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Fashion’s Night Out is now in its fourth year–an annual night for residents of New York, LA, and other fashionable cities to get dressed up in sky-high heels and totter from retail outlet to retail outlet, pushing through hoards of similarly clad city dwellers attempting to partake in free cocktails and canapes. Stores host “celebrity” appearances–though it seems to be mostly reality stars and folks whose 15 minutes may have faded a few years ago. Overall it’s a fun-filled chance to celebrate fashion and leave a huge mess behind for working class folks to clean up.

Do I sound bitter and jaded about this “fun” and “fashionable” night of joyous revelry? I am. I am, because this year for Fashion’s Night Out, the PR team at Paul Frank in LA decided they would host an event called “Dream Catchin’ with Paul Frank” a “pow wow celebrating Fashion’s Night Out.” The Hollywood Reporter described the event as:

…a neon-Native American powwow theme. Glow-in-the-dark war-painted employees in feather headbands and bow and arrows invited guests to be photographed on a mini-runway holding prop tomahawks.

Jessica Metcalfe at Beyond Buckskin posted the photos of the event last night on her FB page, and I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Just looking at the flyer posted above was enough to send me into a cultural appropriation Hulk rage. How clever, the font of the “Dream Catchin’” looks like teepees! How clever, the Paul Frank monkey is wearing warpaint and a sacred headdress! How clever, we put him in the center of a dream catcher, complete with pony beads and neon feathers!

The Paul Frank Facebook page posted well over 1,000 photos of party-goers posing on their runway with plastic tomahawks and headdresses. After the firestorm of criticism last night (more on that in a minute), all the photos are down off the page as of this morning. But minor internet sleuthing still produces plenty of evidence. Photos like this one:

and this one:

Luckily our friend @bright_moments was able to fix the photos for us:

That’s singer Christina Milian, by the way. Here’s a close-up of the provided “props” for the runway shots:

Headdresses, plastic bows and arrows, plastic neon tomahawks, even some antlers. But it gets even worse. Check out the bar:

here’s a side shot:

First off, that’s a painted cow skull, on a bar. Then the sign says, cheerfully, “Pow Wow and have a drink now!” and the three drinks are labeled “Rain Dance Refresher,” “Dream Catcher,” and “Neon Teepee.” There is absolutely nothing offensive about that set up, at all. Nope. Arghalkshjfbghlsfdh.

Here are a few more assorted pictures from the evening, and Zimbio has a bunch more if you’re curious:

There are so, so many things about this event that are upsetting to me that I don’t even really know where to start. It is such a statement about the state of our society that this event was allowed to go off without a hitch. Think about how many layers of approval these things go through, and not one person at Paul Frank, or in the PR company they hired (Red Light PR), thought this was problematic.

One thing that made me happy about the whole thing was the outpouring of anger and rage by the facebook and twitter community. There were hundreds of comments and tweets in the course of a few hours last night, and there was only one (literally, one) comment I saw that defended the party as “fun” and told commenters to “get over it.” Compared to pretty much every other event or issue I’ve discussed on the blog, that is remarkable. It gives me hope that the word is starting to get out about how seriously effed up the continued misrepresentation and stereotyping of Native people is, and that it is high time for it to change.

One other troubling aspect to these photos is the number of people of color engaged in “playing Indian.” I don’t kid myself to think that these issues are limited to the dynamics of power between white folks and Native folks, but its honestly hard to see people from other marginalized communities jumping on the bandwagon to oppress another group. Definitely a bigger discussion for another time, but just wanted to draw your attention to it.

Without further ado, in typical Native Approps/Adrienne K. fashion (ha, punny), here’s my open letter to the company:

Dear Staff of Paul Frank LA and Red Light PR, 

My name is Adrienne K., I am a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and I write a blog called Native Appropriations. I write about representations of Native people in the media and popular culture, and last night (9/8/2012), photos from your Fashion’s Night Out event “Dream Catchin’ with Paul Frank” were brought to my attention. I am extremely troubled and concerned with many aspects of the event, and I honestly felt like someone had punched me in the stomach when I first loaded the photos posted on your Facebook page.  

To begin, the image of the Paul Frank monkey in “warpaint” and a headdress is incredibly problematic. Headdresses are considered sacred in Native communities and are reserved for the most respected and revered leaders. To place one on the head of a monkey trivializes the sacred and respected nature of the warbonnet, and paints Native people as sub-human. There is an entire painful history of people of color being equated with primates, and images such as this echo to that past. I’ve written an entire post about why wearing “hipster headdresses” is offensive, which can be found here, and breaks down the argument more completely.  

In addition to the monkey imagery, party goers were encouraged to “play Indian” with plastic tomahawks and bows and arrows, resulting in photos of fake “scalping,” “war whooping,” and other extremely hurtful stereotypes. I have also written extensively about the issues surrounding “playing Indian” and dressing up as Native peoples for Halloween and other theme parties. This practice is exactly akin to providing props for party guests to dress in blackface for photos, a practice that I’m sure would not bode well for your brand.  

Powwows in Native communities are social events, but are also spiritual and closely tied to traditional culture. Photos from your event show a sign on the bar reading “Pow wow and have a drink now!” with drinks called “Rain Dance Refresher,” “Dream Catcher,” and “Neon Teepee.” The vast majority of contemporary powwows celebrate sobriety and are very explicit about the prohibition of alcohol and drugs on powwow grounds. To associate the consumption of alcohol with a powwow is disrespectful, especially given the history of alcoholism in our communities.  

There were also many children at the event, and your celebrity appearances were tween Disney stars. As a result, now these children in attendance are being acculturated into thinking that Native peoples are one-sided stereotypes of feathers, warpaint, and weapons, and that playing Indian is perfectly acceptable and fun. My young cousins worship anything to do with these starlets, and I know there are many other young girls who do the same, and that worries me to no end.  

The bottom line is this: your event stereotypes and demeans Native cultures, collapsing hundreds of distinct tribal and cultural groups into one “tribal” mish-mash, thereby erasing our individual identities and contemporary existence. Until 1978 with the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Native peoples could be arrested for practicing traditional spirituality–many aspects of which you mocked in your party theme. While the theme may have seemed “fun” and “playful” to you, to me as a Native person, it just represents our continued invisibility. When society only sees us as the images you presented, it means that our modern issues of poverty don’t exist, nor do our modern efforts like schooling and economic development through sovereignty and nation building. We have sophisticated tribal governments and communities, but how will we be able to be seen as modern, successful people if we are continually represented through plastic tomahawks and feathers?  

You may have mental images of Native people stuck in the historic past, sitting around in tipis and smoking peace pipes, but if last night’s reaction on Twitter and Facebook showed you anything, I hope it showed you that we are contemporary peoples who enjoy fashion and fun, but don’t tolerate when our cultures are stereotyped and sacred aspects are trivialized. We don’t all run around with tomahawks and bows and arrows, or war whoop and say “how.” We do, however, mobilize as a diverse yet connected community through technology, and continue to fight for our living cultures to be celebrated in respectful and meaningful ways. 

While I commend you for taking down the thousands of photos from the Paul Frank facebook page, I encourage you to issue an apology or statement surrounding the event, and let us know how you plan to remedy the situation. Hundreds of Native people and allies responded to the photos last night, and we are all waiting to hear from you.  

Thank you,
Adrienne K. 

UPDATE 9/10:
Mere minutes after my post went up, Paul Frank issued this apology on their Facebook page:

Paul Frank celebrates diversity and is inspired by many rich cultures from around the world. The theme of our Fashion’s Night Out event was in no way meant to disrespect the Native American culture, however due to some comments we have received we are removing all photos from the event and would like to formally and sincerely apologize. Thank you everyone for your feedback and support.

The fact they apologized is good, but clearly it’s the classic “sorry you were offended” rather than “sorry we were offensive” response. They should read this post next time. But baby steps, I guess?

Especially since Ms. Metcalfe at Beyond Buckskin came across these designs last night:

I also emailed my letter to the PR company directly, and have yet to hear a response.

Other coverage of the party:

Beyond Buckskin: Paul Frank’s Racist Powwow
Indian Country Today: Paul Frank Offends with Dream Catchin’ Party
Oh No They Didn’t: Disney Stars (& Others) Attend Paul Frank ‘PowWow’ Mocking Native Americans
Uncle Paulie’s World: Designer Paul Frank’s Technicolor “Dream Catchin’ Pow Wow” Furthers Native American Stereotypes

Sociological Images, one of my favorite blogs and a large inspiration for this here bloggy blog, keeps a running post of “race themed” parties on college campuses. Recently, they re-posted it because there was a big bruhaha in Canada over some boys and girls completely painting themselves black to “honor” a Jamaican sprinter, which you can see in the picture above.

 Visceral reaction, right? We all instantly cringe, and shake our heads, wondering, “what the eff were they thinking?!” Blackface, in our society, is an ultimate taboo. We know it’s wrong, though most folks probably can’t verbalize why other than to shout “THAT’S RACIST!”–More on that in a minute.

In addition to several examples of blackface at campus parties, SocImages also has some examples of students dressing up as stereotypical “Mexicans,” that I’m sure we all can agree are equally offensive:

As I scrolled down the list, however, I couldn’t help but think, “Wait, where are the Cowboy and Indians parties?”

Let’s look at some examples, all pulled from the first page of a google images search for “Cowboys and Indians Party.” These were not hard to find. Most were posted with pride–”look at my sweet-a** costume, bro!” They can’t be found on the websites of CNN or even the local newspaper. There were no bloggers calling for public apologies. In our society, this practice, completely akin to the images above, is accepted, condoned, and normal:

From the poster: “My friend Adam had a Cowboys & Indians themed party on Saturday night. Buddy and I picked up some stuff from Party City and a fabric store and made some pretty sweet Indian gear. The party was a lot of fun and there are more pics up on facebook if you’re interested.”
Caption: “7:40 p.m. There were cowboys and Indians everywhere…”
 (source)
 
 This girl even made a nice collage for us! (/sarcasm)
“The Lambda Chi’s had a cowboy & indian party last night. I had so much fun.”
 (source)
And then my personal favorite…
Which, irony of all ironies, comes from a photo gallery of folks in the peace corps, in Zambia.
So, why is it, that we as a society have deemed it “totes ok” to dress up in redface, but not blackface, or brownface? The explanation is long, and the practice of playing Indian goes all the way back to the Boston Tea Party, where the colonists dressed up as Indians without the benefit of PBR or ironic mustaches. 
According to Philip Deloria, who literally wrote the book on Playing Indian, the colonists used the racial drag as a way to assert their individuality and differentiate themselves from the British, creating a new “American” identity in the process:

“There is this simultaneous embracing of Indians, which allows Americans to  make claims of American identity. But at the same time, in order to make a  real physical nation, they have to dispossess those Indians”

This led to policies of Indian removal in the 1830′s, and the attempts to physically erase and assimilate Indigenous peoples. For “Americans” to lay claim to “their” nation, they had to get rid of the original inhabitants of “their land’. Throughout US history, donning redface has shifted and symbolized any number of movements, from rebellion to peace activism. But “real” Indians are always left out of the narrative. Americans are far too obsessed with their commodified and imagined images of “the Indian” to be concerned with true authenticity.

So how does this compare with blackface? In the words of scholar Kimberly Tallbear, “Black and White became a race binary, while White appropriated Red.”

Scholars and historians argue that blackface was about creating a white identity that existed in contrast to Black slaves, and asserting power over Black Americans by relegating blackness to defined, extremely stereotypical character tropes. This was done through minstral shows, where whites painted their faces with black paint to perform.

Blackface was about creating an identity in opposition (a binary of Black vs White), while playing Indian was about absorbing “Indianness” into a national identity and narrative.

However, playing Indian still relegates Native peoples to stereotypical character tropes. The images above show one “image” of an Indian–the feathers, the fringe, the warpaint, the braids. Indians are sexy maidens, fierce warriors, peace-loving environmentalists, all holding up their hand to say “How.” These characters were solidified through early cinema, where Westerns all seemed to include the helpless Indian maiden and the evil Indian warrior–all played by non-Native actors, of course–and continue through to today (see: oh, every post on this blog).

So, it’s clear there are large similarities between blackface and playing Indian–both are intentional acts that draw upon stereotypes and a racist history to enact whiteness–but our Nation has created a narrative in which blackface=racist, while redface=normal.

Does that make it ok to play Indian or host a cowboys and Indians theme party? Absolutely not. It just goes to show how deeply the erasure of Native peoples runs. Just because our national narrative and history has somehow normalized the phenomenon does not excuse its roots in the process of systematic erasure of the First Peoples from our homelands.

Bottom line: Blackface=dressing up in a stereotypical costume of a race that is not your own, drawing upon a history of racism and inequality. Playing Indian=dressing up in a stereotypical costume of a race that is not your own, drawing upon a history of racism and inequality. Clear enough for you?

Sociological Images: Race-Themed Events at Colleges 
Native News Online: Philip Deloria on Playing Indian
Wikipedia: Blackface
Theodore Allen: On Roediger’s “Wages of Whiteness” 

Earlier:
But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?
Harvard’s Conquistabros and Navajo’s theme party
Playing Indian at Stanford Powwow
When Non-Native Participation in Powwows Goes Terribly Wrong


Editorial Note: I know I’ve extremely over-simplified a lot of this, and I don’t purport to be an expert in the history of blackface or playing Indian, so please, feel free to disagree or point to other resources in the comments!

Oh Spirit Hoods.

July 9, 2011 — 35 Comments

Oh Spirit Hoods. One of those fashion trends that makes me pause, cock my head, and say “really??” If you’re unfamiliar (meaning you’re not one of the 15,000+ people who “like” the brand on facebook), Spirit Hoods are furry animal hat/scarf combos that are all the rage with tweens, celebs, and hipsters alike. I’ve gotten a few tips recently about the company, particularly their use of the tag-line “join the tribe”:


http://spirithoods.com/about-2/

At first, I was annoyed by the tag line, but found the whole concept of wearing an disembodied stuffed animal on your head so ridiculous, figured it wasn’t worth the fight. They also don’t focus solely on what I would call the stereotypical mystical, Native animals (wolves, bears, deer, buffalo, owls, etc), they have pandas, leopards, and lions as well. But then, I started exploring their site further, and I got a tip about their new “Navajo wolves” line. And boy did I change my mind.
 

The “Navajo Wolves” collection are the wolf hoods, lined in Pendleton-style fabric.

For each “animal” they provide a description of what the “animal spirit” represents–traits and characteristics that the wearer will somehow embody. And the accompanying description for the “Navajo Black Wolf” is just fantastic:

Black Wolf-Navajo
Mysterious » Shapeshifter » Beauty

The black Wolf spirit has unmatched ferocity, cunning, stealth, confidence, and loyalty. They howl at the moon and are great communicators with a strong appreciation of music. This animal spirit feels at home within order and chaos. Often a teacher or dancer with keen senses, these warrior spirits will also defend their ground. The Black Wolf is in touch with lunar influences and the shadow within. This healer brings the magical spirit-medicine.

Deep breath. Ready? Let’s looks at this critically. How many stereotypical “Indian” traits can we fit into a short paragraph? So apparently Navajos are described by the terms “mysterious, shapeshifter, beauty”–because we’re all like twilight and turn into wolves. Though, it’s an interesting reference to skinwalkers too (f you want to be scared s***less, have a Navajo tell you some of those stories. ::shudder::). Then we’ve got the “warrior spirit” and “brings the magical spirit-medicine”–basically every line of this description reads like a bad Indian fantasy novel. We’ve got the warrior stereotype, the connected with nature and the environment stereotype, the wise teacher stereotype, the mystical healer stereotype, the musical stereotype…on and on and on. “But,” you may be saying, “it’s about a wolf, not an Indian, you silly blogger-woman!” I think it’s fairly obvious the connection they’re trying to make with the Pendleton fabric and calling the darn thing a “NAVAJO” wolf.

So, a few brave Native Approps readers took the issue head-on over at “Kingdom of Style”. Look for the comments by “Mea.” The fascinating part comes from a comment by the Co-Founder of Spirit Hoods–this is the philosophy of the company, straight from the horse’s mouth. Another deep breath may be necessary, and try to read past all of the misspellings and grammar errors:

This is a good topic for discussion, and in fact we at SpiritHoods have taken a lot into consideration when it comes to Native American culture. In no way are we trying to demean or prostitute Native American’s, in fact their way of life has been so inspiring to us that it has forced us to evaluate our lives and everything we do within it. For instance us four owners went to a traditional native American sweat lodge out here in California together. If anything we are inspired by native culture and their respect for the land and it’s animals, but not just Native American’s, native’s all over the world.
The animal headdress is seen in many cultures, Alaskan natives, American natives, South American natives, African natives etc. The Spirit of the animal and our connection to it is seen in cultures all over the world and we believe it is innate within us. Hence the importance of Product Blue and why we give back to non-profits that help in the rehabilitation of these animals.
Native American’s see this duality and the importance of our co-existence and protecting it. If anything we are trying to help perpetuate that.
We try our very best to respect all people and cultures in everything we do, we are inspired by their designs, their philosophies and what we want to do with SpiritHoods is embrace self expression with a foundation of giving back.
If your interested in more about this topic here is a good read:

http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2010/04/13/american-indian-is-in/
and check out out http://www.spirithoods.com/problue/ to learn more about how we support the animals
Alexander Mendeluk

CO-Founder/Director of Design&PRSpiritHoods www.spirithoods.com/problue

Wow, thank you, Alexander for telling all of us what exactly Native Americans (all of the millions of us) think! and thank you for realizing that there is only one “Native American culture” and that we are all exactly the same! and thank you  for finding our way of life (since we only have one!) “inspiring”–since marginalization, colonization, and ongoing poverty are awesome, right? and thank you for going to a “traditional Native American sweat lodge” so you now have the first-hand experience and knowledge to speak for all of us! and finally, thank you for considering the animals first. I’m glad to know your “foundation of giving back” doesn’t extend to the people that your product is so clearly “inspired by”–that would be silly!

Dripping sarcasm aside, I love the irony of him linking the SocImages post that’s a summary of my blog. Talk about missing the point.

Honestly though, it’s a hard line, because clearly Alexander and Spirit Hoods don’t think they’re being offensive. They truly believe that going to a “traditional Native American sweat lodge” is enough to force them “to evaluate our lives and everything we do within it,” they truly think they are showing respect to Native peoples and cultures. 


So how do we go about addressing something as deep as this? That’s a struggle I have with many of these examples–if the owners read this, they are going to get defensive and dismissive, and not actually think deeply about what effects their actions are having on the collective American consciousness about Native peoples. Especially when their products are making them hella cash (each retails for $150) and are all the rage–what motivation do they have to change? So if we can’t change the company, let’s change from the ground up: Don’t buy from Spirit Hoods, because they promote the stereotyping of Native peoples, the appropriation of our tribal names and traditions, encourage the problematic practice of “playing Indian”, and the company philosophy is based off of a harmful romanticized vision of Native cultures. 

Spirit Hoods Official Website: http://spirithoods.com/
Kingdom of Style: The Night Owl



(Thanks Jackie, DC, Christi, Alyss, and the others who sent this in!)

Last year about this time, I posted about some local high school girls who decided to dress up and play Indian at Stanford’s powwow. The post caused a huge ruckus, I ended up getting “legal threats” from the girls’ parents, and a lot of people hated me for a minute. But since the internet has a memory of about 2 weeks, if that, it blew over and everyone forgot. But being the person that I am, I’m stirring the pot again, and have a couple of offenders from this year’s powwow.

First we’ve got the guy above, all decked out in his floor length chicken feather headdress, warpaint, and a serape (equally opportunity appropriator–pulling in the south of the border Indigenous peoples). Spotted Friday night by a couple of the undergrads, and gladly posed for a picture with them.

Then this girl, taken on my cell phone, so much of the effect is lost. But she had multi-colored feathers in her hair and warpaint on her face, and right before I snapped the picture, was war whooping (hand over mouth, other hand in the air) to her friend across the way (who was also wearing feathers and paint). There were a couple more I spotted, especially out in the dance circle during inter-tribals (where everyone, including spectators, is invited to dance), including a guy wearing a poncho/serape with a cowboy hat, and beating a hand-drum, and another guy with an entire coyote or puma or something (very dead) draped over his back.

In the grand scheme of powwows, Stanford powwow tends to have a lower ratio of wannabes “liberally interpreting” Indianess (i.e. creating an image of what they think an Indian is based off things they read on the internet and supplies they can find at a craft shop) than some powwow’s I’ve been to, but it still makes me angry.

I still don’t know why people think it’s ok to don feathers and warpaint and come to a Native community cultural event. I still maintain that it would be exactly the same as donning blackface and wandering into a Black community event. These people are dressing up as a race other than their own, based off of egregious and racist stereotypes from hollywood and other forms of pop culture. All they have to do is look out in the powwow dance circle to see that they look nothing like “real” Indians. But the American narrative of “playing Indian” is so ingrained, people don’t seem to see it as taboo, the way blackface remains today.

The other big trend that everyone was sporting were these (really unattractive) feather hair-clips, which unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of, but they were kinda like this:

(if you really like it, you can buy it here for $9.50. Or you could go for a walk in the woods for the feathers and pick up some string and plastic beads and make it for less than a buck…if you like the look of dirty woodland feathers and cheap twine in your hair.)

The vendor booth of people who were selling them was overflowing the whole weekend. They came in a bunch of colors, and had more feathers and were (if you can believe it) more unattractive.

The feather clips don’t inherently bother me, much like these feather hair extensions that are all the rage right now don’t bother me as-is, but it’s the whole aesthetic that the powwow goers were buying into that bothers me. I can bet you anything that those people would not have been nearly as interested in the feather clips if they were at the Stanford Mall instead of the Stanford Powwow. They see it as a “safe” way of playing Indian–though most of them would say “oh, it was just pretty!”–I think it really runs a lot deeper than that.

So, clearly, the idea of dressing up as an Indian at a powwow is still alive and well. Excuse me, I think I’m going to go put on my blonde wig and pearls and go crash a WASP-y cocktail party. What? It doesn’t work that way? ::shakes fist:: Damn you, white privilege!!!

and for a more detailed look at why wearing a headdress is wrong: But why can’t I wear a hipster headdress? 

Earlier: When non-Native Participation in Powwows Goes Terribly Wrong

(image via Boston.com)

Well, it’s official. The hipster headdress has gone British. Last week was the Glastonbury music festival in the UK, a huge music spectacular not unlike Coachella, or The Bamboozle, or Sasquatch! or Lightning in a Bottle here in the US. Boston.com posted an image of festival goers sporting the (no-longer) edgy hipster headdress, maddening, but pretty unsurprising, actually. It was only a matter of time.

However, not to be out done by their former subjects across the pond, these British hipsters took playing Indian to a whole new level. Observe the “tents” at this year’s festival:

Yeah. Those are tipis. A whole lot of tipis. So while you’re wasted, or high on something or another, gallivanting through the fields and communing with nature while rockin’ out, you can “authenticate” your wild-man experience by coming back to your tipi–living like the original bad asses, those Indians who didn’t give a damn, no rules, no “civilization”, just one with life, man.

Snarky imaginative narrative aside, there is a really interesting dynamic of playing Indian in countries other than the US/Canada–there are “powwow” communities, especially in Germany, where participants make painstakingly “authentic” regalia, sing in drum groups, etc. That’s a whole post in itself, but it raises the question of how these actions are perceived and interpreted in a country without Native Americans, lacking both the genocidal history or contemporary culture to provide context and understanding of their actions.

Not that people in the US, even with that context, have some greater understanding (or my blog wouldn’t exist!), but it reminds me of the incident a few months ago when Harry Connick Jr was a guest judge on a show in Austrailia, and participants came out in blackface to perform Michael Jackson:

As an American, Connick Jr. was offended, and rightfully so. However, the Australian community shared no such outrage, because wearing blackface has no history in their country. There was a lot of back and forth debate, and there are any number of similar examples, but it goes to show that history and context is key in the understanding of racist actions.

Does it make it ok? absolutely not. Just like I’m not ok with british headdress wearers or a tipi village at a music festival overseas. Perpetuating stereotypes and erasing the current presence of Native people is never excusable in my book, even if it occurs thousands of miles away.

Boston.com Glastonbury slideshow: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/06/glastonbury_festival_2010.html

Earlier:

Educating Non-Natives at Lightning in a Bottle: http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/06/educating-non-natives-at-lightning-in.html

But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?: http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/04/but-why-cant-i-wear-hipster-headdress.html

The Hipster Headdress Abounds at Coachella: http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/04/hipster-headdress-abounds-at-coachella.html

Headdresses and Music Festivals go together like PB and…Racism?: http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/06/headdresses-and-music-festivals-go.html

(Thanks to Stephen from Drawing on Indians, who sent me the pics. He did a great post on the topic as well, which can be found here.)

My friend Katie is currently in her first year of teaching 4th grade on the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota (go Katie!), and she sent me a scanned copy of this ridiculous book that was in her classroom library. I’ll let her give the context:

“I finally started going through my classroom’s library and was pretty appalled to find this book (along with the typical Indian the Cupboard and Little House on the Prairie-esque books).  I teach 4th grade on the Rosebud Reservation; 100% of my students are Lakota.  The book purports to give a history of Native Americans and a guide to Native crafts, but what it ends up being is a veritable handbook for white kids to “play Indian.”  All the photos are of white kids dressed up as Indians!  I can’t find one picture (other than the historical ones, of course) of a Native American child.  Even more disturbingly, the descriptions make it sound as if these white kids are authentic representations of Indian clothing, etc. The worst thing is that this book is (now was, ugh) in the library of a classroom full of Lakota children.  It’s like hey kids, these pictures of white kids can teach you how to be Indian better than your own people!”

After the jump, scanned selections of the book. Prepare yourself, it’s pretty bad. (All images can be clicked for a bigger version)

First thing of note: the title page says “Consultant: Anne Armitage, BA–The American Museum in Britain. So, there weren’t any qualified “consultants” who were actually Native? or I don’t know, maybe in AMERICA? Also, this is published by Scholastic–usually a well known and trusted name in children’s books. 
This page talks about “Indian clothing”. Everything is in past tense (as is the whole book), and it has instructions on how to make a “war bonnet” along with a historic photograph. 
“Hairstyles were important ways to look different but still fit in with tribal traditions. Some groups smeared their hair with mud and sculpted it into different shapes.” Um, really? 
The descriptions of the tribes (not to mention the accompanying images) make me so upset. The past tense and historic descriptions would leave any child thinking there was no way a Nez Perce, Chumash, Tlingit, or Navajo person still lived today. 

Katie pointed out that the caption with the boy reads: “Plains warriors carried spears and hide shield and wore elaborate headdresses for ceremonial occasions”, implying that he IS a “plains warrior”.

More tribal descriptions–the description of the seminole is especially interesting. It’s mostly about North American settlers and influence rather than the tribe. 
look at the boy’s stance. Sitting “Indian style”.
A couple of things: I like the fact the “Plains Warrior” and the “Seminole” are playing stickball–complete disregard for regionality of the game. Also, the one reference to traditions continuing today mentions that a form of this game is still played today “called lacrosse.” Not that tribes still play the traditional form, which they do. 
“Early European Explorers and settlers tried to write down the sounds of Indian words, but some could not accurately be conveyed using our alphabet.”
The caption reads “a sioux boy and a nez perce girl would have been able to speak to each other using sign language”. 
So, overall, I’m a bit at a loss for words. I can’t believe scholastic decided this was a great book to promote “hands on learning,” and that someone decided this was a good book to put in a 4th grade reservation classroom. I mean, this is straight up, by definition cultural appropriation. 
I also just googled the book, and found it on a few “recommended book” lists for teachers (gross), and found that there is an entire series of books that teach kids how to “play history”: Egypt, Rome, Stone Age…and American Indians (completely the same, right?). It appears to be still in print. 
Another example of placing Natives in the historic past, of melding of hundreds of distinct tribal traditions, of playing Indian, of not allowing Indians to be “experts” on ourselves, the “otherization” of American Indians…and about every other issue I’ve dealt with on this blog. So frustrating. 
Major kudos to Katie for cleaning out her classroom library, her students are lucky to have her. 
(Thanks Katie!)