Archives For July 2012

On Thursday I posted about Ecko Unltd’s disturbing “Weekend Warrior” line featuring headdresses on skulls, and tied it into a larger trend featuring similar images. A reader went over to the Ecko FB page and posted a link to my blog post, as well as another link that shows adorable Native kiddos talking about mascots and stereotyping. Ecko’s response?

Hi , the intentions of the Weekend Warrior line were never to be racist, but to be fun and take a look at youth culture in 2012. It’s highlighting the melting pot of cultures that now make up our wonderful culture. Email me at social@ecko.com if you wish to continue this discussion.”

I normally don’t get fired up enough after 5pm to blog, but this pisses me off. Guys, don’t worry, it’s not racist because the “intentions…were never to be racist”! DUH. Who the heck besides maybe some white-supremacist or crazy anti-Obama hate group sets out to make something intentionally racist? If Mark Ecko sat in a room and was like “Hey designers, I think it would be really great this season if we did something intentionally racist towards Native Americans,” then we’d have a bigger issue on our hands.


Dudes, just because you didn’t *mean* to do something racist doesn’t excuse you from the consequences of your actions. I feel like I say this a lot on the blog. I will now draw an example from one of my favorite pieces of writing on the internet–“Intent: It’s Effing Magic”–if you got all drunk and hopped behind the wheel of a car and killed a pedestrian, does it matter if you didn’t intend to kill them? Absolutely not. You made decisions that led to an outcome that you’ll have to deal with, regardless of if you’re actually a good person who just made an incredibly stupid mistake. Now don’t freak out and think I’m trying to draw an even comparison between these two events. I’m trying to make a point. Actions have consequences, regardless of intent.

But let’s also talk about the other parts of this response. So we’ve established they didn’t intend to be racist. Great. But instead of racist, it was supposed to be “fun”! This reminds me a lot of the Spirit Hoods and Yay Life Tribe convos we had a while back. Tucker, the “chief” of the Yay Life Tribe said, in the quote that started it all, “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.” Right, it’s our fault. It makes us out to be the overly-sensitive party poopers who are ruining something that is SO awesome, and how DARE we take offense when it was supposed to be light-hearted and fun. That, my friends, is some colonizer gaslighting right there. That’s a means of asserting power, even if subconsciously. If I, a member of the group being depicted in your “fun” clothing line, take offense to it, it. is. offensive. 

Then it continues. The line wanted to “take a look at youth culture in 2012. It’s highlighting the melting pot of cultures that now make up our wonderful culture.” The celebration of the myth of the melting pot always gets me. Melting pot requires assimilation. Melting pot requires that cultures give up their individual characteristics for the benefit of a broader unifying “culture” (which is why some multi-cultural educators now push for the metaphor of a “salad bowl”), which is how colonialism works. We’ve had plenty of that assimilation stuff, and it didn’t work out too well. But that’s an aside. The other subtext is that Native people aren’t included in this “wonderful culture” you speak of. Because you’re “highlighting” dead Indians. Not live ones. There is not a highlighting of the current contributions of Native peoples–just a reminder that Indians are extinct in your eyes. 


So apologies to the poor social media intern at Ecko that I just eviscerated, but after over two years of blogging about these issues, it just gets frustrating to see the same, tired, offensive responses to Native peoples’ objections to being portrayed in stereotypical and demeaning ways that make light of sacred traditions and practices. 


Here, this is what you should have said (totally wishful thinking, I know):


“Hi , on behalf of the Ecko Unltd brand, I offer my deepest apologies for the disrespectful and offensive imagery that we employed in our most recent line. While we had no intention to cause pain to Native communities, we now realize how our actions were hurtful and harmful. We will be pulling all of the advertising and signage featuring the “warrior” image, as well as removing the image from the homepage of our website, especially the image of the model wearing the warbonnet. While we unfortunately cannot pull the rest of the line from stores, we will be donating all of the proceeds from the sales of the “weekend warrior” line to charities that benefit Native communities. This incident has caused us in the Ecko offices to reflect on the ways that we, even unconsciously, have contributed to the stereotyping and misrepresentation of Native peoples, so we have decided that our next line will be a collaboration with a Native artist, who can represent Native cultures and perspectives in a contemporary and respectful way.” 


A girl can dream. 


Earlier:
Ecko’s Weekend Warrior Line and Headdressed Skulls Everywhere

Yesterday my BFF and biggest fan Marj texted me this image from the Ecko outlet in Washington. I believe my exact response was “OMG wtf?!?!” Notice at the bottom the tagline is “Party your face off.” Yeah, not offensive at all.

So I turned to the googles to see what this was all about. A quick search brought me to the Ecko homepage, which prominently features the line up front and center, called “Weekend Warrior.” The image is below. So, the headdressed skull is bad enough–more on that in a second–but look a little closer…


Um, NO. Your model is NOT wearing a headdress too???

Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t seem to find the line for sale on the actual Ecko website, though it is available in other online stores, like Macy’s:

This headdressed-skull thing is a problematic trend that has been popping up everywhere. From “mainstream” retailers like our good friend Urban Outfitters
To more “Indie” designers like “No Wire Hangers” (they have a TON of questionable ish on their site):
A couple of weeks ago in SF, my friends and I even went stalker status on a guy in Bootie SF wearing a a similar tee (thanks to John for the 50 variations of this picture on my camera, ha):
There’s plenty more all over the internet, but I think you may be starting to see my point. 
Let’s break it down. Clearly this is problematic on many levels. Beyond the usual arguments against the hipster headdress, there’s something deeper here. I don’t think anyone can argue with the fact that skulls are associated with death. So if you put a skull with a headdress, the first jump I make is to “dead Indian”–just me? I don’t think anyone can go for the “honoring” argument here (although I won’t be surprised if they try). This, to me, is playing into the narratives of Indians existing only in the past, or Indians are extinct, or Indians were brave warriors who no longer exist today. It also, like all the Plains Indian stereotypes, solidifies the one-dimensional “warrior” image that doesn’t represent the hundreds and hundreds of tribal nations still around today. 
Back in 2010, James Branum, a lawyer in Oklahoma, posted about his interactions with a company in OK City called “War Paint Clothing” who were selling a similar shirt (Rob at Newspaper Rock covered it as well). He makes some excellent points, and I definitely recommend heading over to his post to read the entirety of his interactions with the company:

I first think about the famous line, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” (a quote sometimes attributed to General Sheridan, but more likely a paraphrase from a line out of Congressional floor speech of Congressman James M. Cavanaugh from 1868) and the way our society in past generations honored the “noble savage” who either died off or was assimilated into white society, but refused to give any honor to real live Indians in the present day who resisted both death and assimilation. 

Or to say it another way, if you want to honor native Americans, why not make a shirt of a hero from our history, or even show the face of someone alive today (who is resisting genocide, simply by living out native values and culture)? Why is it that only dead Indians, and abstract/stereotypical Indians who get celebrated? 

The image of the skull also brings to mind the Indian remains held in many museums to this day. There is an ongoing fight to return those remains to their people and to the earth (see Return2theearth.org and the wikipedia article on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act for a bit of this history), but the fight isn’t over. The graves of Native dead have been desecrated for many years, and many remains are still in museums. 

Finally, I’m not aware of any Plains Indian tribe that would be comfortable with this imagery (and I’m discussing it in that context, because the stylized image is of a stereotypical plains style headdress — I know Natives in other culture, especially in Mexico have different cultural ideas about skulls). Some plain tribes use animal skulls for ceremonial purposes (i.e. the buffalo skull in the Sun Dance), but those skulls are normally used in a sacred manner. The use of a human skull on a t-shirt would be incomprehensible.

I think those major take away points–”The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” the continued celebration of only dead or stereotypical Indian imagery, the ongoing fight over Native remains in museums and educational institutions, and the overall sacredness of human remains (and headdresses) in our communities–are exactly spot on. This trend is symptomatic of an overall disrespect of Native peoples and cultures, as well as a convenient amnesia of the genocide of Native peoples in this country. As with most of the images on this blog, one shirt in isolation may not be a problem. But when you start to peel back the layers and see how deep these issues run, and how ubiquitous these images are, you begin to realize the depth of the problem. This isn’t a one-off shirt in a window. This is a lens into how Native people are viewed in the United States. 
For more info: 
Earlier: 

My friend Jeremiah sent me this picture last night via twitter, and in my head, I thought “I could make some stereotype biscuits for breakfast!” Which got me thinking. How many products with stereotypical imagery could I fit in one imaginary breakfast?

All of these products are readily available (though some are regional), and I decided not to include vintage products, because that would mean about 2 million more pictures. Ready? Welcome, dear friends, to the first annual Stereotype Breakfast(TM)!

On our fictional menu: Cornbread with butter and honey, orange juice, toast, iced tea, and then some bonus snacks and drinks for the rest of the day. Who knew racial inequality could be so yummy?!
So our cornbread is ready to go, made with the Calumet baking powder and Indian Head Corn Meal pictured above. Served with some, of course, Land ‘O Lakes butter
and some Sue Bee Honey:
Close up on the logo, in case you can’t see it (is she saying “how”? omggaasjfbkh, how ADORABLE!):
Then I think I’ll have some toast. Hmmm, this one looks good! Oh wait, WHAT?

Ok, so maybe no toast. I’ll just have some Orangina

You know, I’d prefer it if my orange juice didn’t wear a sacred headdress. Iced Tea, perhaps?
Guess not. Well, we could screw the whole breakfast idea and just have some ice cream. Who doesn’t love ice cream? 
Yeah. That didn’t work out too well. Good thing I have my soda and snacks to hold me over for the rest of the day…
Cherikee Red. My favorite. With the authentic Cherokee regalia on the front and everything! And don’t forget the Beef Jerky:
Something in here stinks. It must be all this racism. Good thing I’ve got my air freshener right here:
The sad thing is I could keep going and going…I’m sure you come across other products in your daily life as well (feel free to share in the comments). And this is just food. In isolation, each of these would seem like no big deal–these are the “good” stereotypical images. The “noble savage.” No wild eyes or big noses, just headdresses and Indian maidens. But when taken as a collective, is it any wonder that most people in the world think of Native peoples as headdress-wearing Plains chiefs or buckskin-clad Indian women? I’m not saying there isn’t stereotypical imagery of other racial/ethnic groups in branding, but the ubiquity of Native imagery is striking. 
Many/most of these products have “historic” ties to the logo, but that’s no excuse. If you look in the “about” pages of the companies, many of them mention the wish of the founders of the company to “honor” the local Native peoples. But, for example, sorry Umpqua Ice Cream, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians don’t wear plains headdresses. It’s 2012. I think it’s time to critically examine the way that Native peoples are represented in branding and advertising. Why is this still socially acceptable? 
Much like Indian mascots, these images are not “honoring,” they serve to collapse hundreds of distinct nations and cultures into one stereotypical lump, and perpetuate stereotypes of Native peoples living like they did in the 1700′s, rather than modern people who are shopping at the local Star Mart (without a headdress on). Truly, for many people, these are the only representations of American Indians that they see. Add on to that Indian mascots, hollywood stereotypes like Tonto and Twilight, and is it any wonder that Native peoples and issues continue to be marginalized and forgotten? How is a small child supposed to know that all Indians don’t say “how” and wear feathered headdresses everyday, when every morning they are putting Land ‘O Lakes butter  and Sue Bee Honey on their squ*w bread? 
I don’t know about you, but this breakfast didn’t sit too well with me. Turns out racial inequality isn’t so yummy, it just makes my stomach hurt. 
(Thanks Jeremiah!)

Dear Family, Friends, and Supporters of Native Appropriations,

I am beyond humbled at the outpouring of support and praise I received after my last post. I am so grateful for your kind and powerful comments, tweets, emails, and phone calls–and it was so unexpected.

I wrote the post not thinking anyone was going to read the nearly 4000 word behemoth, and really just needed to put it all on paper to be able to move forward and write again without feeling silenced or worried. So I was a bit taken aback at the response, but I feel so very loved and supported, so thank you, truly.

As always, I want to clarify and reiterate some things before they get out of hand. If you read my words, you’ll notice I don’t attack any of the parties involved, I simply reported on the events that occurred, and quoted from publicly available comment streams, while saying how they made me feel. None of my original posts on Tonto and/or Depp mention, or even refer, to Indian actors in the film, nor do they even attack Depp. I questioned his choices, his words, and his mis-match between intent and action, but never him as a person. That’s why all of these words against me felt so out of place and even more hurtful.

To those who are concerned I shared “private conversations”–I was asked at the end of the phone conversation if I had been recording, to which I replied, “No, it’s just me taking notes in my kitchen.” Saginaw said he didn’t mind if it had been recorded, only that his words not be altered. I took copious notes, and that’s what my post was based off of. Additionally, the team agreed I could share the information they gave me, so I felt comfortable sharing the content of our conversations.

I do want to shift some of the anger away from Saginaw–while he was the one who initiated the conversation, and was very critical of my writing and my “Indianness” (and I’m not making excuses for him here), it was his team (acting on his behalf) who were the ones reading quotes from the blog and forcing me to defend myself, and it was the subsequent and repeated comments by his assistant on my blog and facebook that caused the bulk of the pain in my eyes. I also don’t want the comments to turn to name-calling and bashing team Saginaw, because that isn’t moving the conversation forward, and as someone who knows how it feels, I don’t wish that feeling upon anyone. I’ve turned on comment moderation for the post, meaning I have to approve comments that come in, and I’ll be editing out any that don’t forward the conversation in productive ways, on either “side” of the issue. Unfortunately I can’t easily moderate comments on facebook, but I’ll do my best to keep an eye on things.

In closing, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can’t tell you how incredible it feels to know I have such a broad reaching community of support, and I never imagined that my words had left such a lasting impact on so many of you–I truly still write thinking that my audience consists of mostly my mom (hi Ma!), so hearing that so many of you use my blog in courses, conversations, and daily life was humbling, to say the least. I definitely didn’t start this blog for some quest for fame or attention, so I still deal with my discomfort around what all of that means, but you make it worthwhile. It’s a strange feeling to know how many people know so many of my deepest insecurities and personal struggles, but I feel empowered knowing that my experiences have resonated with so many of you.

I also read every single email that comes through the blog account (nativeappropriations@gmail.com), and though I’m horrible at actually returning emails, know that I read and appreciate all of your words, thoughts, and questions, so please keep them coming! I was informed yesterday that my auto-reply is super annoying (I forgot I even had put one up–I’ll fix that today!), so I may in the coming weeks make some separate accounts for submissions, questions, comments, etc.

If any of you would like to submit writings or guest posts, I’m always open to that too. In many ways I originally envisioned the blog as more of a “forum” with more voices than my own, so I would love to move toward that model in the future.

So don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere, the blog will continue to focus on the hard-hitting issues of our day (I mean, how can we ignore the Naked Indian?!), and I will strive to keep the balance of snarky humor and serious commentary you’ve all come to know well.

Today I’m closing the book on the events of the last few months, and hope that we can move forward in a positive place, together.

Wado,

Adrienne K.

You know what I’ve learned in the last few months? Apparently I’m not a real Indian. Apparently, going to grad school and questioning how Native people are portrayed in pop culture makes me less “real.” I knew, in starting this blog, that being a white-looking Cherokee from SoCal trying to talk about Native issues would cause some problems, and my “legitimacy” would, at some point, be called into question. What I didn’t anticipate was the shit hitting the fan over Tonto. *TONTO*.

So a disclaimer: In the post that follows, I’m going to be departing from my usual don’t-engage-with-the-haterz approach, and calling some people out. This makes me immensely uncomfortable, and I fear what stirring the pot is going to cause in terms of repercussions. But I’m going to share my thoughts and opinions about how the things that were said to (and about) me in the last few months have made me feel, because if you haven’t noticed, the blog’s been silent for over a month. Also, this is about to be the longest post in the history of Native Appropriations (sorry!):

A Tonto Timeline:


March 8, 2012: Johnny Depp as Cultural Appropriation Jack Sparrow…I Mean Tonto
I wrote this post quickly after seeing the “first look” pictures of Tonto in the new Lone Ranger. I inadvertently caused a firestorm by making a snarky remark about Johnny Depp’s “Indian heritage”–which he says is “Cherokee or maybe Creek,” and saying he wasn’t an “Indian actor.” The commenters, rightly so, reacted. And in reacting, called into question my ability to call myself Indian if Johnny couldn’t.

March 15, 2012: Ray Cook writes a column in Indian Country Today called “Tontomania–Who are we’z anyway?
Ray Cook straight up calls me out in this post, without referring to me by name. He said:

I read a blog earlier and the owner of the blog said she was pissed that Johnny Depp is playing Tonto because she did not believe he was Indian enough for that particular role, what ever the heck that means. The blogger guesses that Tonto was/is Apache and the whole Apache nation should have been consulted about the role, who should play it and what that actor should wear so as to project the right “image” in a politically correct way so as not to make restless the, er, ah, well, Natives. The blogger basically expressed, I am Native and I am restless over this affront to our good nature and reputation. 

So much hog-wash, so much wasted cyber-space, so much wasted oxygen. Let’s set the record straight. Tonto is a radio, television, and comic book character. Period. No one, and I mean no one, will give two Indian head nickels what tribe Tonto is from, just as long as someone gets shot, hung, chased, rescued, skewered, or run out of town. It’s Hollywood for crying out loud. Babbbbababbababbaaa, that’s all folks!

He goes on to assert his Indianess by talking about his gorgeous Mohawk wife and tells us all to lighten up and that we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously. He tells us (me) to “get your head out of your computerized butts and live a little.” The not-so-subtle subtext here through devaluing my opinion as “wasted oxygen” is saying real Indians don’t give a crap about Hollywood.

March 16, 2012: Why Tonto Matters
Written directly in response to Cook and others who said we shouldn’t care about how Depp was portraying Tonto. I’m still pretty proud of this piece, and I constantly refer folks back to it when they say the issue doesn’t matter. I ended the post with this, which I still believe to be the crux of the issue:

How can we expect mainstream support for sovereignty, self-determination, Nation Building, tribally-controlled education, health care, and jobs when the 90% of Americans only view Native people as one-dimensional stereotypes, situated in the historic past, or even worse, situated in their imaginations? I argue that we can’t–and that, to me, is why Tonto matters.

April 24th, 2012: Johnny Depp as Tonto: I’m still not feeling “Honored”
As the Depp drama continued to swirl, I compiled all of the quotes I could find in reference to Depp discussing the choices he made in costuming and creating his version of Tonto. I came to the conclusion that he totally missed the mark. The comments, however, still focused heavily on Depp’s background, and whether or not I was being unjustifiably mean to Johnny.

So before I continue, let’s notice that all of my posts focus on either 1) the choice of Johnny Depp to play Tonto 2) the costume and character choices Johnny made for his role, based on Johnny’s own words, and 3) What “Tonto” means on a larger level in terms of representations, stereotypes, and our future as Native peoples. I said nothing about the Native actors in the films, nothing about  the Native involvement in the film, I just talked about Johnny Depp. A public figure, who, as such, is open to criticism and questioning.

This is where things get interesting. In the comments on the post, I received a comment from actor Saginaw Grant, wishing to speak to the “author of this blog.” I emailed him at the address he provided, and set up a time to talk with him, his publicist, and his personal assistant via phone. In hindsight, I’m not sure why I said yes, but I was also curious to hear Saginaw’s thoughts, since he has a role in the film.

Fast forward to the phone conversation. I spent 2.5 hours on the phone being berated for my coverage of Tonto. Saginaw told me over and over again that the “Indian way” was “not to criticize” and that if I did so, I had “no right to call [myself] an Indian.” I was told that “everything you know, you learned in books” and that all my degrees were just “pieces of paper.” I was told I was being disrespectful to all of the Indian actors on the film, as well as the broader Indian community, and that if I continued to write, no producer would hire Indian actors ever again because they would want to avoid the “controversy,” so I was hurting all Indian actors chances of working in Hollywood. They went on, and on, and on with all of the ways I had apparently messed up.

His team had written down tweets and quotes from my blog, read them back to me, and forced me to defend myself. I was in a horrible position, because if I defended myself and stood by my words, I would have been perceived as being “disrespectful” towards a “respected elder,” so instead I avoided directly addressing their questions, to which I was called “evasive” and therefore, “disrespectful.” I was so polite and tried to show the utmost respect, though I was shown none in return. I sat there, for over two hours, and listened as my identity was questioned and my writing torn apart. I listened carefully, because I know I’m wrong all the time–and if I was wrong about this, I wanted to know. But instead, the only message I heard was that I was not Indian if I dared question this film. At one point, after about the twelfth time I was told I had “no right to call [my]self an Indian”–I broke down and said (in Cherokee), “I’m Cherokee, not a white person.” I didn’t know how else to defend myself.

They did tell me that the spirit on the set was one of respect towards the Native actors, that care was taken to address any cultural concerns, and that there were Comanche advisors on the set making sure things were done right. They told me to wait until the movie, and things would make sense, and I would see how I was wrong. Considering that apparently Depp is speaking in broken English in the trailer…I’m not holding my breath. They told me that Johnny is such a nice and respectful man, and that he does many good things for Indian country. They’ve met him and interacted with him, and I haven’t, so I have no right to judge him.

Before the end of our conversation, I reiterated my intentions with the postings, and apologized for any harm I may have caused. But I remember I said I was going to keep writing the blog, because it was my way of empowering our communities and making my ancestors and family proud of me. I don’t ever remember saying I was going to refrain from writing about Tonto again.

Saginaw exited the conversation, and the tone noticeably shifted. His publicist and assistant shifted from anger to praise, telling me how my work was important, what I wrote was important, and things like hipster headdresses were a huge issue. They said I was an “inspiration” to younger Native students to see that I was at an elite university. I, admittedly, was surprised. I said that I would update the blog with the information they shared about the set, which they agreed to.

After I hung up the phone, I cried in my kitchen. The conversation was emotionally draining, and I felt like I had been given little recourse to defend myself. I had been judged for my perceived lack of respect or connection to my community, when they knew nothing of my family or my heritage. It hurt, a lot. To be told that this work that I put my heart and soul into was causing harm to my community felt horrible, even if I still believed in my gut that I hadn’t done anything wrong.

I took a week off from the blog, and talked to a lot of my friends about the situation. They agreed that it was probably a lot of misplaced anger–Saginaw has come under some intense criticism for roles before, so they were probably trying to head off anything before it got too major. I thought it had blown over at this point, and went back to work, cautiously.

May 8th, 2012: Nelly Furtado’s “Big Hoops” video: Native Dancer’s represent!
I was so excited to see Nelly’s video. I loved the way she incorporated the Native dancers, and thought it was a great example of positive Native imagery. But I, without thinking it would be a problem, noted:

“So far the video has 42,000 views on YouTube, so 42,000 people have seen Native folks representing themselves, showing off their skillz, not painted up with a bird on their head. These are the kind of representations I’d like to see on a more regular basis.”

The “bird on their head” linked back to one of my Depp posts. To which I received the comment from Saginaw’s assistant, Andrea:

I guess your privilege of hearing Saginaw Grant’s words of wisdom were not taken as advice, just words. I am witness to the conversation because the conversation was a conference three way, your words were that you were going to refrain from the movie in it’s entirety. You speak with fork tongue and you wonder why you receive negative and/or hate mail from many of the people. As I said, you are inciting animosity amongst people who don’t know better. You told Saginaw that you had much respect for him, well, that was untruth on your part and we are disappointed and furthermore, you do not speak a few words you have learned in Cherokee to a person who is Sac/Fox. Only his publicist new what you were talking about. Shame on you.

You can see my response and the whole comment chain here, which gets worse. I tried to, as always, be respectful. The team then took to Facebook to further disparage me on my own page and others, which seem to have been deleted, which is nice, I guess.

Finally:
June 13, 2012: Crooked Arrows: The Good, The Bad, and The Flute Music 
I went and saw Crooked Arrows, and had a lot to say about it. Again, I made the mistake of referencing the word Tonto in my intro paragraph. To which Saginaw responded:

“hello may I request that you leave the word Tonto out of your stories that does not pertain to this movie you are writing about. -Saginaw Grant Sac & Fox Nation Actor/Public Speaker”

I was upset. I felt really unsettled that I was being monitored so closely that I couldn’t even say the word Tonto. I responded, and then Andrea jumped in, as well as several other commenters. It got so out of hand so quickly, that I had to shut down comments on the post. Andrea’s first comment was as follows:

With all due respect Adrienne you say you are about representations of Natives on the big screen, well my dear, you are no authority regarding the movie industry or natives, you are only a young one and wet behind the ears trying to bring attention to yourself. If you are going to write on a story and believe yourself to be a writer, stay to the subject matter and do not go off course into another direction such as your continued reference of “Tonto”, a non-fiction story. Why is it that you are so adamant about your continual slamming of this movie. The movie will be made with or without you, and you cannot change the box office draw that it will bring, it is inevitable. Furthermore your continual disrespect of elders is abhorred because if you say you are Indian, it shows not because no traditional person would speak or question any elder’s words or Ms. Ladonna Harris choice which you have done. In closing you are very young and inexperienced and with very little track record behind you and have exhibited no traditional thought of mind just book learned and that is quite a shame.

Emphasis is mine, and I think she meant “fictional” not “non-fiction”. Ladonna Harris is the member of the Comanche Nation who “adopted” Johnny Depp recently, which E! Online interviewed me about here. Notice I did not actually criticize LaDonna in my quotes.

The irony of this whole situation kills me–I’m not allowed to criticize Johnny Depp, a public figure, and we’re supposed to lay off of him because he has “Indian heritage,” is a “good person,” and doing “good things” for Indian country.

But me, a Cherokee woman going to graduate school so I can give back to Native communities and help more Native students go to college, who puts herself out there for criticism and hate because I dare question how Native people are situated in our society, is not an Indian or even a good person. Why does Johnny get a free pass?

Let me remind you that this is all over TONTO. Tonto. A character that has gone down in history as one of the worst and lasting stereotypes of Native peoples, and continues to affect us today.


I’m not asking you to agree with me, I’m not saying I’m right–when I make mistakes, I own up to them, often. But don’t feel I made a mistake in questioning Johnny Depp or Tonto, I don’t feel my writing about the Lone Ranger makes me any less of an Indian, and I certainly don’t feel I’ve shown “continual disrespect of elders.” But taking this conversation from the words I’ve written to the realm of my family and my identity is not productive, and unnecessarily hurtful.

You can read my entire comment history on the blog, or this post I wrote after halloween last year to see how I’ve constantly noted that I don’t speak for all Indians, and how I constantly reiterate that my Indian experience is unique to me. I try very, very hard in writing Native Appropriations to be real, gracious, and admit when I’m wrong.

I’m constantly told I’m not “Indian enough” to write this blog, which is frustrating, but admittedly comes with putting your thoughts and identity on the internet. I acknowledge that my white privilege has meant that I’ve been given hella opportunities, and am now in a privileged position to be able to sit here and write these ideas. But part of dealing with privilege is working actively to dismantle it. If I didn’t use my strange combination of oppression and privilege to openly question, critique, and start conversations, I’d just be playing into the system that benefits from Native subjugation and white privilege–and that would be something to be concerned about.

I’ve been reading Scott Richard Lyon’s X-marks: Native Signatures of Assent lately, and his thoughts about modern Indian identity, “acculturation,” “assimilation,” and even “nationhood” are fascinating, and have been super empowering to help me theorize and understand these blog-o-sphere interactions. He said, in a blog post about his book:

In my book, I argue for a greater recognition of the actually existing diversity in Native America, and I further posit the suggestion that indige­nous people have the right to move in modern time. That means, first, acknowledging differences that already exist in the Fourth World, and, second, seeing those differences as by-products of modernity, hence nothing to be ashamed of. Native shame is rarely justified. We require a little self-forgiveness for being the people we are, and we should remember that the flip side of forgiveness is a promise. Our ancestors promised that their descendants would be part of the modern world while continuing to maintain that activist sense of community that Jace Weaver has called “communitism.” Sometimes that means adopting new ways of living, thinking, and being that do not necessarily emanate from a traditional cultural source (or, for that matter, “time immemorial”), and sometimes it means appropriating the new and changing it to feel more like the old.

These interactions and comments admittedly made me feel ashamed. I felt ashamed that I had somehow disrespected my community, ashamed that I didn’t know how to defend myself better, ashamed that because of history of my ancestors and policies of the federal government, I ended up growing up away from my community and not being more of a “real Indian” in their eyes.

But instead of feeling ashamed, I’m trying now to turn the tables and think that I, instead, am the colonizer’s worst nightmare. Because history has tried to eradicate my people by violence and force, enacted every assimilating and acculturating policy against my ancestors, let me grow up in white suburbia, and erased all the visual vestiges of heritage from my face–but still tsi tsalagi (I am Cherokee). My ancestors gave their “x-marks”–assents to the new–so that I could be here, fighting back against misrepresentations, through a keyboard and the internet.

So I care about how Native people are represented, and I will fight for our right to be portrayed with accuracy, dignity, and respect. So while “real Indians” might not care about Tonto, I do, and despite what others might think, I’m just about as real as you can get.