Me: *furrowed eyebrows and a blunt eye-roll*
I started my shift last week, with a very interesting interaction.
Me: “Hi! What can I get for –““NO. This is from my Grandmother, she got it from a Navajo Jeweler on the Navajo reservation. This is authentic, not that commercialized stuff”
Her: *Confused and annoyed*
“Oh… that’s cool… I’ll have a tea.”
My main concern was that this girl didn’t know what authentic jewelry was and that she couldn’t grasp why I would be offended.
I understand that people may not know what authentic Native jewelry may look like. Although she annoyed me with her ignorance , she was not completely at fault. It is a part of a larger battle.
Mainstream media has produced a stereotypical image of a Native American person. We have Western films to thank for streamlining this image. When most people think of Native people they often invision a free-spirited, teepee-living, buckskin-wearing, pipe-smoking, long-haired, red-skinned Native person. Many people take this image as true because they have only been fed misrepresentations and appropriation their entire lives.
By now one would think our society would have learned these stereotypes are offensive – but we haven’t. This is why we still have the term name redsk*ns, headdresses at music festivals, appropriated fashion, and Native princess Halloween costumes. People still believe in these stereotypes today.
However, this does not excuse appropriation as acceptable. It’s not. Appropriation will never be justifiable because you are taking what belonged to Native people… for your own benefit.
Appropriation is a modern day form of colonization. My friend, Amber Hall, of the Cherokee Nation, says: “being able to manipulate the imagery of the indigeneity is part of the colonialism that still haunts native people today.” When you wear tribal pattern or print and don’t personally identify as Native you are really misrepresenting a whole population and their history. That is why your feathers and fringe are insulting to my people.
People who wear Native print are manipulating patterns from our sacred baskets to put on your underwear. You are making our ceremonial blankets into skater shoes. You are desecrating a symbol of honor to wear as your festival attire. These patterns have significant meaning to our people. Our culture should not be someone else’s fashion.
People buying into the fashion do not know how damaging this is for Native people. One major detriment to the Native designs one can see in Urban Outfitters is that it is that it’s not made by Native people. These appropriated products you see are designed by non-natives and sold for profit by non-natives. Then you are paying non-Natives for Native designs, which does not make sense. This puts many real Native designers out of their jobs.
Many do not see appropriation as a big problem because they do not see the direct impact, but the impact on Native people is . The obsession that the fashion industry has with Native culture needs to end. You can play a major role in halting the misrepresentation. Now that you are informed, inform others.
Stop buying fashion that looks Native, if you question it – don’t buy it. Just remember appropriated Native designs always have an excessive amount of neon, beading, and fringe – always the fringe. If you have a genuine appreciation for Native jewelry and clothing then buy things from people who are Native.
There are many sites in which you can do that, so the money you spend goes directly to Native people. Websites such as NotAbove Jewlery made by my personal friend Nanibaa Beck https://notabove.com/, B.Yellowtail who created the “Indigenous Woman Rise” movement http://www.byellowtail.com/, Urban Native Era Movement http://www.urbannativeera.com/, and Saba T-shirt designs https://sabahut.com/graphic-design/t-shirts/. I wouldn’t be upset if I saw someone walking around campus with these. I’d love to see more people supporting local artists.
That’s the only way to stop fashion designers from taking from our culture. Give respect back to our people and stop perpetuating the stereotypes.