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You guys, I don’t really even know how to start this post. Think about how many times I’ve reached out to companies in the history of this blog, how many times I’ve thrown my opinion to the ether and received nothing, or worse, received dismissive, hurtful replies in return. That’s fully what I was expecting when I posted about the Paul Frank “Dream Catchin’ Powwow” on Sunday, especially after the company posted the quick, standard apology on their Facebook page.

So I was surprised, and admittedly skeptical, when I got this email on Wednesday from Elie Dekel, the President of Paul Frank Industries:

Dear Adrienne K,  

My name is Elie Dekel and I am President of Paul Frank Industries LLC. I am writing to see if you would be willing to speak with me regarding the recent Paul Frank event. While we have not yet received your letter [AK note: I only had emailed it to the PR company], we have seen the copy online and would like to address your concerns directly. This is something we take very seriously, and since the event, we have begun to take numerous steps to address this regrettable and unfortunate situation. I’d like to talk with you so I can update you on what we’re doing as well as hear more from you, so we learn from this mistake. If you would be interested in speaking with me, please let me know how best to reach you and when you might be available.  


Elie Dekel

There were some hints in the email that this wasn’t going to be my typical dismissive conversation (they want to learn from their mistake?! They’ve taken steps to address the situation?!), so I was already feeling better about the whole thing going into the call. Mr. Dekel also reached out to Jessica Metcalfe (of Beyond Buckskin), so we decided to have a conference call with the three of us. Unfortunately, Ms. Beyond Buckskin is in Canada for a visit, and her phone was being mean and wouldn’t let her call in. So I talked to Mr. Dekel on my own (but then immediately filled in Jessica afterward, don’t worry). She’s going to be following up with him next week when she’s back home.

The phone call went so much better than I could have even imagined. Elie was gracious, sincere, and kind from the beginning, and truly apologetic. He took full responsibility for the event, and said he wanted to make sure that this was something that never happened again, and wanted to learn more so he could educate his staff and colleagues. We talked about the history of representations of Native people in the US, and I even got into the issues of power and privilege at play–and the whole time, he actually listened, and understood. Such a refreshing experience.

I could go on and on about the call, but enough background, here are the incredible, amazing, mind-boggling action steps that the company has taken and has promised to take in the near future:

  • They have already removed all of the Native inspired designs from their digital/online imprint 
  • The company works off a “Style Guide” that includes all of the digital art for the company, and then separate manufacturing companies license those images and turn them into products. Elie and his staff have gone through the style guide, even into the archives, and removed all of the Native imagery, meaning no future products will be produced with these images.
  • They have sent (or it will be sent today) a letter to all of their manufacturers and partners saying none of this artwork is authorized for use and it has been removed from their business
  • Elie has invited Jessica and I to collaborate with him on a panel about the use of Native imagery in the industry to be held at the International Licensing Merchandisers Association (LIMA) conference in June. This would reach a large and incredibly influential audience all in one place.
and the MOST exciting part:
  • Paul Frank Industries would like to collaborate with a Native artist to make designs, where the proceeds would be donated to a Native cause!
Elie said he wants to learn how this can be done in an appropriate and respectful manner, and that they’re not “looking to profit” from this. On top of it, we’ve set actionable next steps to make all of this happen, and he’s even assigned staff members to stay on it so it doesn’t slip through the cracks. 
I’m seriously still in disbelief–this is beyond a best case scenario. This is taking a relatively isolated event, and bringing it to a history-making level. These interactions with Mr. Dekel and Paul Frank can set the stage and create a model for any company in the future to follow, and by taking steps like the artist collaboration and the conference presentation, we’re reaching far beyond the walls of Paul Frank. 
I often hear push back about the impossibility of pulling images or dealing with manufacturers on a large scale, but this just goes to show that when there is actual interest and dedication by company leadership, amazing things can happen. 
I want to thank all of you who’ve been involved with this since the beginning–this was truly the result of some incredible community mobilization. The outpouring of tweets and facebook comments throughout this all has been what has kept the company accountable and started the ball rolling to make some real and meaningful change. This was all you! 
I also want to thank Elie and the staff at Paul Frank for being proactive with the steps they’ve taken, and for being so sincere on the phone call. I have no doubts that this is going to happen, and it’s going to be done right. I’m also very excited that Jessica and I can bring our two areas of expertise together!
Welcome to 2012 friends, when an incredibly spread-out, incredibly diverse community of  Native people and allies can unite for a cause, and use the internet to hold multi-million dollar companies accountable. I’m so proud to be Native right now. Today is an awesome day. 
Paul Frank offends every Native person on the planet with Fashion Night Out “Dream Catchin’ Pow wow”
Beyond Buckskin: Paul Frank’s Racist Powwow

PS–I also wanted to draw your attention to this letter released by Mr. Paul Frank, who no longer works for Paul Frank Industries. He wants to make sure we all know that he (as a person) had nothing to do with the event.

OMG so much to talk about!

February 10, 2012 — 7 Comments

Hey Guys,
I have been so impressed (saddened? angered?) by all of your “Week in the Life of a Stereotypical Indian” submissions, that I’ve been culling through them all for the last week or so. I promise a post next week breaking it all down–but in order to do that, I’d love some of your reflections about what the experience was like for you. Send me an email, or comment below. Here are some vague guiding questions, but feel free to just tell me how it went, how it felt, etc:

  • What was it like mentally (or otherwise) cataloging all these daily micro-aggressions? Did you talk to anyone about what you were doing? Did it feel empowering? Disheartening? What surprised you about the images you saw? or did you find what you expected?

Moving on, here are some of the other Native stories I’ve been following around the internetz/things I’ve been up to:

  • A 7th grade girl in Wisconsin was suspended for using Menominee language in the classroom. Flashback to government-run boarding schools, anyone? So upsetting. They said she had an “attitude problem” for saying “hello” and “I love you” in her language. Ketapanen, Miranda–we support you!
  • Looks like the “Fighting Sioux” are back–at least temporarily. Expect a longer post about this soon. Residents of ND gathered enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot for the upcoming elections, and that act reversed the law that had forced UND to remove the mascot in the first place. Newsflash: We are not mascots. Mascots are dehumanizing, racist, and wrong. When will it end??
  • I found this blog post from last January that is so bad it reads like a parody. Really. Head over for a whole slew of white women in hipster headdresses. Here’s an excerpt:
Indians (…which i’m sure is not the politically correct thing to call them…but sounds WAY cooler than Native Americans…lol) are the TRUE Americans!  Thanksgiving is one of my least favorite holidays b/c for me it’s a celebration of us basically robbing the Indians blind!  I don’t want to be a negative Nancy…so what I can say is that Indians and their wardrobes are SUPER CHIC!  I want to be a high chief…and have the BIGGEST feather head piece…I would be a GREAT head chief…lol!
ps. I think living in a Tee Pee would be fun!!!  Mine would be hot pink  : )

  • Samantha Crain came to Boston, and I convinced a bunch of my friends to go to her show. It was super awesome, especially since the venue held only 20-30 people, which was great. If you haven’t listened to her stuff, definitely check it out. She’s also happens to be Choctaw from Shawnee, OK (if you were wondering about the Native connection). Here we are in an awkward picture after the show (I’m 5’10 and in heels, she’s probably 5’0(?), so I’m bent in half):
  • Here are some “Navajo” band-aids with “3 Aztec Designs.” From Australia. You’re welcome. 

  • Last, but not least, I’m thinking of making some shirts for the blog (omg, I know, right?). We’ve had a hearty convo over on Facebook and Twitter about ideas, but I wanted to open up the thread here as well. If we were to make some Native Appropriations shirts, what would they look like? What would you want on them?

Thanks, as always, for your support, tips, and “likes”, I am grateful everyday for the amazingness that is the Native Approps community. If you are ever feeling lonely in between posts, I post a lot over on Facebook and Twitter, and would love to have you join the conversation.

Much Love,

Adrienne K.

AK note: Repost from the always fabulous Beyond Buckskin‘s Jessica Metcalfe. If you haven’t seen her blog, I highly recommend it. She blogs about Native fashion and Indigenous designers, and always has insightful and interesting commentary. This is one of her “Designer Profiles”.

Teri Greeves

Teri Greeves grew up on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and began beading when she was eight years old. Since then, she has developed her own style and has become known for beading on unusual surfaces. Her medium of choice, beadwork, represents Native adaptability to new materials because it references the interaction and cultural exchange with Europeans who first introduced trade beads to Native Americans centuries ago.

Eclectic and vibrantly colored, her fully beaded high-top shoes combine contemporary Native realities with traditional oral historical themes, and modernizes the tradition of beading moccasins. Through her work she hopes to educate by sharing the history and values of her people, and to bring beauty into the world in new ways. Although many of Greeves’ pieces are for adornment, essentially, she says, “I bead contemporary Native life.”

Greeves’ Indian Couture book (pictured below) features six powwow outfits and highlights how each small accessory works with the dress to create an overall “look.” The handmade hairpieces, footwear, belts, dresses, pouches and shawls are all made with the finest materials. Through this book, Greeves honors Native women’s contemporary dance and clothing, and shows that these specially-made Indian outfits are couture. She states that changes in Native ‘traditional’ clothing represent living Native cultures, and these garments, which fuse the new with the old, are beautiful representations of survival. Greeves explains that, “In their contemporary, often urban, often educated, often well-traveled way, the women who dance and make outfits today are not only couture, but also the very definition of ‘authentic’ Native America.”

AK commentary: When I worked at the NMAI in DC for a summer, there was a pair of Teri’s high tops in one of the galleries, and it was hands down my favorite piece in the museum. I used to go out of my way to stop by and stare at them. The detail was incredible.

I always love art and other media that creates a juxtaposition between traditional forms and contemporary identity, and Ms. Greeve’s beading does that and more. I love the idea of modern regalia in traditional styles as a representation of survival. Her descriptions of her work are powerful as well:

“I bead contemporary Native life.”

“In their contemporary, often urban, often educated, often well-traveled way, the women who dance and make outfits today are not only couture, but also the very definition of ‘authentic’ Native America.”

Just beautiful. Thank you so much Jessica for posting about her work!

Original post on Beyond Buckskin: