Can't We All Just… Be Native Americans?

Well, no. No we can’t.
But it don’t stop some from trying…

I recently began following the blog Dreaming Spyres and Old Car Tyres and was a little thrown off by MJ’s most recent post, Cultural Appropriation and “Glamping”, a response to this Topshop blog post where a group of (British) employees threw a “North American Indian themed party where our lovely buyers dressed up and danced around the campfire.”
Now MJ’s post threw me off because:

A. I followed her blog because she has an awesome sense of style, but who knew she is a smart cookie and has actual opinions as well!? So uncommon and refreshing in style blogs..

B. After some introspection I am still not sure where the line between “Appropriation” and “Inspiration” lies, and that makes me uncomfortable.

This topic especially hits a chord because I was basically OBSESSED with historical Native American culture when I was little.

I had a big full-color book that showed me the different regions that different tribes lived and all about the differences in their housing, clothing and food. There were projects where you could dye fabric with pigments that would be native to those areas, where you could make mini models of long houses and cook some bluuue corn (I particularly had a thing for the blue corn).

I read that book over and over, and in the fall I would beg my mom to buy the heirloom corn at the grocery store.

Yep, I was obsessed. But I like to think that I was obsessed in a healthy, geeky-lover-of-history way.

And while I no longer attempt to construct small-scale Navajo hogans from twigs and mud in my backyard, I still am drawn strongly to Native crafts, patterns and colors (and I still will buy blue corn chips over yellow anyday).

But how much can you appreciate Native culture for its aesthetic purposes before you end up dressing like this?:

This picture is repulsive to me. (PARRTAYY! OMFG WE’RE DA DRUNK INDIANZ! FEATHARS ARE SO HIP!!!1)
I mean, I am no expert on these things, but I feel that the very last BAZINGA! of colonialism is that hundreds of years later, after the Europeans murdered/stole the land of/generally oppressed the Native people almost to oblivion, their twenty-something descendants would get the chance to reduce thousands of years of culture to a some cheap feathers and fringy t-shirt soaked in alcohol and the regret of last night’s hookups.

Speaking of booze-soaked regrets,

KeShA!!! (Pardon my misspelling, it seems as though my dollar sign key is broken)

Kesha, though already distasteful minus any cultural appropriation, is apparently a huge fan of the headdress and refuses to take it off for fear that her extensions will have nothing to hold on to.

Though the girl literally makes a living off looking like (and singing about being) a hot mess, she is not the only musician/fashion icon?/celebrity to rock the “tribal look”.

Plus the mainstream fashion industry is making bank off it.

Go type “tribal” into the Urban Outfitters search bar.

But here’s the hard part.

To what extent is the usage of “native” designs in clothing and jewelry acceptable? Are these products from UO okay?

At what point to you go from inspiration and incorporation of Native elements in design to rubbing lipstick all over your face and going “awoowoowoowoo” around your fireplace?

I don’t fully understand yet.

But the blogs My Culture is not a Trend and Native Appropriations are both good places to start.

For every Kesha song you’ve ever listened to, I command you read an equal number of posts from these blogs to balance out your cultural sensitivity karma!

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2 thoughts on “Can't We All Just… Be Native Americans?

  1. Thanks so much for this – there’s been so much discussion and it’s lovely! I think you’re right, there is nothing wrong with appreciating the culture but appropriating it without understanding it speaks of wealthy white ignorance, which is pretty abhorrent. I’ll link your post at the bottom of mine, if that’s okay!

    • For sure! Thanks for reading! And thanks for bringing up the topic in the first place. This is one of those things that is easily ignored unless people start talking about it. I’m glad I could be part of the discussion!

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