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University Student needing some questions answered for a project

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  • University Student needing some questions answered for a project

    Hi there!

    My name is Beth and I am new to this forum so please bear with me if I am starting this thread in the wrong area of the forum or if this is not seen as a suitable post. I am not trying to offend anybody, I just really would like someone to help me gather some information together.

    I am a student currently studying at a University in England, UK. I am in my final year and I am in the process of writing my dissertation (grad project) which is the most important part of my undergraduate degree. I am basing my thesis on cultural appropriation or the 'cultural borrowing' of Native American clothing and garb, particularly when it is worn at festivals such as Coachella, and whether it is acceptable or not to wear this as 'festival fashion' if it is not part of your own culture. As I said before, I am not setting out to offend anybody, I would be really helpful to me and my project if I could get some opinions from anybody who has an opinion on this matter as it would really help me out.

    Thank you so much,

    Beth M

  • #2
    Welcome to

    First, congratulations on getting to your last year. I remember writing my undergrad thesis and my dissertation. I commend you on your effort.

    Second, I am going to warn you many many Native people are tired of being studied. Where I come from we joke that the average Indian family includes 2.3 children, 1 dog and an anthropologist. People seem to think we should be flattered by folks wanting to write about our cultures and using us and our communities to advance their careers. Thus you may encounter some negative responses. (I do hope you are abiding by your University’s guidelines for ethical conduct of research involving humans. Generally, anthropological and sociological research are also governed by those guidelines.)

    That said, the former professor in me wants to try for a teachable moment. Stay with me through the whole thing before getting offended.

    My first response is: why is this even a matter for discussion? What standing does a non-Native person have to render an opinion this matter? Isn't the fact that many of our religious leaders and philosophers say this is offensive enough?

    Then my liberal arts background and my experience with my non-Native family members weighs in. Since I have Welsh Princess great-grandma (coal miner's daughter actually), I know all about the English, LOL. (Sorry, I couldn't resist a riff on the old Cherokee Princess in the family tree.) So, I will generalize from the American dominant culture. As a post-religious culture with Enlightenment and Protestant roots, there is no real intellectual framework upon which to hang the idea of a sacred object. Nothing in the dominant culture is sacred in a comparable way to the eagle feathers in a bonnet. Perhaps the most useful analog is the Catholic consecrated communion host. The feathers in a bonnet and the bonnet itself is sacred in a similar sense.

    To get a handle on this viewpoint, I would suggest you read the first two chapters or at a bare minimum chapter 2 section 3 of the dissertation at the link below. I'm not sure I agree with all the author's conclusions but it may give you a framework to understand aspects of the sacred objects within one native culture. (Yes, I know it is +540 pages long, but the first two chapters are only ca 120 pages.)

    So, what does this have to do with turkey feather, Las Vegas style headdresses? Some native folks say not much except that the makers and wearers are ripping off our cultures intellectual property. But, others see things differently. They see an imitation and distortion of a sacred form; in essence, they see an act of sacrilege.

    Your probably a bit young for this analogy, but consider Andres Serrano's Immersion (Piss Christ). From one perspective it is a photograph of a plastic image of the execution of Jesus, stuck in a jar of urine. Just some piece of plastic. From another, it is an attack on the key moment of the Gospels and, by extension, the central tenet of an entire faith and community.

    When you talk with folks in the dominant culture about headdresses and you hear many of the same arguments and objections made when the “culture wars” erupted over Piss Christ. But, Serrano was a member of the dominant culture. The symbol used was part of his cultural inheritance. He is commenting on his own culture. The folks wearing hippster headdresses aren’t Native. They are members of the colonizing culture. There is a power differential. Even if they aren’t aware of it, they’re by and large part of the group that has the institutional levers of power.

    That power grants the member of the dominant culture the "right" to an equal voice in the argument. They can proclaim free expression, or say that we all "borrow" (trans. steal) from other cultures, or demand I give up my car and my lab and move back into a tipi. But, I can't demand they quit dressing up and playing Indian (or quit misusing and destroying my people's religion or claiming to honor me while wearing a headdress and dressing in paint so they can swill beer and cheer on their sports team...). Yet, the same dominant culture will decry foreign patent infringement.
    Last edited by OLChemist; 03-11-2018, 08:45 PM. Reason: Expanding on a point. Opps that would be bare. I so hate auto-complete.


    • #3
      As for the specifics of various Native arguments against the appropriation of headdresses, a good 10 minutes with Google with get you loads of quotable and authoritative sources. A few for your consideration:

      Native Appropriations: But Why Can't I Wear...

      NMAI: Dr Adrienne Keene on hipster headdresses

      NMAI:Joe Horse Capture on dressing like an Indian

      NMAI:Lynette Nylander: cultural appropriation in couture

      Here's some humor on the subject from the 1491's:

      I'm an Indian Too

      Halloween Hell No


      • #4
        Good words ! LOL I would've just said NO !
        I believe blood quantums are the governments way to breed us out of existance !

        They say blood is thicker than water ! Now maple syrup is thicker than blood , so are pancakes more important than family ?

        There are "Elders" and there are "Olders". Being the second one doesn't make the first one true !

        Somebody is out there somewhere, thinking of you and the impact you made in their life.
        It's not me....I think you're an idiot !


        There's a chance you might not like me ,

        but there's a bigger

        chance I won't care


        • #5
          Thank you so much for your help, I really appreciate it. The last thing I want to do is seem ignorant or offensive.

          Originally posted by OLChemist View Post
          As for the specifics of various Native arguments against the appropriation of headdresses, a good 10 minutes with Google with get you loads of quotable and authoritative sources. A few for your consideration:

          Native Appropriations: But Why Can't I Wear...

          NMAI: Dr Adrienne Keene on hipster headdresses

          NMAI:Joe Horse Capture on dressing like an Indian

          NMAI:Lynette Nylander: cultural appropriation in couture

          Here's some humor on the subject from the 1491's:

          I'm an Indian Too

          Halloween Hell No


          • #6
            I got to admit, I love watching Ryan Red Corn dress up as a hipster.


            • #7
              OK, some recommendations from my bookshelves. These give you a broader picture of Indian imagery, cultural appropriation and ethnic drag in America:

              Philip J. Deloria, Playing Indian , Yale University Press, 1998.

              Robert F. Berkhofer, The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present, Vintage, 1979.

              Sari M. Huhndorf, Going Native: Indians in the American Cultural Imagination, Cornell University Press, 2001.

              Michael F. Brown, Who Owns Native Culture?, Harvard University Press, 2004.

              Headdresses may seem miles from problems besetting Native communities. But to my eyes, they are not unconnected. When a people's connection to their culture has been deliberately attacked, when languages are dying, when sacred objects are being sold in Paris auction houses and Black Hills gift shops... matters of control of cultural intellectual property -- large and small - become intertwined with community health. If you can't control the images of your people that your children are feed, you are forced into triage rather than nurturing.
              Last edited by OLChemist; 03-13-2018, 03:09 AM.


              • #8
                Here is a link to something the Navajo have recently done.
                Take nothing for granted. Life can change irrevocably in a heartbeat.

                I will not feed the troll-well, I will try.


                • #9
                  Thank You very much, I shall have a read.

                  Originally posted by subeeds View Post
                  Here is a link to something the Navajo have recently done.


                  • #10

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