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Trying to be “native” when the dress code is against me.

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  • Trying to be “native” when the dress code is against me.

    Aho! Nde here, and boy do I have a dilemma. So, for my 16th birthday, my mom gave me one of classic bone chokers that she got when she was younger. Over the years, I’ve worn it quite a bit, to school, work, etc. I live with several POC, Latina and Black, and they invited me to a POC empowerment lecture series. I would be the only native person there, so obviously I want to “represent.” The issue is, I showed them the outfit I plan to wear, and they all took issue with my choker. They’re fine with my beadwork and the silver and turquoise that I got from Navajo and Hopi artists at Powwows, but not with the piece that comes from my tribe. I’m just not really sure what to do. They think it looks unprofessional (which seems racist to me), but I also don’t want to give a bad impression (cause there’s a lot of networking). Is it worth compromising?


  • #2
    Hi Ahoalo. Welcome to

    A choker does not an Indian make, lol. :) Silver, turquoise, beadwork and the choker. It sounds a bit like you're trying to scream not say "I'm an Indian." Stick with me please. What you wear isn't going to make you feel more Apache or Indian. I'm not sure why you need to make such a strong external statement. Isn't the point of the event learning some empowerment techniques and doing some networking?

    When I first started grad school, I used to have to wear something "Indian" every time I gave a talk, attended a conference, so on. I used to bead in the lab while waiting for my experiments to finish. I had my subscription to "Akwesasne Notes" delivered to my department mail box. I felt I needed to make sure everyone knew I was Indian. (To give you a feel for the times, the year I got my PhD out of the roughly 2,200 PhD's granted, one other Native person got a PhD in chemistry -- < 0.1%.)

    When I started my postdoc, the department sectary took me on a tour and introduced me as the "girl who did Indian beadwork." Not the chemist who did some of the early work on such and such. Not the graduate of XYZ program. Not the student of Dr So and so. During the rest of my tenure, I would hear her introduce all the other new postdocs with their professional accomplishments. My colleagues in the department thought of me as an Indian first and a chemist second. As long as I was there, my professional credentials were always qualified with an adjective.

    In my opinion, the best way to represent would be to be thought of as the XYZ professional, who happens to be Apache.
    Last edited by OLChemist; 03-11-2023, 08:33 PM.


    • #3
      However, I also have to inform you that not everyone will understand and appreciate your cultural art, and there is a possibility that they will view it negatively. It's up to you to weigh the options and make a decision that you feel is best for you and your culture. Beware.


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