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.
Update: He’s supposed to be Maori! That totally makes more sense. (Thanks Alia)
They wiggled their hips too.
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!
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:
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:
Stilwell High School’s Indian Mascot Causes Stir: http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/21050/Article.aspx
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:
and even more similar to this knit version:
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.
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:
“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.
Zoe Report: http://www.rachelzoe.com/lindsey-thornburg-cloak
Lindsay Thornburg’s webpage: http://www.lindseythornburg.com/store.html
Wikipedia entry on Cultural Appropriation (a good background read): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_appropriation
(Thanks to Charlotte R. for the tip about the Jezebel article!)
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).
The Booty Buddy Blanket The comments section refers to it as “the hipster snuggie.”
there is a lot to say about this one, not least of which is the antiquated spelling of Navajo and the plains-style beading.