Yesterday I attended the Professionals of Color Lecture Series Presents: Dr. Adrienne Keene: Conversation on Cultural Appropriation & Pop Culture.
From the events blurb: "Adrienne Keene (Cherokee Nation) is a Native scholar, writer, blogger and activist. She is passionate about reframing how the world sees contemporary Native cultures. She is the creator and author of "Native Appropriations," a blog discussing cultural appropriation and stereotypes of Native peoples in fashion and other forms of pop culture. Her 3 foci were: increasing awareness of Native Americans in today’s society and how the history of marginalization and discrimination are still challenges in today’s society, insights into how contemporary Native Americans are working towards social change, and how Native Americans are negatively portrayed in media, sporting events and pop culture and the direct connection to continued oppression, discrimination and marginalization of their communities."
She has spent the last 5 years learning how to talk about these complex ideas in public, often through her blog. Stereotyping shrinks the diversity of Indian country to a few images and erases contemporary existence: there are 567 federally-recognized tribes and many more not recognized. Native identity is complex and racialized, involving political citizenship and culture. Cultural appropriation is taking from a culture no one's own instead of participating in an equal exchange of sharing. There are economic and moral issues: the designs are intellectual property, copyrighted and trademarked. E.g., the Navajo Nation hold the trademark for "Navajo." Urban Outfitters violated it in 2011, making a lot of money from products while the Navajo Nation did not. Morally, appropriation interferes with self-identity, self-definition, violates sacred aspects of a culture, and interferes with cultural sovereignty and survival. (This is so similar to issues of gender identity and sexual orientation!) Stereotypical images continue the dehumanization and colonization processes (emphasizing white supremacy). Native appearance, cultures, and languages were made illegal in the attempt to wipe out or assimilate them.
Fashion is an accessory that can be put on and taken off, different from identity. Yet there aren't hard lines between appropriation and exchange. Consider the 3 S's: source, significance, similarity. In 2012, the Paul Frank Fashion Night Out was marketed as
"Dream Catchin’ Pow wow." After Adrienne blogged about it, the President wrote to and phoned her to discuss ways to address the situation. The company pulled all "Native" designs from their digital art, pulled all products using that art, presented at the industry conference, and collaborated with Native artists to produce new designs and products (an e.g. of ("interest convergence"). When given the opportunity, many people want to do the right thing, but there are still challenges.
As an academic, Adrienne wondered how to process and deal with hate mail. She made a spreadsheet of tweets and analyzed the data, producing a scholarly article to be presented at a conference, thus reclaiming the hate mail language.
How can we incorporate Native designs respectfully? Buy from Native designers, know the background of the work, where/whom it's from. Don't buy or wear items which have sacred or religious significance. Let Native Americans represent themselves by buying directly from them or shops such as Beyond Buckskin Boutique.