Backstory: a few months ago, John Torres Nez stepped down from the board of Southwestern Association for Indian Art Market (SWAIA). In the wake of his departure, a new, Native-run art market as emerged, called the Indigenous Fine Art Market (IFAM). I sat down with one of my AZ loves Nanibaa Beck, one of the members of the artist advisory group for the market, to talk about what IFAM is striving to achieve, and where the roots of this movement lie. You know I’m all about Native representations, and IFAM represents a huge shift to self-control and self-representation in the Native Art world, so I’m happy to support! 

Nanibaa and I push aside the remains of our breakfast at a cafe in Phoenix, and make a concerted switch from “friend mode” to settle into “business mode”—I pull out my notebook, a black artist’s sketchbook covered in stickers from Native companies and causes, and Nanibaa pulls out a small pocket sized notebook, edges worn and curling from use—where she has written down “key words” to prompt her as we talk about the origins and direction of IFAM.

Nanibaa comes from a family of artists, her father, Victor Beck, has been showing and selling jewelry in SWAIA for most of Nanibaa’s life, and it was through his jewelry her family makes their livelihood. She jokes that he “knew he had to sell at least two coral necklaces” every year at SWAIA  to pay for his two daughter’s school tuition. This year would have been Nanibaa’s first year showing her own jewelry at the market alongside her dad, her budding company “NOTABOVE Jewelry” (a play on a mispronunciation of her name, but also a reminder to stay humble) has taken off in the last year, focusing on pieces featuring indigenous languages, at price points accessible to a wide audience. Today I’m sporting my “ha’átíí?!” necklace from her line, which means “What?!” in Navajo. I love it, because it represents my near-constant reaction to the stream of celebrity headdresses and cultural appropriation that I come across. But Nanibaa won’t be exhibiting next to her dad this year, she’ll be manning her own booth and chairing the fashion programming at a new Native art market in Santa Fe, the Indigenous Fine Arts Market (IFAM).

When Nanibaa learned of John Torres Nez’s departure from SWAIA, she bounded into action, starting an online petition to first support his reinstatement, but then shifting to support a new market, “for the People and by the People.” The petition outlines goals for the “new market”:

 - To restructure how an organizational Board and the Native artist community work with one another. This would create a form of direct artist involvement in the decisions of the Board.

- To reorganize how the whole staff works with artists, changing the focus of the organization on the artists and not the organization’s own branding.

- To rework a Native arts market’s relationship with the City of Santa Fe that is benefiting for the artists

- To create an organization and market that is fiscally responsible and doesn’t take unnecessary risks with the generous donations of supporters.

- Ultimately, we want a new market that is stable in both organization and structure so that Native artists will have a livelihood for generations from now.

As supporters and artists began to discuss a SWAIA without Torres Nez, the goal moved from reinstatement to creating something new and completely different—an art market envisioned, designed, and controlled by Indigenous peoples. The last two months have been a whirlwind of planning, and the amount that the IFAM team has been able to accomplish is such a short amount of time is staggering. It feels like this has been something a long time coming—and Nanibaa affirms this. She tells me that there have been groups of people thinking about and pushing for something like IFAM for years, “but now social media has provided the vehicle for this to happen.”

In two months, the group has managed to secure dates (August 21-23, 2014), secure a location (The Railyard in Santa Fe), create a website (here), create a process for artist selection (artists already juried into SWAIA are automatically admitted to IFAM, others will go through an application process), create an artist advisory group, begin planning for concurrent youth programming (headed by Courtney Leonard), and involve other movers and shakers in Indian Country (Doug Miles of Apache Skateboards is on board, and Culture Shock Camp’s Brian Frejowill be running the performance stage, with more to come), and create a kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the market.

I ask Nanibaa how IFAM is different than SWAIA, and she is careful to contextualize the relationship between the two markets. The dates overlap on one day (Saturday) yet artists and audiences can participate in both, and she feels they are reaching out to different demographics as well. She sees IFAM as a “challenge,” rather than “competition” to the current model. She says, “[This is] not a competition, it’s a challenge to ourselves to use our abilities we’ve been able to gather through the years as creative, capable, career oriented, connected people…not feeling like we have to resign ourselves to the status quo and current direction of what an art market should be like.” She also adds with a laugh, “It can’t be in opposition. It’s a way to push the younger generation, get a different demographic involved—not everyone can afford a $20,000 necklace.”

So how is IFAM different than SWAIA? Nanibaa turns to her notebook and keywords.

“Inclusion,” she begins. IFAM is open to citizens of tribal nations in the US, as is SWAIA, but they also are welcoming First Nations artists from Canada, as well as Native Hawaiian artists.

“The mission of SWAIA, historically, has focused mainly on southwestern art, so IFAM is seeking to expand that focus,” Nanibaa adds, noting how artists such as Kristen Dorsey (Chickasaw) who incorporates Southeastern Native designs into her work, and Courtney Leonard (Shinnecock), a ceramicist, have been on the advisory team from the beginning.

This leads to her second keyword, “diversity,” SWAIA has nurtured and supported southwestern Native art to be where it is today, and Nanibaa and the IFAM team hope that IFAM can provide that nurturing and support for other Native artists and art styles. Because of SWAIA’s prominence and influence, it can often feel that the Native art market is dominated by southwestern styles, so I think the goal of supporting and bolstering other regional styles is much needed. Nanibaa adds that they’re thinking not just diversity of styles and materials, but “also diversity of Indigenous knowledge from each of these artists.”

Her final keyword is “Indigenous knowledge,” and I think that beyond the sharing of traditional Indigenous Knowledges through art and expression, the goals and vision of IFAM truly support contemporary Indigenous knowledge—the business knowledge, the event planning knowledge, the networking knowledge—all the skills and knowledge we have in Indian Country. This is a chance to leverage all of that.

The staff of IFAM is all fresh off of SWAIA, bringing their experience from the years of working for the market. But the goal is not just a three day market. The goal is to turn the “M” in IFAM from “market” to “movement.” Nanibaa says, “Tradition is not static, it’s vibrant. If you think about ‘Movement’ like the movement of water, it’s going to move, adapt, and change…so we can think about movement as tradition.” The IFAM team hopes that the new market and movement can be forward-thinking, but not just in a linear, Western conception. Forward-thinking as fresh and contemporary, but with respect to origins and “where we come from.” This idea made me think of something that my advisor said of my Native students in my dissertation study, that they were “looking backwards into the future.” Native art has long been controlled by non-Native outsiders (though there are notable exceptions, of course), but I think it’s high time that Native folks carve out a space on a large scale that can be looked to as an example of the power of Native people coming together to challenge the status quo.

We have so many mis-representations and stereotypes to deal with, I’m all for Native peoples representing ourselves in ways that we design and have full control over. I think IFAM falls right into my campaign of #positiverepresentations!

So how can you get involved? Support the IFAM Kickstarter here, checkout the website here, and if you’re an artist, volunteer, or food vendor looking to get involved, look at this section of the IFAM website.

Update (6/13): The Kickstarter didn’t make the goal, but you can still donate via PayPal, and donations are much needed!


IMG_1300 (1)

Lots of background press on IFAM for your reading pleasure:

IFAM on National Native News (at 2:00 mark)
IFAM Announces Santa Fe Railyard as Venue, Launches Website / Indian Country Today Media Network
Mavericks: Trio Founds IFAM to Challenge Santa Fe Indian Market / Indian Country Today Media Network
New Indian Market / KOAT Channel 7 News
Make Way for the Indigenous Fine Art Market / Santa Fe Reporter
Indigenous Fine Art Market announces schedule and plans for Santa Fe launch / The Examiner 
Departing SWAIA staffers launch new market for Native artists / Albuquerque Journal
Ex-SWAIA leaders plan new market / Santa Fe New Mexican

 (Much love and thanks to Nanibaa for sitting down with me!)

Dear Christina Fallin

March 7, 2014 — 223 Comments

photo 1

Dear Christina Fallin,

Last night, someone tagged me in the comments of your post on Instagram, a picture of you wearing dark red lipstick and a coordinating warbonnet. Initially, I just rolled my eyes and closed the window, because since I’ve somehow become an “expert” on white girls in headdresses, I get sent pictures like yours pretty much every. single. day. Don’t believe me? Just glance at the “#indianheaddress” tag. But then I got an email, then another, and another, and another, and then realized that this one was different–because you, Christina, are daughter of Oklahoma’s Governor.

I’ve written a lot of these letters. I’ve written them to Drew Barrymore, to Paul Frank, to my local YMCA, to generic party-goers, and more. I’ve also written a whole post about why you can’t wear a hipster headdress. I’d encourage you to read these posts.

But you see Christina, while a lot of those folks I wrote those letters to came at this from a place of ignorance (which doesn’t excuse it by any means), you knew that putting on that headdress would be controversial. You titled your photo “Appropriate Culturation” which means you are aware of the concept of cultural appropriation, and knew that Native peoples would be hurt by your choice, and you did it anyway.

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I half-heartedly watched the Oscars last night. There were definitely years when I was younger where I eagerly looked forward to the night, waiting for the red carpet coverage, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the pretty dresses…but once I became a grown up who thinks about race, racism, white privilege, and representations of Natives all the time, it was like the shiny Oscars had lost their glow. Now, to me, they represent the perfect microcosm of society–an institution with a long history of discriminating against People of Color that now pretends that racism is a thing of the past, while continuing to discriminate against People of Color.

As you may remember, there were a couple of Oscar nominations that rubbed me the wrong way a few months back (Here’s the full post). The Lone Ranger got nominated for “Best Makeup and Hairstyling,” when the only “makeup” going on was Johnny Depp dressed up in redface. Then there was the best song fiasco for “Alone Yet Not Alone”, which is a colonial-christian-fantasy film that paints Natives as evil savages, but luckily that got taken care of on a technicality.

Last night, when the category came up for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, I held my breath. Luckily, the award went to Dallas Buyers Club, which had an overall budget of $250 FOR THE WHOLE MAKEUP FOR THE WHOLE MOVIE (ETA: Dallas Buyers Club is not without controversy over representations as well. There are folks in the trans* community who are very unhappy about the ways their community was portrayed in the film). Not that it looked like Lone Ranger spent any more than that with JD’s day-after-halloween-slept-in-your-facepaint look. But anyway. Continue Reading…


new media


(Awesome logo by Jessica Harjo for the Indigenous New Media Symposium THIS FRIDAY Feb 21st)

When I started Native Appropriations in 2010, I started it as a place to catalogue random images of Native peoples I was seeing in my everyday life. I wanted a place where I was able to express my thoughts about how those images made me feel, and a place that could serve as a repository for the growing examples of “Tribal Fashion” that I was seeing in stores and online. I felt kinda alone and silenced in my East-Coast-Ivy-League-world, so I turned to the internet to find others who were interested in similar issues and would help me learn how to push back on these images and ideas.

Fast forward four years, 283 posts, 4,283 comments, 2.75 million pageviews, 40,000 FB fans, and 7,019 tweets (yikes–maybe I need to tweet less). Now I’ve been invited to speak at this amazing Indigenous New Media Symposium this week, and I’m getting the chance to reflect and ask–So what does this all mean?

In a perfect world I would have put this question to all of you a lot earlier, but I turned in my dissertation (draft) on Friday(!!!), and part of the draw of social media is the speed with which things move, so hey. Let’s talk.

I’ve been tasked at the symposium to talk about how New Media* and tools such as FB, IG, Twitter, Soundcloud, YouTube, etc have provided new ways to challenge perception and policy–and create tangible change–in the areas of cultural appropriation and cultural ownership (eg all the things we talk about on Native Approps).

I have a basic framework for my presentation, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this.

  • How has (or has it?) the internet changed the way you think about cultural appropriation, cultural ownership, and representations?
  • How have you seen Native folks been able to harness the power of social media to make change in these areas?
  • Is any of this worth it? (I’m serious. I think I and a lot of other people who talk about representations get a lot of hate from Natives and non-Natives alike who say these issues “don’t matter” or accuse us of only being “reactionary” or “complaining”–what do you think?)

Just some random questions to get you thinking. Feel free to add in whatever random thoughts you have–I’m also talking about this on twitter today, so feel free to tweet me! You are also invited to participate in the conversation during the symposium (it will be live streamed) with the #indnewmedia hashtag, and questions for the Q&A will come from social media too (#indnewmediaQ).

I love that we’re at the point that we can be self-reflective and think about the future of Indigenous New Media. The nerd in me is so excited about this conversation that I can’t even handle it. I’m also feeling the pressure to be all thought-provoking and have my ish together…which is good!

I’m looking forward to meeting some of you on Friday and Saturday, and I can’t thank the incredible organizers of the symposium–Thelma, Cody, and Alex–enough. They’ve pulled together an amazing event.

So friends, readers, Natives…what does Indigenous New Media mean to you? What does the community around Native Appropriations/cultural appropriation/representations mean to you? What are some examples of where you think this type of activism works? Where doesn’t it work?

As always, thanks so much for your support and love–without all of you I’d just be shouting into the dark internet ether, and I don’t think that would get anything done, do you?

*Wikipedia (oh what a scholarly source) describes New Media as: “on-demand access to content anytime, anywhere, on any digital device, as well as interactive user feedback, and creative participation. Another aspect of new media is the real-time generation of new, unregulated content.”

Screen shot 2014-02-01 at 11.35.46 AM

I’ve been sent this video a bazillion times in the last few days, and I think it’s a powerful and important PSA to add to the mascot “debate”*. I’ve watched it a few times through, and the message by the end is incredibly clear, and I love the final shot of the helmet, without having to say the R-word, asking the viewer to say the word in their head and contrast it to the beautiful images shown throughout the clip. So before I go on, I want you to watch the video for yourself: Continue Reading…


Shhh. Don’t tell my committee I’m blogging. My dissertation is due, like, reallllllly soon. Just a quick post. I promise.

Today, the list of nominees for the Academy Awards was released. I would just like to draw your attention to two of them.

“Best Makeup and hairstyling”: THE LONE RANGER. (What?!?! arghabduVBIDslfdjlkm)


“Best Song”: “Alone yet not Alone” from the movie “Alone yet not Alone” (We’ll get to this in a minute. hold on. it’s a doozy.)

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Sonic drive in MO

Indian mascots, they’re totes honoring to Native peoples, right? That’s what fans always tell us, at least. Inspired by this image above posted on twitter, from a Sonic in Benton, MO, I decided to take some time to compile a list of just a few instances of how these mascots totally “honor” Native people. This is just from memory, btw. There are so, so, so many more.

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Indians 1

Let’s set the scene. You walk into school/work/a halloween party and are having an awesome day cause it’s Halloween and you are wearing an awesome costume on that has something to do with a current event (without doing something like this or this), or a play on words, or a nerdy reference…because those are the best kind of costumes, duh. Then, in the middle of your joyous revelry, you spot it. Across the room. A friend (or acquaintance, or stranger, let’s not discriminate), dressed as an “Indian.” You know what it looks like. The “buckskin,” the beads, the feathers–probably a headdress of some sort. Maybe some warpaint. Then, if you’re anything like me, you mentally go, “aw, @#$%.”

So now let’s shift to what I go through in these situations, and all of the steps and checks I go through before I engage. Because, as I’ve mentioned before, despite my ability to talk about these issues on here day in and day out, I’m bad at these conversations in real life. I’m getting better, though. Remind me to tell you sometime about my encounter with a Fox News correspondent at DFW airport…

Step one: Who is the person dressed up as an Indian? 

I’ll take a second look. Do I know them? How well do I know them? Are they older than me? Are they younger than me? Are they under the age of 10 (so clearly their parents dressed them)? Is it my boss or someone who has a position of authority that can affect my future life/career?

All of those pieces change the way I’ll approach the situation. I don’t scold children (duh. please don’t go yell at a three year old about cultural appropriation). I think carefully about how my encounter with this person can play out in my future relationships. No one likes to be told they’ve done something hurtful, and these conversations are sticky no matter what. So I do take the time to stop and think. None of those situations stop me from talking to the person (except maybe the babies)–I just approach it differently. Continue Reading…


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.

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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!

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