UKRAINE, I AM COMING HOME TO YOU
I’ve posted a lot about the phenomenon that is the hipster headdress (see here, here, and here), but I’ve never really broken it down as to why this trend is so annoying and messed up. A lot of this will be review and is repeated elsewhere on the site, but I thought it was high time I pulled things together into a one-stop-anti-headdress shop. Much of this can also apply to any of the “tribal trends” I feature here, and you can also consider this a follow up to my “Cultural Appropriation Bingo” post.
So why can’t I wear it?
Headdresses promote stereotyping of Native cultures.
Headdresses, feathers, and warbonnets have deep spiritual significance.
It’s just like wearing blackface.
“Playing Indian” has a long history in the United States, all the way back to those original tea partiers in Boston, and in no way is it better than minstral shows or dressing up in blackface. You are pretending to be a race that you are not, and are drawing upon stereotypes to do so. Like my first point said, you’re collapsing distinct cultures, and in doing so, you’re asserting your power over them. Which leads me to the next issue.
There is a history of genocide and colonialism involved that continues today.
By the sheer fact that you live in the United States you are benefiting from the history of genocide and continued colonialism of Native peoples. That land you’re standing on? Indian land. Taken illegally so your ancestor who came to the US could buy it and live off it, gaining valuable capital (both monetary and cultural) that passed down through the generations to you. Have I benefited as well, given I was raised in a white, suburban community? yes. absolutely. but by dismissing and minimizing the continued subordination and oppression of Natives in the US by donning your headdress, you are contributing to the culture of power that continues the cycle today.
But I don’t mean it in that way, I just think it’s cute!
Well hopefully I’ve illuminated that there’s more at play here than just a “cute” fashion choice. Sorry for taking away your ignorance defense.
But I consider it honoring to Native Americans!
I think that this cartoon is a proper answer, but I’ll add that having a drunken girl wearing a headdress and a bikini dancing at an outdoor concert does not honor me. I remember reading somewhere that it was also “honoring the fine craftsmanship of Native Americans”. Those costume shop chicken feather headdresses aren’t honoring Native craftsmanship. And you will be very hard pressed to find a Native artist who is closely tied to their community making headdresses for sale. See the point about their sacredness and significance.
I’m just wearing it because it’s “ironic”!
I’m all for irony. Finger mustaches, PBR, kanye glasses, old timey facial hair, 80’s spandex—fine, funny, a bit over-played, but ironic, I guess. Appropriating someone’s culture and cavorting around town in your skinny jeans with a feathered headdress, moccasins, and turquoise jewelry in an attempt to be ‘counterculture’? Not ironic. If you’re okay with being a walking representative of 500+ years of colonialism and racism, or don’t mind perpetuating the stereotypes that we as Native people have been fighting against for just as long, by all means, go for it. But by embracing the current tribal trends you aren’t asserting yourself as an individual, you are situating yourself in a culture of power that continues to oppress Native peoples in the US. And really, if everyone is doing it, doesn’t that take away from the irony? am I missing the point on the irony? maybe. how is this even ironic? I’m starting to confuse myself. but it’s still not a defense.
Stop getting so defensive, it’s seriously just fashion!
Did you read anything I just wrote? It’s not “just” fashion. There is a lot more at play here. This is a matter of power and who has the right to represent my culture. (I also enjoy asking myself questions that elicit snarky answers.)
What about the bigger issues in Indian Country? Poverty, suicide rates, lack of resources, disease, etc? Aren’t those more important that hipster headdresses?
Yes, absolutely. But, I’ll paraphrase Jess Yee in this post, and say these are very real issues and challenges in our communities, but when the only images of Natives that Americans see are incorrect, and place Natives in the historic past, it erases our current presence, and makes it impossible for the current issues to exist in the collective American consciousness. Our cultures and lives are something that only exist in movies or in the past, not today. So it’s a cycle, and in order to break that cycle, we need to question and interrogate the stereotypes and images that erase our current presence—while we simultaneously tackle the pressing issues in Indian Country. They’re closely linked, and at least this is a place to start.
Well then, Miss Cultural Appropriation Police, what CAN I wear?
If you choose to wear something Native, buy it from a Native. There are federal laws that protect Native artists and craftspeople who make genuine jewelry, art, etc. (see infohere about The Indian Arts and Crafts Act). Anything you buy should have a label that says “Indian made” or “Native made”. Talk to the artist. find out where they’re from. Be diligent. Don’t go out in a full “costume”. It’s ok to have on some beaded earrings or a turquoise ring, but don’t march down the street wearing a feather, with loaded on jewelry, and a ribbon shirt. Ask yourself: if you ran into a Native person, would you feel embarrassed or feel the need to justify yourself? As commenter Bree pointed out, it’s ok to own a shirt with kimono sleeves, but you wouldn’t go out wearing full kabuki makeup to a bar. Just take a minute to question your sartorial choices before you go out.
But what if I want to wear indigenous jewellery?
Having had enough of the massive rift between the Hipster parasites and the everything’s-cultural-appropriation community, I have finally decided to write a post of do’s and don’ts when it comes to cultural appropriation and jewellery. Yes hipsters, you can wear some things, no hipsters, you do not get to choose what you get to wear.
Most indigenous communities are dependant upon the selling of traditional art and jewellery to generate incomes, to completely ignore this and boycott all forms of indigenous jewellery would in the end do more damage to the community, than if one were to wear said thing in the first place.
This does however not translate as ‘everything goes’ - some things have a cultural value which makes them, both in theory and practice, unwearable by outsiders; among these things I would list, in particular, traditional clothes, war bonnets (indian headdresses) and religious regalia.
Furthermore, when buying an indigenous piece of jewellery it is of utmost importance to buy said piece of jewellery from a recognised indigenous artist; buying a dream catcher made in Taiwan, or a Saami wristband sold by H&M is an act of cultural appropriation, as it strips the community of something which is specific to them, without giving anything back to said community, whereas buying a thing from an artist in many ways help the community.
If the thing you’re wanting to buy doesn’t have a clear description of who made it, where it’s from, and its cultural significance, don’t buy it.
If a member of an indigenous community from whence your piece of jewellery comes is offended by your wearing of it, take it off. Simple as that, don’t argue about it, just respect their opinion.
Never buy anything that has a religious undertone with the intent to wear it; personally I get all itchy when I see people with noaiddi drum necklaces, and I guess some Native Americans feel the same about people who wear medicine wheels or dream catchers.
If a member of a native community gives you a piece of indigenous jewellery as a gift, do NOT decline out of fear of engaging in cultural appropriation; it would be far more rude to decline the offer of a gift, at least this is the case among the Saami, and most other communities I am familiar with.
Never question the price of an indigenous piece of jewellery - the income generated from the selling of one single piece of jewellery is often split up among several families, and unless you’re willing to pay for the time someone spent on creating the piece of jewellery that you’re wanting to wear, don’t buy it.
If you’re buying from a second hand source, always request details with regards to whom made your jewellery.
Hope this helps.
Dream catchers are one of the most appropriated and commercialized Native images. They’re originally Ojibwe, but have been adopted by tribes across the US and Canada, mostly as items created for sale to tourists and non-Natives. The problem is, in many Ojibwe communities, dream catchers are still a sacred, and their creation involves specific ceremonies and prayers. The plastic commercial keychains sold in rest stops are making a mockery of a sacred object. When people buy the dream catchers because they’re “pretty” or to ward off bad dreams, and aren’t aware of the power and history behind the objects, it dilutes them to a commercial object disconnected from their origins and community. I’m not saying that dream catchers are off-limits to non-Natives. But if you do choose to buy a dream catcher, as always, buy it from a Native artisan. The Indian Arts and Crafts Act states that artists who are selling Native-style arts must be tribal members, and if they are not, they must identify themselves as such, so ask.
One evening an old Choctaw told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.”
“One is Evil - It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good - It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?“
The old Choctaw simply replied, “The one you feed.”
“he was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life. he was alone and young and willful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight.”
- jon krakauer, into the wild
“When the Lakota leader Sitting Bull was asked by a white reporter why his people loved and respected him, Sitting Bull replied by asking if it was not true that among white people a man is respected because he has many horses, many houses? When the reporter replied that was indeed true, Sitting Bull then said that his people respected him because he kept nothing for himself.”
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”—Henry David Thoreau