Celebrate Columbus Day: Call Out Native Appropriation

Well, today's Columbus Day, a time when we feel weird about getting a day off work because Columbus and the genocide that followed his "discovering" of America is not someone we should celebrate in any sense of the word. If you're currently feeling conflicted about staying at home on the couch watching Real Housewives reruns, take a minute to call out some of the Native appropriations for sale at a retailer near you.

Here are but a few suggestions—be sure to leave yours in the comments section!

Urban Outfitters:
As Sasha Houston Brown points out in her excellent post on the subject, "Selling imported plastic and nylon dreamcatchers disrespects our history and undermines our sovereignty as Tribal Nations." In addition to the aforementioned dreamcatchers, UO also sells the "Navajo Hipster Panty" (and about a million other things):
white woman wearing Navajo underwear
Contact Urban Outfitters here. Twitter: @UrbanOutfitters.

Etsy and many of the site's sellers have got an appropriation problem. Check out some of their recent "handpicked items" and see which sellers could use a message from you telling them that racism is never fashionable (via My Culture is Not a Trend):
collection of images from etsy homepage, including headdresses and beaded earrings
Contact Etsy here. Twitter: @Etsy.

Your friend's Halloween costume:
Face it: You're likely to have at least one non-Native, non-thinking friend decide to go the headdress route come Halloween this year. Speak up and let them that their costume is not cool—and let the retailers who sell these costumes know how you feel too. You can start with Costume Craze and their "Adult Super Deluxe Indian Woman" outfit:
man and woman dressed as Native people looking like jerks
Type in the coupon code INDN45 and save 20%! Seriously.
Contact Costume Craze here.

Again, these are just a few examples of the Native appropriation happening RIGHT NOW on Columbus Day. Share yours in the comments, and use your day off to call out some of the exploitation and racism that's been a part of this country since 1492.

by Kelsey Wallace
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14 Comments Have Been Posted

Is it really that bad to dress up?

I'm 1/16 Cherokee, not that it means much at all, but because of that I do have an affinity for Native American art. And as a budding History major, I read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. So while I understand that Columbus Day is a farce, I don't think these costumes are racist or harmful. If anyone would like to explain why, I'm open to your opinion. I just don't think it's much different from dressing as a geisha, or a Greek goddess, or a pirate. Halloween is the one time we get to dress as someone we're not...it doesn't mean we're ridiculing the culture.

Yes, it is.

Hi Kris,

There's a big difference between being a fan of art made by Native people (and buying it from Native people) and dressing up in a cheap shitty Native costume for Halloween (or a cheap shitty Geisha costume, for that matter). It's the difference between appreciation and appropriation.

For more on racism and Halloween, check out Fatemeh Fakhraie's post on the subject from <a href="http://muslimahmediawatch.org/2007/10/reasons-i-hate-halloween-2/"target... Media Watch</a>.

It absolutely is.

And as a young, Native Lakota woman who lives her life within her culture I can say that it absolutely is. You need to familiarize yourself with the Native Appropriations website. No one has the right to dress up "for fun" at the sake of my dignity.

Here is the website, it's very educational:

Forever 21: Repeat Offender

This burnout top features a colorful Indian chief graphic and a "West Hills Chiefs" text. Ribbed trimmed scoop neck. Short sleeves. Relaxed fit. Knit. Lightweight.

A relaxed fit top that features an Indian princess graphic and a ribbed trimmed round neck. Short sleeves. Knit. Lightweight.

Searching "tribal" returns 114 results: http://www.forever21.com/Search/search.aspx?keyword=tribal&rankBy=releva...

Searching "native" returns 13 results: http://www.forever21.com/Search/search.aspx?keyword=native&rankBy=releva...

Which is the bigger fish in the frying pan?

I agree that Native American appropriation is atrocious and shouldn't happen. It happens on all levels, from clothing/costumes/jewelry to music for children. And yet, considering the injustice that still occurs for Native Americans, and considering the fact that our Federal Government still recognizes a day that celebrates a mass murderer and rapist, I think we have bigger fish to fry. Selling plastic dream catchers isn't ok, nor is selling underwear w/ "native" patterns on them...and has anyone else noticed the whole "feather" craze that seems to be spreading? It may not be blatant appropriation, but it seems like a subtle appropriation at the very least. At any rate, popular culture both creates attitudes and points to existing ones simultaneously, and I'm sure that this example is no different. At the same time, if we look at the bigger picture of the injustice and inequality toward Native Americans, this stuff just doesn't come up to scratch. So, if etsy designers pull their jewelry, will that change how tribes are treated or perceived by the government? If people decide to not wear Native American costumes for Halloween (or any other occasion) will that change the fact that on the second Monday in October we "celebrate" the man who was responsible for so many deaths? All of those things may be a step in the right direction, but we'd be fooling ourselves if we believed that we didn't have much farther to go.

Genocide Fallacy

This is an example of what we at Bitch call the Genocide Fallacy. Just because there are bigger issues of injustice and inequality in the world doesn't mean that we shouldn't call out Native appropriation when we see it. It's not an either/or scenario.

Upon reading this I instantly

Upon reading this I instantly thought of the recent short film from Proenza Schouler for their fall/winter collection which was inspired by Native American arts and crafts. The film is by noted director Harmony Korine (who I am an admitted fan of) and is a bit uncomfortable due to the way in which the appropriation occurs (odd-looking, seemingly mute, White models imitating some amalgamation of Native American troupes, and a creepy, old man with seemingly lecherous intentions). It seems to me that the message of the film was somewhat against direct appropriation and an allegory for the Native American/European American history and interaction.

However, keeping in mind that this is a form of advertisement for a high fashion label, I'm not sure how much meaning can be extracted and if it is even the appropriate forum for such a message.



From Spirit Halloween:

Spirit Exclusive

Time to get off the reservation and break away from the tribe in this sexy Dream Catcher costume. He'll want to take you right back to the teepee but you'll want to party and more, and why not? Put the wow in pow wow and go native in this unique costume that shows off your natural beauty.


This is gross...on so many levels...

RACIST, No other word to describe it.

Dressing up as a Native American or any other ethnic group is racist and perpetuates the stereotypes, inaccurate representation of the uniqueness of the different tribes, think pan-native or pan-asian etc. I'm Chinese (not "Asian" as that geographic while my ethnicity is my culture). I'm not okay with the Geisha costumes (paint your face powdered white or yellow with black eye-liner too for that almond eye shape) or the Manchu-Chinese costumes, or the Concubine-prostitute look either. The equivalent is going in "black face" and that's considered completely inappropriate and derogatory and not acceptable to today's standards. These costumes are no different.

Ah, I think I get it

Black face. Yes. I've long been irritated by stereotype "Indian" costumes, but I think you just put a finger on just why they're so irritating, and why they're disrespectful.


I think I just threw up a little :S

Aaah, Spirit costumes: simultaneously insulting women and Native cultures. A double-whammy.

I am native (Mohawk), I work

I am native (Mohawk), I work for a costume rental department that rents theatrical quality costumes (including authentic Japanese kimonos complete with obis) and I own my own vintage clothing store where I have sold authentically native made jewellery, and vintage Navajo printed items . I enjoy collecting dream catchers, and wearing Navajo prints. I have even dressed in authentic Ojibwa garb during the Halloween season. I have taken native beading classes, and put on a dream catcher workshop taught by a native friend of mine at my store. In Northern Ontario I took my boyfriend and a friend of mine who has a similar interest in Native culture to the petroglyphs which are believed to be native rock carvings. We were taken on a tour by a non-native spokes person despite the petroglyphs being sacred land. We had a huge discussion with him about how as a non-native there were big issues with regard to him interpreting the rock carvings to tourists while visiting the site. Despite the fact that he was taught by a native elder, there was a lot of discretion about him teaching tourists about these symbolic images because there are different interpretations through out different tribes to meaning. A lot of it comes down to you, and your perspective. I sort of feel the same way about this whole native attire debate. A huge part of native culture is attire, and regalia making. Any native center could teach you the basics of native costume making, beading, and dream catcher making no matter what your race and they won't think any different of it. Black face was literally putting shoe polish on your skin, and creating a humiliating charactateur of that race. Just as it would be to wear glasses and giant fake teeth, such as Michael Scott's Chinese "Ping" character on The Office. If you're literally altering your skin to make yourself a race which is not your own, then yes you're probably racist. Which is just as offensive as wearing a SS Uniform for Halloween, or a KKK uniform. It's in bad taste, and yes it is racist, and yes you should know better! The only issue is fashion is inspired by many many things, and it is a art form. So wearing a "tribal" print t-shirt doesn't make you a racist. I wouldn't buy a dream catcher from Urban Outfitters, because it's like buying your groceries from Wal-mart. You should know the story behind where you're getting your items from and you should have respect for a culture that you're deciding to represent. This all really comes down to YOU, and your perspective. I have a dream catcher that I purchased from a native, so does that make you racist for hanging it in your house? No. If I have a tattoo of a feather on my arm, because it has native connotations does that make me a racist...well no. Where do you draw the line when it comes to what you WEAR vs changing your actual appearance? I find native wear not only beautiful and intricate but inspiring and maybe it will draw people to actually learn and question native or other cultures vs. parodying them.

Speaking from an

Speaking from an anthropological perspective, while I disagree with 'disrespectful' interpretations of other cultures acculturation is a process that has been happening for hundreds of years. Traits from one culture are spread and adopted by another. It should be mentioned that most native cultures in north america have also 'appropraited' traits from other cultures, and before we get into a histrical debate not every adoption was coerced.

My point is that, it should not be forgotten that underneath cultural prejudices exists a natural process which is largely neutral. That is not to say that the politics of the issue are extricable from this process. In my opinion inerpretations of another culture can be respectful and appropriate. However, I do recognise that these 'appropriations' tread a fine line, especially when they enter the realm of ceremony and traditional wear. Hopefully 'hipster head dresses' are not the new buddah T shirts.
I also just want to add that I believe there is some confusion regarding race and culture, which while linked conceptually are different entities. In my opinion while the appropriation of some cultural traits is acceptable the appropriation of race is not.

Other ways

I don't hesitate to call out appropriation, but I also a) discuss with my children the real history behind the European colonization of the Americas, and b) post a FB status about it. That may sound trivial, but I figure if even a few of my FB friends stop and think when I refer to Columbus Day as "introduce smallpox to the indigenous population" day, I've accomplished something.

I really do think talking about this issue with our kids, pointing out the discrepancy between what they might be learning from their textbooks and the real history, is the key to educating Americans as a whole.

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