Photo on 2013-10-08 at 20.30 #2

As part of my Halloween series, I’d like to try something a little different. The last couple of days, my 2011 post, “Open Letter to the Pocahotties and Indian Warriors this Halloween,” has started to make the rounds again. The first time I posted it, it caused such a firestorm I had to shut down comments (after it hit something like 500), and I even had to write a follow up post clarifying and confronting some of my own hesitancies with the post. I read it now, two years later, and my reaction is a little different–I stand by my words, and am still very confused as to how this particular post still stirs so much vitrol and hate toward me as a person. It’s started up again, which apparently is now an annual tradition. Here are a couple of the more benign samples from twitter–I actually got called the c-word by one troll today over the post–if you’re interested.

So I thought I’d re-post the original letter, with some annotations and commentary, and let’s figure out together what it is about my language that causes white folks to get real, real mad and defensive, shall we? Yes, I guess I’m performing a rhetorical analysis, on myself. I’m writing a dissertation right now, remember? I’m in crazy academic mode and I can’t get out. Original post in block quotes, thoughts below each.

 

Dear Person that decided to dress up as an Indian for Halloween,

Ok, pretty basic start. Notice it doesn’t say “white person,” it doesn’t say “racist person,” just person.

Continue Reading…

Spirit Halloween Tonto

It’s that time of year again! Halloween. Time for folks to grab the nearest Indian costume off a shelf, put it on, and prance around a costume party as they get schwasty on witches brew. Or even better, for parents to grab an *adorable* little Indian outfit to socialize their child super early into an oppressive system that benefits from the genocide and ongoing colonialism of Native peoples. But the excellent thing about this time of year, besides the fact that it will be over in a month? No, not pumpkin spice lattes…

The fact that I’ve already covered this issue so. many. times. And many different angles. So I was going to write another piece, mostly about that hideous Tonto costume above, which is about 8 feet tall in the window of my local Spirit store, but I’m over it. The bottom line is this: Don’t dress up like an Indian for Halloween. No, Pocahontas and Tonto aren’t ok because they’re “fictional” and/or “historic” “characters”–they’re based off tired stereotypes that continue to marginalize Native peoples. No, you can’t wear your Boy Scout Order of the Arrow regalia, even if a “real Indian” taught you how to make it. It’s not respectful to wear it as a costume, and I’ll argue that it’s not respectful for you to wear it ever, but that’s another post. No, the fact that you have a distant Indian ancestor does not make it ok for you to wear a $19.99 costume shop monstrosity. Especially if he/she was “Cherokee.” Our traditional clothing looks nothing like that. No, this is not the result of “PC culture” gone awry. This is about basic human decency and respect. My culture is not a costume. There are 566+ tribes in the US alone. We don’t wear skimpy dresses, fake buckskin, pony beads, and neon feathers. No, it’s also not ok to dress as a “Mexican” with a sombrero and a mustache. Or a Geisha. Or a “phat pimp.” Or a “phat rapper.” Just stay away from the racialized costumes. It’s pretty simple. There are like ten-thousand-million other things for you to dress up as. Any other objections?

So, for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be re-posting my Halloween posts from the last few years, because the argument is still the same, and will forever be the same. First up, from 10/27/2011:

Halloween Costume Shopping: A sampling of the racism for sale 

Update 10/1/13: All the links still work, so all these costumes are still available for purchase. But interestingly, the descriptions have changed. So I’ve updated each of the descriptors with the new one from this year for comparison. In my opinion, it doesn’t make the costume any better, but it is noteworthy that they’ve toned down the blatant racism and misogyny. Not completely, but a bit. 

 

After my open letter yesterday, I feel like some people still aren’t getting it (maybe it was the 100+ comments telling me to eff off?). Despite my appeals to emotion and greater human decency, it seems that many people in the world of thar’ intranets need some more physical reminders as to why dressing like a Native person this Halloween might be a problem. So I, dear random-probably-racist-internet-not-friend, am happy to oblige. Because, as a person of color, that’s my job, right? To prove to you that racism exists? To teach you why these things are wrong? To offer evidence of such wrong-doings? What fun it must be to never have to worry about such things! What a privilege!

To state my case, I wandered to the Spirit Halloween website. I did a simple one word search: Indian. I got 56 results, all Native-themed. I chose a few at random to share with you below. Hooray!

Continue Reading…

 

Ian phone

See that picture above? That’s what Ian Campeau of A Tribe Called Red sees when he searches for the word “RedSk*n” (without the asterisk) in the Canadian iphone app store. I’ve been searching online to see if there was any announcement accompanying this change, any statement about why or how this happened or who was responsible, and I’ve got nothing. But I hope we can agree that this is HUGE. It might seem like something minor or purely symbolic, but this is Apple we’re talking about.

Continue Reading…

WMC

Hi Friends,

I’m so incredibly humbled and honored to let y’all know that I was nominated for the 2013 Women’s Media Center Social Media Award, along with eight other amazing women doing work in social justice, feminism, media, and more. Looking at the list, I’m so excited to be considered in the same league as these folks!

When I got the email that I was nominated, I was sitting in my room, stressing about my dissertation…and then went like this:

herman-cain-creepy-smileand then:
minion happy

I’ve alluded to it a bunch of times in posts and such, but I get kinda uncomfortable with the whole “fame” aspect of the blog–it’s still super weird to me that anyone wants to read what I have to say, and (to me) my ideas aren’t super novel, I’m just re-packaging what hundreds of Native activists and allies have said before me, building on a long history of fighting to be represented in true and respectful ways. But I love being able to harness the power of social media to create change, and have loved the amazing community that has developed out of this work. I couldn’t do it without all of you!

So if you wanna vote for me or any of the other incredible women nominated:

Vote here! 

Wado (thanks), as always,

Adrienne

 

nicholas K 1

What’s up, Nicholas K? I’m Adrienne K. Nice to meet you. Maybe we’re related??? That’s a joke. We’re not related, because if you were in my family, you would know that putting models down the runway in Native American inspired headdresses is NOT OKAY. Here’s what I’m talking about (plenty more here):

nicholask_ss2014_1011_w427_h640

Nichols K 2

So, you know, I saw the pictures a couple of days ago and was thinking, “Ok, this is BS. But, in the grand scheme of all the ish I deal with, this might not be the worst. So maybe I’ll just try and look the other way and skip on my merry way…” and then I read this write up about your show in the NYU news. Then I was like “Aw helllll no.”

Picture the urban landscape of pre-Columbus America: quite a paradox but easily captured by Nicholas K in their Spring/Summer 2014 collection at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. A trance-like track of synth bass was combined with soothing chants to create a modern tribal music that seemed thematically fitting. While still staying true to their bold use of draping, layering, and neutral tones, Nicholas K suggested a new perspective to the term ‘urban chic’ by taking us back a few years.

Garbed in subtly Native American-inspired headdresses, the models displayed the palettes of sand t-shirts, antler booties, smoke sweaters, and onyx shorts. These earthy colors further accentuated the collection’s oneness with nature captured best by an interpretation of Native American culture. While the use of chunky tribal prints was occasionally seen peeking through a granite hoody or displaying prominently on a cascading jacket, the menswear pattern of oversized plaid did not detracted from the feminine earthiness of the collection.

A nod to last spring’s color-blocking, outer pockets made their way into this spring’s collection on male models in mica and grey tones. Perhaps the best look was a pair of matching alabaster printed pant and shirt that fluttered with decadent ease down the runway, evoking the perfect blend of city chic and natural harmony. Take a note from Nicholas K for this upcoming spring; relate to the origins of America but do it with a flare of the modern age.

Ok, I know this is a student publication and all, but can we talk about this language? “A trance-like track of synth bass was combined with soothing chants to create a modern tribal music that seemed thematically fitting”? “These earthy colors further accentuated the collection’s oneness with nature captured best by an interpretation of Native American culture”? That’s the problem with “tribal” themed fashion trends or those “inspired by Native American culture”–it creates this distorted stereotype that Native peoples are a monolith, with one “culture.” This culture apparently is connected to nature and set in contrast to “urban” contexts. That first line kills me. “Picture the urban landscape of pre-Columbus America: quite a paradox…” No. Not a paradox at all. “Pre-Columbus America” was hella urban. Sorry.

And then, oh then, I dug a little more. Here is the “official” description of the collection:

For Spring 2014, brother and sister designers and CFDA members Nicholas and Christopher Kunz explore the spiritual roots of the small bands of indigenous people that formed the Ndee or Apache Nation. Antique smudge fans found on a reservation in the mountains of Central Arizona sparked the inspiration of a shamanistic journey that is embraced by the brand’s own nomadic urban roots.

A palette of sheer whites, antler and bone colored cotton trimmed with deerskin are symbols of peace, happiness and purity. Contrasting darkness in black, midnight and onyx is reminiscent of smudging smoke. Mica, another mist color, is reputed to have spiritual and life-giving qualities. Turquoise, the, “fallen sky stone,” is the accent color used throughout the collection. Natural turkey quills, dip-dyed in black and earth brown, represent the power and essence of the Apache Medicine Men.

Like the Shamans, who were draped in a mixture of textures, the collection consists of an array of free flowing fabrics.  Matte gauze with shimmering lurex symbolically represents desert stones speckled with shining mica, while geods dance across printed viscose paired with reinvented linen and suede moccasins.  The silhouettes of the season call to spirit light dancers – they are magically free and playful.

The show featured hair by Jon Reyman for Aveda, make-up by Daniel Martin for NYX Cosmetics and nails by Sunshine Outing for Zoya.

I can’t. I actually can’t. Past tense, hippie-spiritual BS, “shamanistic journey,”…”represent the power and essence of the Apache Medicine Men”? Yes. Thank you. Thank you for representing the “power and essence” of our spiritual practices in your fashion line at fashion week. That’s definitely the way to show respect.

So whatever. I’ve written 5 thousand million times about why headdresses on non-Native women aren’t cool, why the tribal fashion trend is problematic, what happens with you mess with sovereign nations around these issues, how you can fix it when you screw up like this, and much much more, if you care to go search around in the archives. Actually, you might want to read this take down of “Spirit Hoods.” The language/defense they used was pretty similar. So I’m not going to re-hash it again. Just read this one, if that’s too many links for your poor fashion-filled head.

So Nicholas K, if you wanna be my bro, apologize for sending models down the runway in Native headdresses and appropriating the sh*t out of Native spirituality. Don’t give me any BS about how fashion is about drawing inspiration from “everywhere” or any other number of excuses. I’ve heard them all. This whole thing has been in the news so much, I’m really surprised you didn’t have any inkling this was maybe wrong. You’ve got some explaining to do.

 

No, really, read this one: But why can’t I wear a hipster headdress? 

NYU news: Nicholas K, Spring/Summer 2014
Video from the show here: NY Fashion Week Nicholas K

Also, I know “Nicholas K” is not a person, but is actually a sibling design team. But it was more fun this way, ok?

(Thanks Chelsea, Celeste, and the others who alerted me to this on twitter!)

 

unicornornativeamerican

Um, apparently there’s a site that’s a “unicorn or Native American name generator.” Problematic. The picture works surprisingly well though…

I know it’s been a long time between posts, I’m actually in the process of writing my dissertation(!!!). I’m getting into a routine, and hope that will mean I’ll have a (little) spare time to post more. This post is one that’s been percolating in my head for months, and while there are some more pressing issues I want to write about soon, sometimes words just have to come out.

Writing about dating on the internet is weird. Writing about dating on the internet when most, if not all, of the guys you’ve dated still read your blog, is even weirder. Writing about dating on the internet when Indian Country is so freaking small that it feels like everyone knows who you’ve dated and they all know each other is probably the weirdest of all. So hi. Hi all the guys I’ve dated in the last 4 years on the East Coast, even you, adorably short die-hard Redsk*ns fan. I’m not gonna put you all on blast. I liked all of you. Didn’t always like the way things ended, but you know how that is. So I’m not going to go through the process of what it was like dating each of you, though that might be fun. But what I am going to do is talk about some bigger issues of dating, while being an Indian.

In 2011, I wrote “Love in the time of Blood Quantum,” a post that attempted to lay out some of the quandaries I faced in my desires to date Native guys. Reading it now, lots of it really makes me cringe.  But I think the comments are some of the best on any post on the blog, and I love the way they made me question my assumptions and privilege, and really forwarded my thinking. More on that in a minute. I think these two paragraphs sum up the bulk of my argument from that piece, but I also talked about the ways the media represents the issue too, so go take a look if you’re interested: Continue Reading…

marty-two-bulls-depp-tonto

AK Note: Hi Everyone, yesterday I posted my (rather scathing) review of The Lone Ranger, and reading through some of the comments I’ve seen here and on other outlets, I feel the need to repost this piece from 3/16/2012. I know there are a lot of new readers (welcome!), so I hope this helps you understand the lens with which I approach this blog and this work. I believe, very strongly, that these images matter and are important, and will continue to treat them as such. And as always, I don’t claim to speak for all Native peoples, I am just one perspective of many. I also have addressed all sorts of angles of this movie, and I encourage new folks to familiarize yourself with all of the other posts before launching into criticisms. Here they are: my initial reactions (including early thoughts on the casting), tearing apart Depp’s reasoning over his costume choicesthe controversy I dealt with for writing about Tonto, and Armie Hammer’s comments about Indians loving the movie. Thanks so much for all the support–y’all crashed my server yesterday, a total first! 

It’s been a week or so since the original photos of Johnny Depp as Tonto have surfaced, and the internet has been abuzz with Depp defenders and Depp defectors–and while the Native Appropriations community and my internet circle have been on the “oh dang, this is real bad for us” train, I’ve been surprised at how many people have basically told me and others with similar opinions to STFU and “get over it” (with also some more choice words than that…).
But I still stand by the fact that Tonto and his portrayal matter to Indian Country, and should matter to Indian Country. And here’s why.

Defenders of Depp-as-rodeo-clown-Tonto’s arguments basically boil down to the following: Tonto is a fictional character. The Lone Ranger is a fictional movie. Johnny Depp is a great actor. We should be glad to have him portray Tonto. No one thinks Tonto is representative of a real Indian. There are bigger things to worry about in Indian Country, this is so trivial it shouldn’t even be an issue.

Here’s the thing. Yeah, Tonto is a fictional character, and there are plenty of white actors and actresses who play fictional characters, and we don’t automatically assume that white people are fictional, so it shouldn’t matter, right? We saw Natalie Portman as an evil-crazy-swan-human in the Black Swan, and we don’t assume that Natalie Portman’s character is representative of her, or all white people, in real life. But that, my friend, is white privilege at work. Everyday we see millions of representations of white people in varied and diverse roles. We see white actors as “real” people, as “fantasy” characters, and everything in between.

But for Native people, the only images that the vast, vast majority of Americans see are stereotypical in nature. You go to the grocery store and see plenty of smiling white children on cereal boxes, contrasted with the only readily recognizable Native image–the Land o’ Lakes butter girl. In advertising we see plenty of non-Native folks participating in everyday life, and then we get ads like this featuring Native people. There are also hardly any (if any) Native people in current, mainstream television shows. And this carries over even more strongly into Hollywood.

The last big blockbuster series to feature Native characters was the Twilight series, and we are portrayed as wolves. Think of every recent major studio film that featured a Native character or Native actor. All of the ones I can think of off the top of my head were set in a historical context, were a fantasy film, or were offensively stereotype laden. There have been so few accurate, modern, nuanced portrayals of Native people it’s not even funny.

So, when we live in a world where there are other, more nuances portrayals of Native people for non-Natives to draw upon–when there are Native people featured in mainstream romantic comedies, dramas, sitcoms, even reality TV,  or news–then, maybe, will I be able to be looking forward to a stereotypical mess of a Tonto on the big screen. But I doubt it.
Comedian Ryan Mcmahon has a fabulous podcast series called “Ryan McMahon Gets Angry”, and he just did an awesome 5 minute rant on Johnny Depp as Tonto, and the responsibility we have as a community to question these representations. I can’t recommend it enough (language slightly NSFW):

Here’s a transcript of the end of his podcast:

So is Johnny Depp putting a bunch of Indians on the back of horses for this Lone Ranger Jerry Bruckheimer car crash gonna be good for us? Hell no. I’m not looking forward to it, I don’t think we should be happy about it, and I don’t think we should immediately go to that excited-happy-place everytime we see ourselves on TV. Because more oftentimes it hurts us more than helps us.

I think the time to take back our stories, to take back our pride, and to start empowering and helping each other to rise is the time that we’re in now. That’s what I look forward to, that’s what I’m trying to do, that’s what a whole bunch of other people are trying to do. Is Johnny Depp being on the back of a horse with a g*ddamn crow on the his head supposed to help us? Probably not. But it’s definitely not going to. So don’t get happy when you see four or five other brothers sitting on the back of a horse in their loincloth. Don’t be surprised, don’t be happy about it, don’t celebrate it, cause it’s bullsh*t. The time to reclaim, recapture, redefine, our own stories, in our own ways is now, and g*ddammit we gotta do more of it. Demand more from the producers, demand more of the television people, demand more from the people who are writing these stories. Because the stories are there. We are strong, proud people, and we need to be represented, by ourselves, as such.

I couldn’t agree more. There are several sub-arguments that I’ve seen in the last few days, citing how many Native actors would miss out on work as extras if this movie weren’t made, or how Johnny Depp’s “star power” was needed to get the film made in the first place. Those arguments are upsetting to me. We need to demand more. We can’t be complacent with just going to that “excited-happy-place” every time we see any representation of an Indian on screen. We can’t be thankful that 50 Native actors are able to ride around bareback in the background of a film, or be psyched that a big name Hollywood actor put a crow on his head to “honor” us–talk about ongoing colonization of the mind. Our community is so much better than that. We are worth so much more than background roles and misrepresentations.

Ryan also said something that resonated with me beyond this issue alone, quoting his grandmother:

Everything you do, grandson, is going to be political because you’re Anishinaabe.

The way we represent ourselves is, therefore, inherently political. These “trivial” issues are representative of deeper, darker, larger issues within Indian Country. For those who live in predominantly Native communities, fighting against cultural appropriation and misrepresentation may seem like the cause of a privileged few who can sit in their ivory towers and point fingers all day, ignoring the “real” issues in Indian Country. I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it as many times as I can until it sticks:

Yes, unequivocally, we have big things to tackle in Indian Country. We have pressing and dire issues that are taking the lives of our men and women everyday, and I am in absolutely no way minimizing this reality. But we also live in a state of active colonialism. In order to justify the genocide against Native peoples in this country, we must be painted as inferior–that’s the colonial game. These images continue that process. The dominant culture therefore continues to marginalize our peoples, to ignore and erase our existence. We are taught everyday, explicitly in classrooms, and implicitly through messages from the media, that our cultures are something of the past, something that exists in negative contrast to “western” values, and something that can be commodified and enjoyed by anyone with $20 to buy a cheap plastic headdress. These stereotypical images like Johnny Depp’s Tonto feed into this ongoing cycle, and until we demand more, our contemporary existence (and therefore the “real” problems in Indian Country) simply doesn’t exist in the minds of the dominant culture.

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.

Further background reading:

If you want to read Ray Cook call me out and tell me that my writing is “So much hog-wash, so much wasted cyber-space, so much wasted oxygen” (awesome!): Tontomania: Who are we’z anyways?

Guardian: Why I’m Willing to Believe in Johnny Depp’s Tonto

Reel Injun (documentary about stereotyping of Indians in Hollywood): http://www.reelinjunthemovie.com/site/

Academic Article on Hollywood Stereotypes: The White Man’s Indian: Stereotypes in Films and Beyond

Ryan McMahon gets angry episode 4: I Ain’t Gettin On No Horse

 LR

It’s been 12 hours since I saw The Lone Ranger, and I still have the darn William Tell Overture stuck in my head. I wonder how long that lasts. It’s like waking up with a Tonto hangover, I guess. I have so many thoughts on this film, and only maybe one of them is good. But I think we need to start off with this: The Lone Ranger is just a bad movie. It’s 2.5 hours of a film with an identity crisis, not knowing if it’s supposed to be funny, campy, dramatic, “authentic,” or what. At points it was very hard to separate the stereotypical and hurtful from the bad script, bad editing, and bad character development of the movie itself.

So, if it even needs to be said: SPOILER ALERT–I’m about to give away everything. But you’re not going to see the movie anyway, so it shouldn’t really matter. But you know how the internet is. Here’s my review, in only 6 parts. I restrained myself.

Some quick overall thoughts: Like I mentioned above, this movie didn’t know what it was, and that was a problem. It was also so. incredibly. long. By the time we got to the final big train chase scene at the end where the pair saves the day (accompanied by the aforementioned William Tell) I wrote in my notes: FINALLY! I AM SO BORED! and then that scene drug on for another 15 minutes and I just wanted it to end. I forgot what we were even fighting for. Which I think was the problem all along.

This is also the most violent movie I’ve seen in awhile, and I’m a fan of Game of Thrones. Don’t take your kids, despite the Disney label and PG-13 rating. There is so much shooting and stabbing, and they show the aftermath.  Early on in the film the bad guy even cuts out and eats the Lone Ranger’s brother’s heart (yes, eats it). They have no qualms about shooting someone for the sake of shooting someone, and there are blood and guts and barn beams smashing people’s heads. It’s not something I would want to expose my kids to, at all.

And for those of you new to the blog or need a refresher, here’s all my Tonto coverage over the last year or so, which covers the casting, the costume, and a whole bunch of other things: my initial reactionswhy you should care about Tonto when there are “bigger issues” out theretearing apart Depp’s reasoning over his costume choicesthe controversy I dealt with for writing about Tonto, and Armie Hammer’s comments about Indians loving the movie.

Part 1: The Opening Scene–Indians are so backward and funny, y’all!

Continue Reading…

“I wanted him to be no joke. First of all, I wouldn’t f**k with someone with a dead bird on their head. Second of all, he’s got the f**king paint on his face, which scares me…I wanted to maybe give some hope to kids on the reservations. They’re living without running water and seeing problems with drugs and booze. But I wanted to be able to show these kids, ‘F**k that! You’re still warriors, man.’” (via Express)

Johnny Depp Tells Rolling Stone more about Tonto

PFxNative Tags Front

Pull up a chair, I’d like to tell you a story. A long, long time ago (actually back in September), Jessica Metcalfe of Beyond Buckskin fame, got a google alert for “Native American” and “Fashion.” She was led to a press release from a party. A party that caused all of the brows of Indian Country furrow, and angry clouds full of lightning to form above our heads. This was the party:

FNO - Paul Frank

After she posted a picture to facebook linking to over 1000 images of party-goers mock-scalping and playing Indian, I wrote this post. She wrote this post. Here’s an excerpt from my open letter to the company about why this was wrong:

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?

Then Paul Frank deleted the images and apologized on FB and twitter. We thought that was that. But then, we each were contacted by the president of Paul Frank, Elie Dekel. We set up a phone call. Here’s what happened (an excerpt from this post):

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

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.

We were delighted. Jessica and I then embarked on a 9 month journey of monthly conference calls, hundreds of emails, and lots of back and forth to make this collaboration a reality. It wasn’t easy. There were many points that made us uncomfortable, things that challenged us, the designers, and negotiations that took a lot of trust. Jessica definitely pulled much of the weight, using all of her awesome Native fashion contacts, and this would not be happening if it weren’t for her, the designers, and our super nice contacts at Saban brands (the parent company of Paul Frank). We, and the designers, did this all for the experience and the awareness, no money was involved.

So today, the press release came out announcing the collaboration(!), and I’m thrilled to share it with you.

Throughout this whole process, I’ve been impressed with PF’s ability to admit they were wrong and learn from their mistakes. Something that I think all of us struggle with, and is even harder for a huge multi-national company to do. From Day 1, Elie admitted they messed up, and was willing to do all they could to make it right. But, on the other hand, Jessica and I had to push a bit at times to keep the beginning in mind. I’ll come back to that. Here’s the press release in full:

LOS ANGELES, June 18, 2013 /PRNewswire/ – Paul Frank announced today its first-ever “Paul Frank Presents” fashion collaboration with four Native American designers from different tribes and regions across the country. Set to debut in August 2013, the collaboration fuses the iconic Paul Frank brand with four different artists’ aesthetics, each rooted in their heritage. The collection, which will include a tote bag, hand-beaded sunglasses, graphic tees and Hama bead jewelry is an expression of the Native American culture and a way for the artists to integrate their perspective and tribal identity into fashion.

Drawing inspiration from their communities, each artist is bringing to life a visual identity with roots from their culture. Louie Gong, a designer from the Nooksack tribe who creates custom drawings and paintings on materials, is creating a silk-screened canvas tote bag for the collection. Candace Halcro, from the Plains Cree/Metis tribes, is skilled with the classic Native American beading technique and will showcase her talents on authentic Paul Frank sunglasses. Dustin Martin, a graphic T-shirt fashion designer from the Navajo tribe, is using a phrase taught to him by his grandfather to inspire the prints of the famous Paul Frank character, Julius. And Autumn Dawn Gomez, a jewelry designer from the Comanche/Taos tribes, is creating accessories inspired by various landscapes, which have impacted her life.

“We’re honored to be working with such talented and enthusiastic designers for this fashion and accessories collection,” said Elie Dekel, President of Saban Brands. “Each artist has really captured the whimsical and fun energy of the Paul Frank brand and incorporated it into their designs for the line. We are so excited to share these items with Paul Frank fans very soon!”

To unveil the collection, Paul Frank is partnering with the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) to host an event in Santa Fe, New Mexico on August 16, during SWAIA’s annual Indian Market Week. The event will showcase each of these designers and preview their limited edition pieces for the Paul Frank line for the very first time. These items will then be sold in the MoCNA Store.

Super exciting, right? We have four amazing designers, Louie Gong, Candace Halcro, Dustin Martin, and Autumn Dawn Gomez, and we’re having an awesome launch event at Indian Market in Santa Fe (which you should all come to!).

I also have some thoughts (what? Adrienne be critical of something? noooo). I’ll admit I’m treading on difficult ground here, and I’ll be honest about that. I have some initial reactions, and also have ongoing relationships with everyone involved, and am still very much excited about this collaboration and have enjoyed working with Paul Frank overall.

I don’t know if it struck you, but noticed right away an omission from the press release. There’s no mention of why this collaboration came about. I wouldn’t expect a whole re-hashing of the “Dream Catchin’ Powwow” fiasco, but maybe a mention of the fact that this collaboration came in response to an insensitive party?

I’m about to go all PhD on you here, so bear with me, but Dr. Bryan Brayboy at ASU often uses the term “Genesis Amnesia” (from Pierre Bourdieu) to discuss how, especially in regards to Indigenous and colonized peoples, we often forget the beginning. Everything becomes normalized–the power structures, the historical narrative taught in schools, policies towards Indigenous Peoples–and society accepts this as “the way it’s always been” and stops wondering why. Hegemonic power structures rely on us forgetting the beginning. Native peoples are “poor” and “alcoholics” because they are “lazy” or “unmotivated,” not because of centuries of systematic policies that have worked to put us in this position. Hipster headdresses are a fashion trend because they’re “fun” or “playful,” not because centuries of colonialism have painted Native traditions and spirituality as inferior and stripped the objects of their sacred origins, leaving them up for grabs.

So what does that have to do with Paul Frank? As much as it feels uncomfortable, we can’t forget the beginning. We can’t move away from the fact that this collaboration was born out of community mobilization and Native activism against a hurtful, racist party. Because if we erase that beginning, 20 years from now, Paul Frank is just seen as the happy company that collaborates with Natives–which is great, don’t get me wrong–but that takes away the power of what has been accomplished here. Remembering the origins reminds us of the inherent power structures in society (and therefore the fashion industry), that it took hundreds of angry voices, Native and non-Native, working together to move us forward this far. Remembering the beginning is how we continue to move forward together. History is written by those in power, so we need to continue to push to have our version shared and not forgotten.

I know that seems a little heavy for an exciting day–but I’ve got a critical lens I can’t turn off, and it wouldn’t be fair for me to just let you celebrate a big win for Indian Country without giving you something to think about. ha.

Thank you to all of you who have supported this collaboration throughout the last 9 months, to Jessica, to the designers–Louie, Candace, Autumn Dawn, Dustin, to Kelsey, Rebekah, Elie, and the rest of the team at PF, you have all been a pleasure to work with, and I’m so grateful that this has come together. Elie from the start had said that he hoped this could be a model for other companies to follow, and I really think it has been. I hope other companies follow suit, and that this brings to light the power of working with Native designers, and Native folks represent themselves in the fashion industry.

Hope to see you in Santa Fe!

Earlier:

Paul Frank Offends Every Native Person on the Planet with Fashion Night Out Dream Catchin’ Powwow (9/9/12)

Paul Frank Party Update: Am I dreaming? (9/14/12)

From Beyond Buckskin:

Paul Frank’s Racist Powwow (9/9/12)

Paul Frank Update-Jan 2013 and Beyond (1/16/13)

 

Paul Frank x Native Designers (6/18/13)