Tommy Tomahawk Update: School Board votes 3-2 to keep mascot

In American Indian, cherokee, mascots by Adrienne K.1 Comment

Looks like Stilwell High School will keep it’s new mascot, after the school board hosted a special meeting in the school gym to hear “both sides” of the argument. The board heard from speakers from each side of the issue, and ultimately voted 3-2 in favor of the mascot.

A disheartening and upsetting decision, to say the least. But I think Cherokee Nation representative Dr. Morton put an interesting spin on it, advocating for more lessons about Cherokee culture and life ways to let the students come to their own conclusions:

Morton, a longtime Stilwell resident, said he appreciated the opinion of everyone in attendance, especially the students, but the school might need to teach more Cherokee concepts to the children.

“Naturally, it is a student project and students are very protective of their projects, as well as they should be,” he said. “Perhaps a more in-depth understanding of Cherokee culture, Cherokee life ways and Cherokee history would cause a person not to want Tommy Tomahawk to represent them as a people.”

Many of the attendees who were against the mascot were not happy with the vote, and will likely keep fighting for its removal or a “compromise” that would allow the students to keep the mascot, if it were a less stereotypical and offensive image.

As board president Eli Pumpkin (who voted against Tommy) said, they could have a least picked a better representation:

“I’m from this community, and I’ve got a lot of calls from Native Americans in this district and they’ve certainly been offended,” he said. “I think we could’ve done a better job with what we picked. I think we made him look awful ugly.”

The problem with a “better” representation is that research has shown even “positive” or “neutral” images (think Disney’s Pocahontas) of American Indians cause reductions in self esteem and self worth for Native students–even if they report “positive associations” with the mascots.

Meaning, if you show a Native student a picture of Chief Wahoo, Pocahontas, or Tommy Tomahawk, they may say that it doesn’t bother them, but then when they are given a survey on self esteem or self worth, their scores significantly drop. I mean significantly.

Stephanie Fryberg, a professor at the University of Arizona, has done most of her work in the field of images of Native Americans in relation to self esteem, self worth, and possible selves for Indian students. The abstract from one of her papers sums up her findings:

Four studies examined the consequences of American Indian mascots and other
prevalent representations of American Indians on aspects of the self-concept for American Indian students. When exposed to Chief Wahoo, Chief Illinwek, Pocahontas, or other common American Indian images, American Indian students generated positive associations, but reported depressed state self-esteem, and community worth, and fewer achievement-related possible selves. We suggest that American Indian mascots are harmful because they remind American Indians of the limited ways others see them and, in this way, constrain how they can see themselves.

The entire article can be read online here, and I highly recommend it.

So, in conclusion, I encourage Stilwell residents and CN citizens to keep fighting against Tommy Tomahawk–letting him stay in any form does more than perpetuate stereotypes, it damages students’ self esteem and future possible selves.

See earlier post for background information:

Stilwell Public Schools’ board votes to keep Tommy Tomahawk (I recommend the video as well, on the righthand side)

Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots (Fryberg’s article)

Native Link Roundup

In link roundup by Adrienne K.Leave a Comment

“They have got the whole thing wrong,” said Stephen Page, artistic director of the respected indigenous group, the Bangarra Dance Company. Page said there were no traditional movements in the routine, the music sounded more like it came from India or Africa than Aboriginal Australia and the body paint looked like “a three-year-old child had drawn it on”… “Probably the elders in the bush would be laughing because they would be saying, ‘Look how stupid these fellas are,’ ” he said.”

“Sundance Institute’s Native American & Indigenous Program is pleased to announce its line up for the Sundance Film Festival’s 2010 Native Forum.The films in this line-up competed on a global scale against 10,000 film submissions to be programmed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. These films are either written, directed or produced by Native American, Maori, Aboriginal & Inuit filmmakers.

“The Yale University Art Gallery has Asian, African and even Indo-Pacific departments, but it is largely lacking in collections from closer to home — American Indian art. Now, one professor is trying to change that.” (full disclosure: it quotes my sister!)

“Some consider the word “injun” to be as offensive as the N-word, but apparently Republican National Chairman Michael Steele didn’t know that when he tried to underscore a point earlier this week by saying, “Honest injun on that.”

“The president of the advisory panel to the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose isn’t too happy with the local high school. Earlier this month, an unnamed student at Montrose High School painted his face black and red, adorned himself in American Indian headdress and whooped and howled at a basketball game.”

“It’s a great example of how Whites felt entirely comfortable discussing what the future of American Indians should be, either romanticizing them as noble savages or insisting on their cultural backwardness, without any sense that Indians themselves might have any ideas on the issue worth paying attention to.”

(Thanks to Kayla, Michele, and Nikke for the tips!)

Random Appropriation of the Day!

In random appropriation by Adrienne K.Leave a Comment

From the wall of an optometrist in Hilo, Hawaii. So many weird things about this one.

(Thanks Leon!)

Appropriations at Disney World Part 2: Epcot and Animal Kingdom

In "tribal", African, American Indian, Aztec, Disney, First Nations, Mayan, totem pole by Adrienne K.1 Comment

Most of my pictures from Epcot come from the “World Showcase” which could be a dissertation in itself–it was fascinating to see which aspects and icons from countries they chose to feature, which were omitted, and how little explanation was given with the structures and images.

The picture above (and most that follow) comes from the Canadian village, which was almost exclusively Native themed–while interestingly the American Village looked like a stereotypical new England town:
Anyway, after the jump, lots of photos of Canadian First Nations Appropriations, a few Mayan/Aztec appropriations, followed by some disturbing representations of Indigenous Africans at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

behind the totem pole you can see the rest of the Canadian Village–pretty nondescript

More Canadian Village

They had “traditional” masks to take pictures with outside the village

Behind the cash register inside the “trading post”

Trading Post

Souvenir coin machine inside trading post

Dream catchers for sale

Apparently the dream catchers are from a “100% Native Owned” company. hmm.

Now we go to Mexico!

Indigenous imagery on the front of the pyramid structure

Pyramid in the Mexican Village

Moving on to Animal Kingdom, which is partially set in a fictitious, purposely aged and run-down “African Outpost” called “Harambe” which (thanks google) means “coming together as one” in Swahili. Sorry for all those quotation marks. I only snapped a couple photos of things that just stopped me in my tracks:

Get your picture taken with a Real African! I was just struck how these men were put in the same role as Mickey or Donald Duck–characters on display.

Look kids, you can get your face painted like a tiger, or a butterfly, or…

an African Ceremony?!

Still to come, photos from the Disney Wilderness Lodge, a luxury resort that is completely Native themed. Think totem poles, winter counts, peace pipes, and lincoln logs all rolled into one decor.

Random Appropriation of the Day!

In random appropriation by Adrienne K.Leave a Comment

Slide in the middle of my stats lecture. I was just as confused as you are now, and no real explanation was given. Get NATIVE with your DATA folks!

Appropriations at Disney World: Part 1 (Magic Kingdom)

In Uncategorized by Adrienne K.2 Comments

Friday night, 7 pm, my friend Monica and I decided to buy plane tickets to fly to Orlando for the weekend. She had scored some free all park passes, so we figured there was really no reason not to abandon all our school responsibilities and go. She was a trooper all weekend and put up with my random outbursts of “ohmygod, are you kidding me?!” and helped me spot all the images of Indigenous People throughout the parks–and believe me, there were a lot.

I’m going to post most of these without any extensive analysis, I think they speak for themselves. I apologize for the sometimes fuzzy/awkward photos, a lot of them were taken from moving boats/cars/elephants/pirate ships.

Lilo and Stitch (Lilo is Native Hawaiian), note the leis

Cowboy and Indian on “It’s a Small World”

I think this is an Australian Aboriginal? Judging by the Birds?
Update: He’s supposed to be Maori! That totally makes more sense. (Thanks Alia)
Hawaiian dancer (I thought it was interesting they had the auana style along with the more stereotypical grass skirts below)

They wiggled their hips too.

on the carousel, interesting combination of the Indian head with the eagle/US shield…

Now we get to the Jungle Cruise (exotic!) where I really wish my pictures were better.

This scene was accompanied by our “guide” saying something like “up here on the beach you’ll see one of our many Native…uh oh! They’re gone! hear those drums? That means they’re preparing for the hunt..and I think we’re invited to lunch.” Jokes about cannibalism are awesome!

Those are the angry Natives “war dancing”

That’s “Trader Bob” (?) who sells shrunken heads at the end of the ride.

Native style blankets at the shooting range in Frontier Land

I found a friend in front of the trading post in Frontier Land

The full Pocahontas outfit for sale in (of course) Frontier Land

“What makes the red man red?” Indians on the Peter Pan ride

Not stereotypical at all, right? geez. (This is also Peter Pan)

Frontier Pluto’s got some moccasins

The same Indian from Frontier Land also resides on Main Street USA.

Believe it or not, there are actually way more. I’ll save Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and the Disney Wilderness Lodge for additional posts. Hope you enjoyed your magical ride through the happiest place on earth!

Stilwell High School’s New Mascot

In American Indian, cherokee, mascots, racism by Adrienne K.Leave a Comment

(image via

I receive the Cherokee Phoenix (the Cherokee Nation newspaper) weekly by email, and today opened my inbox to this article about Stilwell HS (located in Stilwell, OK) and their new mascot, Tommy Tomahawk. Stilwell High School’s student population is 70% Native, the vast majority of whom are Cherokee. The Phoenix article is addressing the controversy surrounding Tommy’s unveiling, and it seems the school “didn’t intend to offend anyone” (duh):
“It was done strictly to create school spirit because they’re proud of their Indian heritage,” Fletcher said. “Primarily, it was something the kids got after and promoted. Even our Indian heritage club was part of (the) promotion of that and donated funds for that.”

That (alarming and maddening) statement from a school official reminded me of this great cartoon that manages to capture so much:

(image via

Though the school (and, apparently some of the students) consider the new mascot honorable, many of us would beg to differ, including some of the Cherokee Nation citizens:

CN citizen and Stilwell alumna Melanie Knight said she was disappointed the school would create a mascot that is a caricature and warped image of American Indians.

“It has been difficult to address long-term mascots that have become part of some schools’ history and legacy,” she said. “This is an opportunity to prevent that from happening. Tommy Tomahawk and his personification clearly says to me that Indians are a joke.”

The mascot follows the pattern of most other Indian mascots–his clothing reflects a “plains” style, though not a correct representation of any tribal dress, he has the stereotypical long braids and face paint, and, of course, he is styled to look menacing.

I won’t get into the meat of the mascot issue here, but there are some strong faq, articles and analysis that you can read here:

The bottom line is, how can you look at that mascot and not think it is dehumanizing and racist? Especially if the school was attempting to “honor” the Native students?

Also, for reference, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith in traditional clothing:

(image via

Stilwell High School’s Indian Mascot Causes Stir:

More Tribal Fashion: Gap "Navajo Tracker Hat"

In "tribal", American Indian, fashion, Gap, Navajo, Northern California, trends by Adrienne K.Leave a Comment

My good friend Kayla (who is Hupa/Yurok/Karuk from Northern California) pointed me to this “Navajo Tracker Hat” from the Gap (no longer on sale so sorry I can’t link to it). She pointed out, however, that the design looks very similar to the basket hats from her community, rather than decidedly Navajo:

(image via

and even more similar to this knit version:

(image via

This is a good example of using a more “well known” tribal name paired with a design or tradition from another community, adding to the perception that tribal traditions are interchangeable and the same across Indian Country.

(Thanks to Kayla for the photos!)

"Tribal Fashion": the newest trend?

In "tribal", American Indian, fashion, Navajo, rachel zoe, trends by Adrienne K.Leave a Comment

Jezebel had a great post today highlighting Rachel Zoe’s newest “Zoe Report” entitled “Gone Native”. Zoe points to the work of Lindsay Thornburg, a designer who makes cloaks out of Pendleton fabrics (both vintage and contemporary) with names like “Navajo Nile” and “Walking Rock”. Zoe’s text reads:

“As my newest outerwear crush, I am blown away by each one of Thornburg’s ethnic-inspired cloaks. They are a brilliant interpretation of the current tribal trend which will carry over from winter as a hugely coveted look for spring.”

Ethnic-inspired? Current tribal trend? What exactly does that even mean?
Here are some of Thornburg’s designs:

Also included at the bottom of the Zoe Report (presumably for those of us who can’t afford a $950 cloak) is this Electric Navajo Poncho from Forever 21:

I always find it hard to articulate why it is that these things are so offensive. Jezebel commenter roxanneismyalterego puts part of it into perspective:

“Calling mass produced clothing “Native” or “tribal” devalues the culture of whichever group the clothing is inspired by. In a sense, you’re saying, “it doesn’t matter WHICH native or tribal group this was inspired by, it’s just not WHITE.”

Which is definitely a piece of the issue. A major problem with depictions of “Native” in reference to American Indians is the reduction of 500+ tribes, each with their unique history, culture, language, and traditions into one stereotyped image, one that we as Native people know well: the buckskin-clad, feather-headdress-wearing, face-painted, Plains-inspired Indian. They also only ever seem to appropriate three tribes in terms of names and “inspiration”—Navajo (or Navaho if you’re Urban Outfitters), Sioux (which is another antiquated name and represents a group of tribes, not just one), and Cherokee (believe me, I KNOW about that one). You never seem to see a Nisqually V-neck or a Wampanoag jewelry holder.

Dodai Stewart, the author of the Jezebel post, pointed to another great post on Racialicious to shut down an ill-informed commenter, and it really breaks down the problems with cultural appropriations. It’s all about oppression, power, and colonialism. You can read the whole post here.

some of the key quotes:

“‘What’s so wrong with being inspired by another culture?’ Nothing, really. But “inspiration” drawn from a historically oppressed culture comes with a tangle of baggage born of generations of marginalization and bias.”

“A Japanese teen wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a big American company is not the same as Madonna sporting a bindi as part of her latest reinvention. The difference is history and power. Colonization has made Western Anglo culture supreme–powerful and coveted. It is understood in its diversity and nuance as other cultures can only hope to be. Ignorance of culture that is a burden to Asians, African and indigenous peoples, is unknown to most European descendants or at least lacks the same negative impact.”

“It matters who is doing the appropriating. If a dominant culture fancies some random element (a mode of dress, a manner of speaking, a style of music) of my culture interesting or exotic, but otherwise disdains my being and seeks to marginalize me, it is surely an insult.”

As recently as our parents and grandparents’ generations, Native children were forcibly sent to government run boarding schools founded on a policy of “kill the Indian, save the man”, where they were taught their culture and traditions were wrong and backward, and beaten if they spoke their tribal languages. Until 1978 with the passage of The American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Native peoples in the US were not even allowed to practice their traditional ceremonies without fear of persecution. Indian reservations are some the poorest places in the US with the highest levels of unemployment. So, Rachel Zoe, the problem is that behind that trendy poncho there are hundreds of years of cultural genocide and ongoing oppression at play, and the fact that you deem it worthy of inclusion in your blog doesn’t and can’t erase that.

The Jezebel post also refers to many other recent fashion campaigns and examples from companies like American Apparel, Victoria’s Secret, and yes, even the hipster snuggie I posted about earlier. Let’s hope this trend is one that goes the way of ill-fated trends of yesteryear like overalls and dying your hair with kool-aid.

Jezebel post:

Zoe Report:

Lindsay Thornburg’s webpage:

Racialicious post:

Wikipedia entry on Cultural Appropriation (a good background read):

(Thanks to Charlotte R. for the tip about the Jezebel article!)

It starts with a trip to Urban Outfitters

In "tribal", American Indian, dream catcher, fashion, moccasins, totem pole, trends, urban outfitters by Adrienne K.2 Comments

I was killing some time a few days ago and wandered into Urban Outfitters in Harvard Square. It’s no secret that many hipsters have an obsession with all things Native (more on that in another post), but I was a little surprised at how many examples I found. The following were in the home decorations section.

This dream catcher (in such traditional neon colors!) retailed for $10, on the low end for Urban, and was made in India (ha).

These slippers/moccasins were in the same section, and came in brown and red as well. I saw them as a take on Alaska Native mukluks, though the use of geometric diamonds is a bit southwest/plains.

Finally, down in the bargain basement, I found this “totem pole jewelry stand.” You can see they weren’t huge sellers.

I got home and tried to look up these three on their website, to get product names, etc. and had no luck, but did manage to find a few other examples online:

The Booty Buddy Blanket The comments section refers to it as “the hipster snuggie.”

Tribal V Neck

Leather Navaho cuff:

there is a lot to say about this one, not least of which is the antiquated spelling of Navajo and the plains-style beading.

even more examples: Native Socks, Cement Chief Necklace (yes that is a tiny headdress), and Geo Beaded Cuff. There are more, if you go to their website and just search “Native” or “Tribal.”