you suddenly notice all of the other VW Bugs on the freeway – but I was absolutely amazed at what I experienced from all visceral fronts.

It started with television, of course. I was watching an episode of Storage Wars, when the auctioneer is talking with the other guy that has purchased a unit of Native American artifacts. I was frustrated that ancestral property was being sold for a few hundred bucks but then fuel was added to the fire; unsurprisingly within 30 seconds the comments about scalping started. And so began a telling week.

In my car driving all over Hampton Roads in Virginia, the NFL team adopted by the region is the Washington Redskins. Bumper stickers, T-shirts, jackets, sweatpants, window decals all made their way into my brain for what seemed a hundred times a day. I have been tempted many times to hire a graphic artist to create a giant decal of other “skin-color”-Skins characters alongside the Redskins logo – but then I fear coming across as racist. Truth be told I don’t want to offend another ethnicity – but why is it okay that we are still portrayed this way?

The week continued, I went to a local thrift store – admittedly a guilty pleasure of my wife Delores and myself – and once again I was surprised at the amount of American Indian “education.” In the first glass case sat a large plastic Indian chief next to Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus and a few aisles over was a cheap dream catcher in a plastic bag with a 99 cent tag. I also saw a lunch bag with Indian markings and found in a stack of comic books daffy duck with an Indian headdress standing next to a tipi on the front cover.

I’m excited–I think this could be really cool. I think it’s important (on a personal level, as well as a public level) to start to be aware of just how prevalent these images are. It really is incredible, when you start to open your eyes to it all.

Share any questions/concerns in the comments below!

Back in 2010 when the census came in the mail, I remember sitting with my roommate at the kitchen table filling out our forms together, laughing and joking about our “household.” When we got to the race category listed above, my roommate quickly checked the “Black, African Am, or Negro” box, with a snide comment about how it still says “Negro” in 2010, and moved on. I sat, contemplating the boxes for a bit, wondering how to identify to best capture “me”.

I knew, from my prior work in admissions, that checking Native “alone” would mean something very different than checking Native “in combination,” in terms of statistics and reporting, but I also am Native “in combination,” so it felt disingenuous to check only Indian. I thought about it for a bit, checked American Indian/Alaska Native, and wrote in “Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma”–then checked the White box too. My roommate thought I was weird for thinking so deeply about it. But it mattered to me, because I was already anticipating the statistics that the US Census released yesterday. I am Native. Period. But when you try and fit a political/citizenship category into a racialized one, the results get complicated, as you’ll see.

The lead headline for the census press release is “2010 Census Shows Nearly Half of American Indians and Alaska Natives Report Multiple Races.” I already, right there, see that as problematic, wrought with assumptions, and loaded with colonial underpinnings. But we all know I think that about most things. ha.

To “over-sensitive” and “easily offended” me, the headline is a commentary on the “realness” of the American Indian population, loaded with western/colonial conceptions of blood quantum and racial purity as markers for belonging and identity. This, to me, screams “Real Indians are disappearing!!!”. But since we have been “disappearing” for 500 years, despite our growing population numbers, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The real number is 44% identify as more than one race, which is different to me than “nearly half”. They could have just as easily said “56% of AI/AN population identifies solely as Native!” which tells a very different story. The majority of our peeps still identify as only AI or AN. We are not disappearing.

Reading the report (which is available in PDF and I highly recommend flipping through), there are many, many things they could have focused on, like the fact the Native population has increased at a rate much greater than the overall population, or that the ability to self-designate tribal group for the first time created new tribal categories (like “Hopi” being counted outside of “Pueblo”), but they instead focused in on the racial categories. Speaking of that population increase, here’s a handy graphic:

So this shows us that the total US population increased 9.7% from 2000-2010, but the AI/AN population (alone) increased at nearly twice that rate, and AI/AN (in combo) increased almost 40%! You go, Natives–keep on making those ndn babies (I joke, I joke). But interesting, right?

The other thing this data made me think about is how ingrained the myth of an Indian ancestor is in our national narrative. Cause according to this data, there are HELLA Natives out there!

Ok, let’s break down this chart (click to make it bigger). This shows the “largest tribal groupings” in the US. Personally, I also have some problems with the groupings erasing individual tribal identities–”Chippewa” is both an antiquated term as well as not a tribe, same with “Iroquois” or “Sioux”–but that’s an aside.

I think the fascinating part of this chart is to compare the number of enrolled members of any of these tribes to the number of people who identified on the census. Cherokees (I’m assuming that’s CN, UKB, and EBC together?) at 819,105? That’s about 400,000 more than are enrolled (based on my really vague and loose mental math). The Blackfeet one cracks me up too–I’m sure the Blackfeet Nation is stunned to know they’ve got 90,000 relatives they didn’t know about! (Their reservation in MT is home to about 8,500 enrolled members, and I assume there are some more not living on the rez, but not nearly that many).

I chose Cherokee and Blackfeet, because based on my personal experience, those are the two tribes that everyone seems to have an ancestor from–”Cherokee” is big for both white and Black folks, and “Blackfeet” seems to be big in the Black/African American community. While many people may actually have some Native blood in there, chances are it’s probably not Cherokee or Blackfeet. Sorry to burst your bubble. This appropriation of Indian identity is a whole other blog post, which I’ll get to at some point.

But that brings us back to the “alone” versus “in combination” conversation. What does it mean for these people who are checking the box based on some long lost ancestor to be counted in the numbers of AI/AN in the US? Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Chances are, that person is not dedicated to Indian causes or has any cultural ties whatsoever, but we can’t discount those numbers completely, because in those “in combination” numbers are plenty of mixed Natives who have cultural connections and are enrolled.

The way the question is phrased on the census is interesting too. It asks for “Enrolled or Principle tribe”–I think a better measure of these numbers would just say “enrolled tribe” with a line, and then “other tribal affiliations” with another.

These are just some things I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been reading through the data–what are your thoughts?

US Census:  2010 Census Shows Nearly Half of American Indians and Alaska Natives Report Multiple Races
US Census: The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010

I just came back from an amazing long weekend in the Bay Area, where I was at a training to be on my reunion homecoming committee (5th year reunion! I’m either really old or really young, depending on your perspective). I seriously love my alma mater more than is probably healthy. But this is a place that I credit with the development of my activist and social-justice oriented frame of mind, and also credit my work in admissions after graduation with opening my eyes to the disparities in higher ed for Native students–which is now my research in grad school. In many ways, it could be seen as ironic that the place that supported and nurtured my Native identity and allowed me to major in Native American Studies/Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity has a past that includes that image above.

That shirt in the picture came from a thrift store in San Diego years ago, where I paid $15 for it. Fifteen dollars. For an old tshirt. But I bought it because I couldn’t bear the thought of someone else picking it up, finding it “cool” and “vintage” and strutting around town in it. So I bought it, and then gave it to the Assistant Director of the Native program at Stanford, because I didn’t want it lying around my house. I imagined it like the Tell-Tale Heart…beating in my drawer…::shudder::

This past weekend when I was on campus, I stopped by her office and saw it sticking out of a drawer. I pulled it out, we laughed about it, and talked about ways it could be used in an educational exhibit of some sort, and how it’s important to remember the mascot’s history.

The quick version of that history, from the Stanford Native Center website:

In February of 1972, 55 Native American students and staff at Stanford presented a petition to the University Ombudsperson who, in turn, presented it to President Lyman.  The 1972 petition urged that “the use of the Indian symbol be permanently discontinued”–and further urged that the University “fulfill its promise to the students of its Native American Program by improving and supporting the program and thereby making its promise to improve Native American education a reality.”  The petition further stated that the Stanford community was not sensitive to the humanity of Native Americans, that the lack of understanding displayed by the name of a race being placed on its entertainment, and that a race of humans cannot be entertainment.  The mascot in all its manifestations was, the Indian group maintained, stereotypical, offensive, and a mockery of Indian cultures.  The group suggested that the “University would be renouncing a grotesque ignorance that it has previously condoned” by removing the Indian as Stanford’s symbol, and by “retracting its misuse of the Indian symbol” Stanford would be displaying a “readily progressive concern for the American Indians of the United States.”

Later that year, the University removed the mascot. I love that the mascot issue was born out of Native student activism on campus. Read the rest of the history here on the NACC website. 

So after I left the Native program offices, I walked over to the Alumni Center for my training. As I was flipping through the packet they gave us, I found this, The “Policy Regarding American Indian Images”:

Apologies for the cell phone picture. But basically it sends a big stfu to any old alums who want to pull out their feathers and face paint for their reunion homecoming publicity or mailings. From the policy:

“We acknowledge that such imagery was not meant to be offensive when adopted. However, these images perpetuate stereotypes, are hurtful and offensive to American Indians and others, and are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country.”

lululu’s to that. I was so happy to see this in the packet–and I as I sat there at the table in the alumni center, it made me think about all the Native students who had come before me and who worked so hard to get rid of the mascot. As the only Native on any of the reunion committees this year, I hope I’m making them proud.

Stanford still has a LONG way to go in making the campus climate a completely safe and supportive environment for Native students, and definitely needs work in supporting the ethnic community centers and staff, but personally I find it awesome that there is at least some explicit institutional support around the contentious mascot issue, especially when sending out those mailings with the Indian on them to old alums would probably bring in some more donations to the university.

I’m the first to admit that I’ve completely and totally drank the Stanford kool-aid (but it’s so tasty and full of palm trees!), so if anyone has differing opinions on how the administration has dealt with the mascot issue over the years (and it continues to be an issue, believe me)–definitely send me an email.

I’m also curious how other institutions with an Indian mascot past deal with their alums and images, if you’ve got stories, share them in the comments!

(Thanks Miss Denni!)

PS–Also, a while back I shared one Stanford Alum’s story about how reading Native Approps changed his mind about Indian Mascots. It’s worth a read if you’re somehow still on the fence.

This, my friends, is a post about how the internet is a slow learner. A few days ago Gawker writer Leah Beckmann posted a round-up of crappy reader mail, and in a clear lapse of judgment and lack of awareness of American history, or a blog in her own network’s history, entitled it “Mail of Tears”–complete with a picture of Iron Eyes Cody (the Italian actor who played the “crying Indian” in that famous PSA).

Longtime readers of the blog might think this sounds eerily familiar…and that’s because in 2010, Jezebel (Gawker’s “sister site”) wrote about Meghan McCain crying  and gave it the hashtag #trailoftears. I was, clearly and similarly, enraged. So why recreate the wheel? I’ll just quote directly from that post here:

Yes, that says Trail of Tears. Trail of Tears. The forced relocation of my ancestors, where they were unlawfully and forcibly removed from their homelands in the Southeast and marched over 1000 miles, in the dead of winter, to what is now modern day Oklahoma. Over 4,000 of the 15,000 Cherokees who began the journey died along the way from exposure, hunger, and disease. 

The Trail of Tears was also unlawful in the truest sense of the word. Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation took the case to court, fighting for the right for his people to remain in their homelands, where they had been for thousands of years. The Cherokees argued that as a sovereign nation, the state of Georgia had no right to enforce a removal within Cherokee territory. The case worked it’s way up through the court system, ended up in the supreme court. In a series of decisions, Justice John Marshall and his court sided with the Cherokees, stating that only the national government had the right to intervene in Indian Affairs. To which President Andrew Jackson reportedly stated: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”
With the signing of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, Jackson took matters into his own hands, authorizing the removal of thousands of Native people from throughout North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and Alabama. 
To put this in perspective, this is the mid 1800′s. The Cherokee Nation was a successful and prosperous community, with large plantations, farms, schools, printing presses that produced books and a newspaper in the written Cherokee language, a literacy rate exponentially higher than the local white community, and a system of colleges that educated members of the “Five Civilized Tribes” (I hate that term) in a way that incorporated both mainstream and tribal education traditions.
The federal government sent in troops to enforce the removal, and without warning, they swooped into these communities, burning homes, killing livestock, and removing families without even time for them to gather belongings. They were then rounded up into concentration camps where conditions were squalid and supplies limited, and then forced to begin their journey.
My great-great-great grandparents came over on that journey, a time that is called Nunna daul Isunyi in the Cherokee Language–The Trail Where They Cried.
  And I’ll just change up the ending a bit to make it work…
So, Jezebel Gawker, calling Megan McCain crying over her dad picking Sarah Palin as his running mate a #trailoftears a post that begins with the words “Choke on Shit and Die” a “Mail of Tears”? You are dismissing the pain and legacy of my community’s genocide–and that’s not something I take lightly.  
I know it’s embarrassing to get called out when you eff up, but, I’m sorry Jezebel Gawker, ignoring the issue isn’t gonna fix it. This may seem small and inconsequential to you, but these are my ancestors and my community, and the way this was handled does nothing to restore my faith in how people of color are treated on your site.   
Bottom line, I know you think Native people are a big ol’ joke, Leah Beckmann, but don’t dismiss Native people telling you that this is hurtful, wrong, and in incredibly poor taste. It’s an easy fix. Fix it. Now.
Post on Gawker:
Choke On Shit and Die Asshole’ and Other Things You Said to Us This Week

My post about Meghan McCain (Jezebel did end up changing the tag, eventually):
Jezebel uses #trailoftears to describe Meghan McCain

Leah Beckmann’s twitter is here, and you can email her at if you’d like to tell her what you think.

(Thanks Allison!)

Another Kardashian transgression to add to the (growing) list: E! Online posted this pic of the Jenner girls with Kourtney Kardashian and Mason, taken at Mason’s 2nd birthday party back in December. Looks like they were uber creative and went with a “Cowboys and Indians” theme. Wow. Adding insult to injury is the fact that E! used the headline “Cute Alert!“–I, personally, don’t find racial drag “cute”.* If little Mason and his mama were sporting some blackface, would that be “cute”? (Answer: no. A Cowboys and Indians Party is just as bad as a Blackface Party)

Here’s how they “came up” with the theme (via an interview in OK! Magazine):

How did you come up with the Western theme for Mason’s party?

Kourtney: Actually, Scott came up with it. We were just walking in the Hamptons, and he said, “Let’s do cowboys and Indians.” I thought it was cute, so I made Mason a little cowboy.

So many points for creativity! ::eyeroll::

But there’s a bigger issue here. I really don’t know what the Kardashians have against Natives, or why they seem to be so obsessed. As a proud Armenian/Cherokee, I don’t appreciate one of my cultures denigrating the other. It creates confusionz in my head. But let’s list off some of the Kardashian fails in the past year or so, shall we?

October, 2010: Khloe sports a headdress and tweets the message “I love playing dress up!”

August, 2011: Khloe has a sexy headdress photo shoot, with an accomanying tweet “What do you think of my tribal look?”

October, 2011: Kourtney and Mason dress up as Indians for the Dancing with the Stars halloween episode

November, 2011: Kris Jenner uses the term “Indian Giver” on national television to signify that Kim won’t be giving her ring back to (other) Kris. (She says it at about 2:58 below)

December, 2011: Mason’s 2nd Birthday Party has a “Cowboys and Indians” theme

…and I rest my case. The Kardashians definitely make it to the worst offenders list.

Oh No, Khloe Kardashian
No Khloe, I do not like your “tribal look” 
Kris Jenner uses the term “Indian Giver”

*Though my sister and I think Mason is adorbs…did you see the Kardashian Xmas card? His baby GQ pose! Squee!

(Thanks Aza!)