Archives For activism


My trusty macbook, where I’ve written nearly every post on the blog

This morning my brain woke me up wide awake at 5am, just opened my eyes, ready to go, like this were a normal and everyday experience. The reality is quite the opposite–most mornings I hit snooze more than I care to admit. My brain was whirring from the moment I blinked awake, and I decided to put to paper some of the things I’ve been working on in my head. I’ve been feeling in a very contemplative mood the last few days, maybe brought on by my recent trip to Stanford (my alma mater), where I did a talk at the Native house and followed around one of my awesome dissertation study kiddos. It was a great trip, despite the fact that I came down with a terrible cold, and it was amazing and strange to realize how much and how little has changed in the five years since I’ve graduated. The students there are so incredible, and I admittedly felt extremely self conscious to be heralded almost a hometown hero upon my arrival, interviewed by the new activist blog on campus, given a special shout out at the Stanford American Indian Organization meeting, met with whispers when I walked into the Native center. I am so grateful and still often shake my head in disbelief at the journey Native Appropriations has taken me on in the past three years, and I felt like it was time to reflect and share the origin story of the blog, the path it has taken, and where I hope it will go in the future. Continue Reading…

Yesterday morning I walked into my 7:15 am “Total Body Workout” class at the gym, laughing and joking with my friend. As I turned to get my hand weights and mat, my gaze fell upon a girl in the class…wearing this shirt.

I sighed and wrinkled my nose, but turned back to my friend to continue our conversation. A few minutes before class started, my friend whispered “Did you see her shirt?! Wasn’t that on your blog?” I nodded in response.

As class went on, in between sweating through sit ups and lunges, I kept catching her reflection in the mirror behind me. Each time sent a twinge through my stomach, a quick moment of discomfort and unease. I wanted to say something. I wanted to tell her how I was feeling. But the problem was, even in rehearsals in my head, I couldn’t think of how to go about talking to her about the shirt.

 In the grand scheme of images on this blog, this particular shirt isn’t that bad. I mean, I can easily sit here and tear it apart–how it represents a stereotype, how the cartoon-izing (I think I just made that word up) of the headdress takes away from it’s sacredness and power, commodifying it and making it into a mass consumer good, how the blank, empty space where a head/face should be is representative of decontextualizing the headdress and separating it from the people and places where it belongs…but anyway, it’s not an image of an Indian holding aloft a beer bong, or a severed Indian head, or any number of other blatantly racist images. She wasn’t wearing a headdress. She was wearing a shirt that she probably bought at Urban Outfitters without a second thought.

But, as I’ve talked about so many times before, these seemingly benign images have just as much power to create and perpetuate negative stereotypes as the blatantly racist ones. Because of all these images she’s seen and encountered in her life, she probably never would have thought that the dark haired girl struggling with push ups in front of her was a Native person who might take offense to her shirt.

So, you’re probably wondering, what did I say? What did I do?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Even I, who day after day on this blog can spout the reasons why continued cultural appropriation and misrepresentations of our communities are wrong and harmful, couldn’t find the right words to tell an undergrad why her shirt is hurtful to me. 

Not that I’m always silent. I once made a Harvard student in an Indian costume at a local pizza place almost cry when I confronted him, and another time at a football tailgate I physically ripped a headdress off a huge guy’s head and stomped on it in the mud, after he wouldn’t take it off when I asked nicely (That technique is NOT recommended).

But it’s often the daily encounters, the seemingly minor interactions, images, and subtle messages that give me pause. Do I call out every classmate that substitutes the word “powwow” for “meeting”? Do I rip down every indie band poster advertising their latest gig with an image of an Indian? Do I tell the girl in the headdress shirt at my gym class that her shirt hurts me?

Some days I do, some days I don’t–or I can’t, or I won’t–it’s a combination. Because this work gets tiring. It’s a never ending battle, and some days I’m too tired to fight.

My friend’s solution? She thinks I should make up business cards with my blog address on it, so I can just hand one to the offender and say something like “I think you should check out this blog, it might give you a reason to rethink your shirt choice.”

So I’m curious–since I don’t purport to have all the answers, I’ll turn it over to you, readers. Do you have any techniques for dealing with these daily interactions? Do you have a way of approaching someone that cuts defensiveness and allows for your voice to be heard? Stories of encounters with hipster headdresses?

I do have a few techniques I fall back on, but I think it’s time we have a step-by-step “how to” guide for dealing with these incidents. So let’s generate some thoughts, and I’ll compile it all together.

Next time, Girl with the Headdress Shirt, I’ll be ready.

Dartmouth Native Vigilantes?

February 24, 2010 — 1 Comment
(image via
Last night several of these anonymous signs were posted around the campus of Dartmouth College on the lawns of greek organizations and in front of administration buildings. The text on the sign above, posted at the Psi Upsilon house, reads:

Dear Brothers of Psi U,

You have been charged with representing your brotherhood to Dartmouth as racist and insensitive. Your use of the Dartmouth Indian, which is a caricature of racist stereotypes, as well as the objectification of women on your other shirt send a message to campus that you as an organization are actively disrespecting the feelings of your peers. We are holding you accountable for your actions.

It is time you start doing the same. 

I’ll admit that I’m not well versed in the intimate details of the ongoing issues surrounding the Indian mascot at Dartmouth, but I know that it has been a nearly constant struggle for Native students on campus fighting against generations of alumni who support and continue to use the mascot image. In addition to the mascot issues, there have been a series of serious incidents through the years directly targeting or affecting the Native community. Inside Higher Ed published an article in 2006 about some of the incidents, and can be found here.  I can only imagine, given the statement above, that the brothers of Psi U produced some sort of shirt using the mascot.

The Ivygate blog seems to think that these vigilantes are “anti-greek”, but I think it’s pretty obvious that’s not the case, and that there are bigger issues at play here. In addition to the sign above, they also covered the porch of the house with ladies underwear and the words “this won’t just go away”. While the blog speculates this is a reference to sexual harassment, commenter “vigilante” sets the record straight:

The panties are not anti-sexual-assault or even feminist (god forbid), but rather refer to a Psi U’s response to concerns about the Dartmouth Indian tshirts about people getting their “panties in a twist” and saying the situation will just “go away” if they don’t address it.

The people behind the signs aren’t anti-Greek by any means, just looking to revive dialogue about some recent actions by various organizations that come across as racist/sexist/generally insensitive. These things are consistently dismissed and swept under the rug, so the signs sought to give voice to those who were affected, offended by, and/or silenced by such actions. Accountability and respect of others in the community are the main goals, but at the very least we hope people will start actually talking about these issues rather than blowing them off as usual.

I think this is definitely a voice that needs to be heard, and that the Dartmouth administration’s track record of not taking action on issues affecting the Native community and communities of color in general is inexcusable. I hope that these “vigilantes” use this as momentum to keep the movement going and make their voices heard.

I know I’ve got a few readers from up that way, if anyone wants to give me more information, or wants to write a post about the issues facing Native students on campus, especially surrounding the continued use of the mascot, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I am perfectly happy to keep you anonymous.

Dartmouth Apologizes for Indian Incidents–Inside Higher Ed (2006):

Anonymous Vigilantes Attack Dartmouth Frats with Manifestos, Women’s Underwear–Ivygate Blog: 

(Thanks Scott!)

Ilka Hartmann Photography

February 8, 2010 — 1 Comment

I was pointed to this link via Julia on Twitter (thanks!), and I absolutely love Hartmann’s images. She has a large collection of photos on her site, not just of Natives, but I think her most striking images are the ones of urban Indians and AIM leaders from the 1970′s and early 80′s. I also love that most of the images are from the Bay Area, the place that I called home for the last 6 years–though it does make me a little homesick.

After the jump, more photos and a short video of Hartmann talking about her exhibition in SF which included images from the Alcatraz occupation, AIM events, and the longest walk 1978 (I also included links at the bottom for more information about the history behind the images).

This is the video of Hartmann walking us through her photos, highlighting some of the major events in AIM history that she documented. It’s actually really cool to hear her talk about the images, the context, and her relationships with the subjects, it makes them even more powerful.

More pictures:

Philipp Deere, Medicine Conference,
Intertribal Friendship House, Oakland, CA, 1979

Dance Class
Intertribal Friendship House, Oakland, CA

Baby Boy
Intertribal Friendship House, Oakland, CA

In addition to the urban Indian photos, I was drawn to the images from a sunrise ceremony on Alcatraz before the Longest Walk (more info on that here), because they remind me of the ceremony we attended every year on Alcatraz in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day. It adds a whole new layer of meaning and a stronger feeling of solidarity to the event.

What I like most is that the images offer counter-narratives to many of the commonly held stereotypes about Natives, and give some insight into the often forgotten community of urban Indians, as well as the often overlooked Indian involvement in the civil rights movement. With such simple photographs Hartmann manages to capture so much emotion and history. Her work is very refreshing after the hundreds of negative images and stereotypes we see everyday.  

Definitely go check out her site, and please note that all images I posted are (c) Ilka Hartmann and can be found at:

Ilka Hartmann Photography:

History of the AIM movement:

Alcatraz occupation information:

(Thanks Julia!)