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Native Appropriation Month?
by Ruth Hopkins
You know, in the United States of America, November is officially designated “Native American Heritage Month”- but with all the exploitation and denigration of American Indian culture and identity that’s been perpetrated by mainstream society lately, perhaps they should cut the bull and go ahead and call it “Native Appropriation Month.” The past several weeks have been absolutely replete with full on character assaults against real Indigenous people. Contrary to what pop culture would have you believe, we are very much alive, and our existence is much richer and more vibrant than any of their fabricated portrayals of us.
There have been so many incidences of Native appropriation over the past 30 days (literally thousands) that it’s impossible to discuss them all, so I’m opting to highlight a few here, in no particular order.
1.) Family Guy
Non-Native fans and half of Indian Country is mourning the loss of the Griffith’s beloved dog, Brian. Aside from that, the most recent episode of The Family Guy featured an alternate version of history where American Indians were given automatic weapons in pre-colonial times, leading to a modern era where Natives and Caucasians in America switched places. Admittedly, the Creator of The Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane, is an equal opportunity offender and revels in poking fun at stereotypes. I snickered at a joke about Natives rushing to buy jean jackets, because I have more than a few myself- but Seth still doesn’t get a pass from me, because of one joke in particular. Characters in the show conclude that history has been corrected after they check the internet and find that there are no Native American role models. It is precisely because of the internet that the public cannot feign ignorance as to the existence of Tribes in 2013, as well as Native role models. We have many- from past leaders like Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Charles Eastman, Wilma Mankiller, and Russell Means, to current and up-and-coming role models like Billy Mills, Winona LaDuke, Tatanka Means, Chase Iron Eyes, and the Schimmel Sisters, among others. The mainstream media focuses on all that’s wrong with Indian country instead of the good, and that includes our shining stars.
2.) The “Native American Wedding”
A recent photo spread on weddingchicks.com featured “Native American Wedding Ideas,” complete with “Native American Medicine Bag” invitations, a “huge, custom dreamcatcher” over the ceremony arch, and a bride wearing the cheapest looking chicken feather faux headdress you’ve ever seen. The photo shoot took place at “Great Spirits Ranch,” nestled in the Malibu hills and boasting “horses, goats, a pig, and a REAL TEEPEE.”
Anyone who’s been to an actual traditional Native wedding knows how beautiful, intricate, and full of meaning these ceremonies really are. They are so sacred, they aren’t even filmed. Once again, pop culture fails miserably in grasping the true beauty of Native lifeways, and not a single Native artisan was consulted or hired to give input on this project. Shame on you, weddingchicks.com. By the way, while we know they’re hot, Native men are NOT fashion accessories.
3.) Pub Crawl and Thanksgiving Bash Adverts
Pub crawls and Thanksgiving bashes across the U.S. promoted turkey day events where people are encouraged to dress up like pilgrims and Indians by posting advertisements with pictures of scantily clad white women dressed as pochahotties, once again hypersexualizing and objectifying Native women. Furthermore, any half-wit should understand why Natives have no desire to be associated with drunkenness. The stereotype of the drunken Indian is one of the worst, by far.
4.) Every School Child Made to Don an Indian Costume for Thanksgiving
In November, schools throughout America encourage children to dress up as pilgrims and Indians to tell the myth of the first Thanksgiving. Educators, you have no excuse. Real history is at your fingertips. There’s no need to regurgitate the white washed story of Thanksgiving that you were spoon fed as a child. Stop pushing the Charlie Brown version where Pilgrims and Indians shook hands and feasted, and tell them the truth. Tell your students about the original inhabitants of this country, colonization, and the genocide that followed. If children can learn about slavery, World War II and the holocaust, they can learn about how Europeans invaded this land and what happened to its Indigenous people. Dressing school children in stereotypical Indian costumes doesn’t teach them about Thanksgiving. It teaches them about privilege and control.
5.) Mastodon T-Shirt
The hard rock band Mastodon is selling a “Happy Thanksgiving” t-shirt that shows a male pilgrim pointing his gun at the head of a young, seductively dressed Native woman kneeling at his feet, while holding a turkey. This image is so disturbing it warrants a trigger warning to any Native woman who has been abused or assaulted by a non-Native man.
In fact, non-Native men commit sexual violence against Native women at such epidemic levels that it pushed Congress to pass provisions that help protect Native women in the Violence Against Women Act just last winter. Trivializing sexual violence against women is inexcusable. It is not art, and it’s not funny.
I’ve written on this topic before. Like those who protest the use of Native imagery in sports, I’m told to “get over it,” and “work on something more important.” What’s more important than demanding respect for your ancestry, and protecting and investing in the dignity of my people and our children? Every issue we face is connected. We must work on them concurrently. We will not be silenced to make your ignorance and racism more convenient.
You will be held accountable for your false caricatures of us.
You will treat us as equals, as human beings worthy of respect.
You will not exploit us anymore.
Native appropriation is proof positive that Native voices have been largely excluded by mainstream media. It’s crucial that Native media takes center stage in educating the public as to the reality of Native identity. Our truth must be told. Hopefully, disseminating real information about who Natives are will stem the incidence of Native Appropriation. The public should want to know our truth, because who we really are and what we have to offer is so much greater and more powerful than what it’s been told.
Put away all the fake Hollywood B.S. and meet the real American Indians.
We’re on the scene.