Ecko’s "Weekend Warrior" Line and Headdressed Skulls Everywhere

July 26, 2012 — 21 Comments

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: 

Adrienne K.

Posts

  • http://www.facebook.com/cat.winterfox Cat Winterfox

    I absolutely agree with your points, but here’s what I think the makers of these shirts are actually thinking: skulls are cool, headdresses are cool, let’s put them together! I love skulls in design, so at first glance, I find these lovely. Then a second later the ick sets in. I doubt most hipster designers are getting past the skull + headdress equation to realize they’ve depicted a dead Indian. Which is maddening, because it’s a damned short leap.

    • Rjlatrans13

      Yeah, my first reaction was more ‘Oh are you serious? Don’t they realize how many levels of offensive that could be?’ buuut I’m a English major who has pretty much been trained to see subtext before text as a super power.

      I do agree that it is probably cool + cool thing for the designers, but arrrgh. Why does no one do any research anymore?

      • Pspooner282

        Research? More like why doesn’t anyone think about what they put out there?

  • http://www.davidshorter.com/ David Shorter

    What’s also strange to me is that they’re ripping off the design that Native Threads has been selling for years! Yes, that “native owned” company.

    http://www.nativethreads.com/

  • shantique

    I’ve been seeing the same trend for months now and the anger never really subsides in me. Each new t-shirt design with a skull and headdress just re-ignites a flame in me. I actually wrote a blog about it as well (mine is shorter with more swears haha http://averyrudegirl.blogspot.ca/2012/05/dreamcatcher-nightmare.html )
    Thank you for saying what I want to say, but in a much more professional way
    P.S I email manufacturers and complain anytime I see these types of designs on their website. I will also start including a link to your blog.

  • Blisslet

    Great post, as usual.

  • The Senses

    I’m so fed up with fashion trends that continue to perpetuate such ignorance. Thank you for continuing to put your perspective out here for others to hopefully be influenced by.

  • Josie

    Great post. -Was this at the Tulalip outlet in Marysville? If so, I saw it yesterday as well. You’d also be interested to know that the store is located on a reservation.

    • Saracgepp

      That is so sick. Wow.

  • Becky

    I like the idea of honouring our first nations by depicting real modern-day or past heros- counter the stereotypes with a little truth. As a Canadian, I owe a great deal to FN heros who fought as our allies during the American Revolution and the War of 1812 (no offence to anyone south of the border). A few names knocking around in my memory, but now I’ve got to go do some research to make sure I get my facts straight. Always enjoy your posts Adrienne!

  • Saracgepp

    Considering that Native Americans are the most targeted group for hate crimes, this is simply unacceptable.

    • roisindubh211

      Sorry, where did this come from? Most often appropriated from, yes, totally. You need to back the “most targeted group for hate crimes” up with some numbers.

  • C. D. Leavitt

    To put it in the genocidal context it deserves:

    Imagine a German company making t-shirts featuring skulls wearing yarmulkes.

    Now tell me what an honor that is.

  • M. Specialfxlady

    This is just… ugh, tacky on so many levels. WTF.

  • Ruby

    Wow, I had honestly not even realized it was Ecko doing this – I saw it at the mall and immediately winced and turned away as I was walking, dismissing the retailer and their goods.

  • Luis
  • Gday3487

    Just sent you a quick e-mail, but I wanted to share this image here on the blog. Strange how right after you wrote up on this skull image, another one pops up almost immdiately. I’ve found myself in a bit of a crossroads, I am a long time proud Grateful Dead Head (Happy Bday Jerry!!) but also a member of the Ho Chunk Nation, and am distressed by the thinking that could inspire such an image. Check out the link here…..

    http://weslang.blogspot.com/

  • JA

    I feel the same way about these companies thoughtlessly exploiting my European heritage. Skulls with crowns are totally unacceptable. Also, the crowns at Burger King.

    • Chris

      When your culture is a subject for genocide your argument will make sense.

  • Nita’peskw

    Hmm, as a military spouse the equivalent image would be a skull in camouflage, with dog tags, and the tag line Party your face off… Given the recent anniversary of Hiroshima … I don’t think anyone would say that it honours our military men and women.

  • Zvillegas8

    I find this topic odd. In many cultures the skull signifies rebirth or continued life. It definitely means that in the Aztec culture.