All My Relations Podcast

Ep #7: Native Appropriations

April 17, 2019 Matika Wilbur & Adrienne Keene Season 1 Episode 7
All My Relations Podcast
Ep #7: Native Appropriations
Chapters
All My Relations Podcast
Ep #7: Native Appropriations
Apr 17, 2019 Season 1 Episode 7
Matika Wilbur & Adrienne Keene

In this episode, All My Relations explores the topic of cultural appropriation—it’s become such a buzzword, but what is it, really? Adrienne and Matika care deeply about Native representation, and talk constantly about this subject. Here, you'll have the opportunity to listen into that conversation, as we reveal our feelings about the infamous white savior photographer Edward S. Curtis, Halloween, answer listener questions, and more.  Appropriators beware. 

Resources: 

Adrienne’s blog: Nativeappropriations.com (300+ posts to help with the appropriation convos)

“Why Tonto Matters”: https://nativeappropriations.com/2012/03/why-tonto-matters.html

Matika’s Edward Curtis post: https://lrinspire.com/2018/05/08/edward-s-curtis-again-by-matika-wilbur/

Send us a voicemail of how you say “All My Relations” in your language! https://www.allmyrelationspodcast.com/contact

Support the show (https://www.paypal.me/amrpodcast)

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, All My Relations explores the topic of cultural appropriation—it’s become such a buzzword, but what is it, really? Adrienne and Matika care deeply about Native representation, and talk constantly about this subject. Here, you'll have the opportunity to listen into that conversation, as we reveal our feelings about the infamous white savior photographer Edward S. Curtis, Halloween, answer listener questions, and more.  Appropriators beware. 

Resources: 

Adrienne’s blog: Nativeappropriations.com (300+ posts to help with the appropriation convos)

“Why Tonto Matters”: https://nativeappropriations.com/2012/03/why-tonto-matters.html

Matika’s Edward Curtis post: https://lrinspire.com/2018/05/08/edward-s-curtis-again-by-matika-wilbur/

Send us a voicemail of how you say “All My Relations” in your language! https://www.allmyrelationspodcast.com/contact

Support the show (https://www.paypal.me/amrpodcast)

Matika:

Hi, I'm Matika. I belong to the Swinomish and Tulalip People. I'm a photographer and the c reator o f Project 562.

Adrienne :

And I'm Adrienne, I'm a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, a scholar and the writer behind the blog, Native Appropriations.

:

This is all my relations. We're glad you're here. Thanks for joining us today.

Adrienne :

Today we're going to be talking about a topic that is near and dear to my heart, something I have literally been writing about since I started writing publicly, so it's been over eight years at this point. So we're going to talk about cultural appropriation, about representations about native appropriations.

:

Absolutely. I mean, I can't think of a better topic for us to talk about. Adrienne, you've written about it for years. I've uprooted my entire life and live in a van for this topic. We might say, you know, we feel a little passionate about this subject.

Adrienne :

Just slightly.

:

Sorry. [Laughter] All My Relations [Whisper]

Adrienne :

The plan is we're going to start out by kind of reading some definitions of cultural appropriation and I pulled a bunch of them together from a lot of different types of writers. They're not just native writers to sort of get our heads around this concept and the ways that we think about it.

:

So from Leonore Keeshig-Tobias in 1990 "taking from a culture that is not one's own intellectual property, cultural expressions and artifacts history in ways of knowledge".

Adrienne :

Just as a note, that's my kind of go-to definition that I use in most of my presentations because Lenore Keeshig-Tobias is a First Nations writer and she also said this in 1990. A lot of folks think that this conversation on cultural appropriation happened in the last four years. I think it's important to note that native writers, native thinkers have been talking about this since at least the nineties and then in in terms of cultural appropriation, the phrase, but have been thinking about these issues of representations and cultural theft since contact, obviously. Yeah. Um, so this, this one comes from really great packet that's called think before you appropriate, which was created by Simon Fraser University's intellectual property issues and cultural heritage project, which the abbreviation is IPNCH. They say cultural appropriation "describes a one sided process where one entity benefits from another group's culture without permission and without giving something in return."

:

Yeah. Well let's read from Wikipedia. "Cultural appropriation is distinguished from equal cultural exchange due to the presence of a colonial element, an imbalance of power."

Adrienne :

The power part is really important and we can definitely return to that too. This is another quote I use in my presentations all the time because I think it kind of brings everything together in a very succinct way and it comes from a writer named Sonny S ingh's "Turban's on the runway: What does it mean for Sikhs?" And it was from this cultural moment when people were literally like putting Sikh turbans down the runway. They say "the thing about cultural appropriation is that the appropriator does not have to face the same consequences that we do for practicing our culture or faith. For them it is an accessory that can be taken on or off at will, while for us it is a way of life. I'm not saying cultural or religious garb or practices should not be shared. Culture n ever exists in a vacuum and h as never pure, nor should it be. It is ever changing, evolving, growing. But in a society where immigrants and communities of color are marginalized at every level, we can't pretend that power relations do not exist. When we have this conversation about appropriation. Sharing and exchanging cultural and spiritual practices is great, but it gets more complicated when we're not all on equal footing. It gets more complicated when meaningful things are taken, commodified and exploited for a profit with little respect shown to the community they were taken from."

Matika:

Mmhmm. [Snaps]

Adrienne :

Yes. Well, okay, so I want, I do want to call it, I want to read this, this part from Ijeoma Oluo when white folks are always asking like, oh my God, how do I avoid appropriation? How do I avoid it? Like what they're actually saying and she says "When well-meaning white people say, “Help me define cultural appropriation so I know what to do and not to do,” what they are actually saying, even if they aren’t aware, is, “Help me understand how to continue in this system of privilege and oppression without feeling bad.”

:

Preach.

Adrienne :

Yes. And then the last one on here, I'm not going to read because it's long, but um, Minh-Ha Pham who is an amazing, amazing scholar, who writes about fashion and about, uh, specifically Asian American communities and fashion. She's has coined the term "racial plagiarism" to talk about this phenomenon rather than cultural appropriation because she feels like a cultural appropriation has gotten misconstrued and sort of taken away from the original understanding of it to the point that now it's just sort of a buzzword that we don't often interrogate enough. So she talks about this idea of racial plagiarism, which puts in to conversation, that idea of power, that idea of stealing. She kind of opens the door for us to start thinking about like if cultural appropriation as a term has sort of lost its meaning and the ways that we use it, what is a term that we can use to replace it?

:

And Adrian, how do you think about cultural appropriation? Can you, can we take a moment to think about what is culture and how we're defining that? And then also, you know, when we pair that with appropriation, what we're really talking about.

Adrienne :

If we want to talk about what is culture, I think that could be an entire other episode. And that's where this gets sticky, is that there's no easy boundaries on a lot of these things. There are some things that are super clear where it's very, it's like sacred. There are only a certain people who are supposed to wear it, um, or there is something that is clearly belongs to a designer or a community or whatever it is. But then there's a lot of gray area and there's a lot of ways that our communities interact with each other and have shared things through the years or whatever it is. And so, that's where it gets sticky and complicated. So there's no one easy answer for what is culture. I mean, culture is everything. Culture is everything that surrounds us. To the first part of how do I think about it? I take pieces from all of these definitions. I think the most important thing is to think about the power element to it. Um, and that's the thing that I want to drive home to audiences a lot when I'm doing talks is that this isn't just us hanging out and sharing things like that. We're all on the equal footing, equal playing field. This is situated in a system of power. And for native folks, that's a system of settler colonialism. So when we're talking about settlers taking from native people, it's in this entire context and history of ongoing settler colonialism . It's not just like we're all friends and everyone's okay. It's that we constantly are a position where we lack power and this continues that process. So what are the ways that you think about cultural appropriation in your spaces?

Matika:

Mm, well, I think of cultural appropriation first as a Stahopes person , as a person of the tide, as a person that is, my grandmother's granddaughter and as a person that is Swinomish and Tulalip . And so there's not an, when we talk about identity, we have to acknowledge all of those things, right? For me at least. And so I think about, um, ownership and protocols and traditional belief systems that we carry out in our own communities. And, and so one of the first teachings that I think about is this teachings with, with songs and the way that we carry songs and hold songs. And so when I was growing up and also in, in the name also, so when I was growing up, we would go to different ceremonies or to different doings as we call them in Indian country. And people seeing at our funerals, at our weddings, at the blessing of the fleet. And, and before any song is sung or after it is immediately stated whose song that belongs to, where that song came from. And we, we don't sing other people's songs. Like I wouldn't go out onto the floor and sing us, uh, Muckleshoot song or Anishinabe. song without saying out loud "So and so gave me this song on this date, and these were the witnesses, and I'm going to honor those people by singing this song and I'm grateful to have the ability to do so." And so there's very formal protocols in my community that we've been raised with and how to follow that. Same with a name. So when we get our Indian names, uh, we go to the eldest in our community and we ask permission to give the children a traditional name that maybe is a hereditary name that's passed down, maybe it's a place name. Uh, but that is, we have a very formal way of bringing gifts and asking permission. And so when I think of cultural appropriation, I think of a non-Indian taking those songs or taking those names, um, or even an Indian and using them without going through the proper channels and the proper protocols because they weren't raised right because they're spiritual infants. And that's how we think of them. It's like when somebody doesn't behave properly, and with those ... in those circumstances, we don't, um, think of them. We're supposed to have the ability in ourselves to go, Oh that's a spiritual infant, n ot like a baby. So like when a baby cries, you go over and like nurse them and help them and teach them, you know? A nd so it's like t hey j ust, these spiritual i nfants running around that don't have any teachings, poor them, y ou k now? A nd, t hats how I think of cultural missappropriators and, um, and then in my own life, you know, given that my mom owned a Native American art gallery for the majority of my life and I w ould have been fielding conversations around this topic for a really long time with, before I called it cultural appropriation, we used to call people "Culture Vultures." We had a number of other different ways of describing it. Y eah. U m, but yeah, but you know, and in my work, I just want to see Brown people through Brown eyes. I want my children to have the opportunity to learn about themselves from themselves. And I would like the ownership to go back to the people. Like, if I take somebody's image or portrait, I want to make sure that they feel good about that, that they have ownership and agency and the way that they represent themselves and that when I go into their community or leave is stays with them. Y ou know, i t's, it's not mine, but there's a shared ownership and a respect and a traditional protocol followed. And I'd like to, to see that honored, um, outside of our longhouses.

Adrienne :

Yeah. And I think I first encountered the concept of cultural appropriation from a very academic space, which is totally different. Um, because I was an Undergrad who was studying anthropology and was really interested in Native art and the Native art world. Um, from that sort of academic place and perspective. Initially there were conversations in those spaces about like who the right to create Native inspired art or if we're creating , uh, exhibition, the campus museum, what are the ways that we make sure we honor Native voices rather than white folks who were collecting Native objects are collecting Native stories or whatever it was. But it wasn't until I had personal experiences with it directly in college or in Grad school that I finally started to make those connections between the ways that non-Natives see us and cultural appropriation. And that's like what I hearing your answer about wanting the youth to see themselves through others from their community, like through our own eyes, through their own understandings.

:

I've often been told by folks that, um, that I'm wasting my breath or that this doesn't affect people in real life.

Adrienne :

Right.

:

Or to get over it or j ust bigger issues or to stop being so sensitive. Yes. Um, and so to those that argument, I have a few different things I'd like to say.

Adrienne :

Please!

Matika:

You know, u m, so I , I very frequently give public lectures and o ftentimes, u h, when I s tart talking about misrepresentations, um, is when I s tart to get a little bit of pushback. One of the common experiences that I have when I talk about misrepresentation a nd I talk about the Google search. So if you Google an "African American", what you will get is an image of people smiling, the president of the United States, people in contemporary suits. If you Google "Asian American", you'll get the same sort of representation, a lot of families. Um, if you Google "Latinx", what's interesting to me about that is that you get, u h, only maps. You don't get people. U h, so really, yeah. So you Google "Hispanic" and then y ou get a bunch of families and u m, like a lot of people taking selfies and then you Google Native American and what you'll find is a one dimensional stereotype of Native people in headdresses situated in a historic past. And you know, with the Native...

Adrienne :

I'm laughing because that's my exact phrase that I use too "situated in the historic past" is like my go to line. Go ahead. Sorry.

Matika:

The thing to me about, about that representation in the way that it's so damaging and the way that I've seen it unfold in, in real life scenarios because we can talk about the statistics and the statistics are there, right like.

Adrienne :

Reclaiming Native Truth Project.

Matika:

Why don't you read a few of the statistics that we know for sure.

Adrienne :

Sure. Y eah. So Reclaiming Native Truth is a m ultiyear project to really change the narrative around the ways that we think of Native Peoples in the media and popular culture and just the national narrative. And Matika and I 've both been involved in that project. Um, and part of that was they did some really upsetting but in depth research on uh, using focus groups and surveys about what non-Natives think about native p eoples. A ccording to a 2015 report, 95 of the first 100 Google image searches for native American or historical representations, 62% of non native Americans report not knowing a single Native person.

Matika:

Okay. Say that again. 62% of Americans report not knowing a single Native American. Even though, everywhere you go in North America, in Turtle Island is Indian land.

Adrienne :

A majority of A mericans don't know a single native person. And then those people go on to vote, create legislation, makes Supreme Court decisions, create policies, vote on ICWA. T hat affects our lives. They also refuse to pay taxes on Indian land or illegally inhabit Indian land or misappropriate Indian imagery. Aaron Huey and Edward Curtis. Two figures that I know play in a lot with your photography work and that you're often positioned in opposition to these folks, which I think is a disservice to your work in so many ways. I know you've written about Edward Curtis and your relationship to him. Do you want to talk a little bit about that or maybe read a little from that post if there's a way?

Matika:

Well, the thing about the Edward Curtis blog post is that, uh, I'm continuously asked to represent alongside E dward C urtis. Curtis is a guy that photograph Native people i n the early 1900s at the turn of the century. And his work still sells at auction houses for some $70,000. $ 150,000, I think his highest grossing one was like $600,000. Um, the Seattle Art Museum just had an exhibition of his work and they really wanted me to participate in that show and I refused because I don't think that the 500 pieces from Curtis and five works when contemporary Natives is doing a service to the narrative. I, uh, when I think about what's happening with Curtis, I think about the fact that he had a New York Times bestseller, I think about the ways that he represented Native people a nd that, t hat people were nameless and that people, he'd take photographs of people, u m, and ask them to wear different artifacts. He has t he, one of t hem, his highest selling image t hat sold at auction was an image of these seemingly Native people walking through Monument Valley on horses. And they're wrapped in blankets.

Adrienne :

Isn't it titled "The Vanishing Race'"

Matika:

Yeah. But they're not Native people at all in those images. Those are non-Indians and those images. And so the problem for me is that I've created this large collection of work of Native America. I've been traveling throughout Indian country for six years now. I've been to nearly 400 tribal communities. I have like 1800 images that need , we need to be shown in that collection. Um, I don't think that the work needs to be shown in contrast to a 19th, 1900s photographer to have and deserve space in a public arena. Um, I also don't care for the way that those images are sold at auction and or sold through private collections or, um, shown in exhibitions. And that's the only time that Native artists are invited to be a part of that conversation. I think that there's photographers like Ryan RedCorn and Will Wilson and Wendy Red Star and you know, Josue Rivas and Tomás Karmelo and Thosh Collins . And there's these incredible Native photographers all over Indian Country who are doing really beautiful, profound work and they deserve to have a show at the Met on their own or at the Brooklyn Art Museum or at the Smithsonian or, um, down the street from your neighborhood coffee shop, that deserves to be shown and talked about as the concepts that they're choosing to present because it is powerful just as it is. And, um, and so I wonder, you know, if Native peoples' work and native imagery doesn't have space in blue chip galleries, or if, if it's not valued in that way, then how do we respond as Native artists. Because oftentimes we're not paid to be a photographer. We're paid to talk about being a photographer. And so if the conversation is continuously, um, the same conversation I was asked to have 15 years ago, which was in contrast to Curtis, then how are we really moving the dialogue forward? Where is space for innovation? How is photographic works going to go to the whole next level of creativity if we're constantly being brought back to this, to this basic space of trying to just undo some negative shit that was done to us. You know what I mean? S

Adrienne :

You shouldn't be put in a position that you have to turn down these opportunities either. But the fact that rather than just turning it down, you can say, no, this is, this is wrong on a lot of levels. And it's just a s strange to me that we hold, as a society, hold so tightly to these outdated stereotypical images and it just reflects that that is what the majority of non-Natives think of us. And so that's what they want to see in a gallery. They want those stereotypes reinforced. They want to feel good about the fact that Indians were something that existed in the historic past and are not being actively disenfranchised by v oter laws in North Dakota or, u h, potentially having the rights to, u h, keep our children a nd our communities taken away through IC WA or whatever it is. They don't w ant t o think about that. They don't want to think about their complacency i n genocide

Matika:

and how they play a role and in the active settler colonialism of our society. Right?

Adrienne :

I mean, t hey're still on indigenous land.

:

Right. For the last 15 years I 've been photographing a nd sharing stories from Indigenous communities in the United States since 2012, P roject 562 has allowed me to do this work with folks from all over Indian Country. And so far I've been to about 400 tribes. In the next couple of years I hope to complete my mission. Because of my dedication to photographing Native Americans, some people call me the modern day Curtis. Each time I hear that I want to throw up. Curtis was funded by J.P. Morgan to photograph “the vanishing race”. This photographic “hired gun” was the original Indian mis-appropriator, notorious throughout Indian Country for artificially representing his subjects with objects and apparel belonging to different tribal regions. He’d instruct his subjects to stand away from modern infrastructure, aiming to capture their “savage” qualities and lifestyles. In fact, his most famous image, an image of people traveling through the Southwest, underneath great big Mesas, was actually not a photo of Native people at all, but a photo of non-Natives dressed up as Natives. He titled his images as “Indian #3” , “Chumash woman”, and “Headhunter”. He described his images as though the people in the photos didn’t have names, as if they weren’t worthy of distinction. To his credit, I can appreciate that Curtis was bold and committed. He gave up everything— his home, his wife, his family, all to photograph Native people. In some cases his work has been meaningful to people I know in various Native communities. A friend told me that elders of her tribe were able to source Curtis’ images of a ceremony, and repatriate that element of the ceremony back into their community. Weavers have told me that they look at basket images in his photos and are able to draw inspiration from them. Carvers have used his images in their approach to carving canoes. In these ways, Curtis’ work has played an important role in the reclamation of Native American culture. Let’s acknowledge that this is only necessary because our culture was purposely attacked and in some cases eradicated. The danger in “Curtis’ Legacy”, despite its incidental and unintended cultural preserve, lies in his lasting effects on our collective consciousness. If you Google “Native American” right now you will find a historical Curtis image, a stark contrast to Googling “African American” or “Asian American”, in which you will find a contemporary image. His images have imprinted our minds; we think that the “Curtis Indian” is what “Real Indians” are supposed to look like. This is damaging in so many ways; and Native American scholars such as Dr. Stephanie Fryberg and Dr. Adrienne Keene have written extensively about the ongoing harm from the leathered and feathered stereotype caused by these dated and in many ways inauthentic images. In everyday life, what happens when Native kids can’t relate to or meet others’ expectations of “real Indian-ness”? How can we be seen as modern successful people when we are still viewed as a one dimensional stereotypes? How do we strengthen our nations and lobby for sovereignty when most of people don’t understand basic indigenous identities, concepts, and life experiences?

Speaker 4:

It’s perplexing: we know on the whole that, offered as real, Curtis’ work is damaging to modern indigenous people and to the understanding and connectedness we all deserve, and yet we continue to perpetuate the harm. In the service of art? My fine-arts career was launched years ago at The Seattle Art Museum where I exhibited a series called “We Are One People”, a photo narrative of members from Coast Salish Tribes in Washington State. These portraits are put in the same gallery with Curtis images and considered a fitting contrast to the Curtis narrative. After the Seattle Art Museum, the exhibit traveled to several other high profile museums and since then dozens of museums have asked me to do the same variation of that show.These portraits were put in the same gallery with Curtis images and considered a fitting contrast to the Curtis narrative. After the Seattle Art Museum, the exhibit traveled to several other high profile museums. Since then, dozens of museums have asked me to do some variation of that same show. I have been given no choice but to do my best to decline graciously and explain that the bodies of work I’ve created deserve to stand alone while trying not to come off as an egotist; or to put it plainly, I explain that my work has value without needing to be contrasted to a dead white man’s perspective and creativity. I’ve been to museum board rooms, armed with statistics and facts that explain Curtis’ harmful impact. I connect them to other Native photographers’ work. Inevitably, the institution’s leaders will murmur that their patrons want to see his work on the walls, and that their hands are tied. In fact, I decided to publish this piece because the entire city of Seattle is celebrating the The Curtis Sesquicentennial Celebration, as if it isn't enough to celebrate him every one hundred years, it needs to be done every fifty.

Matika:

Curtis’ photography continues to sell at high end auction houses for astronomical amounts and those sales profit his foundation, and to my knowledge, none of that money makes its way back to Indian County in an impactful way. Meanwhile, Indigenous photographers such as Thosh Collins , Nadya Kwandibins, Ryan Redcorn , and others, are yet to have stand alone exhibitions at The MET or be represented by blue chip galleries in Chelsea, or become staff photographers at The New York Times, or to be able to present our peoples photographically in National Geographic, because non-Indian photographers such as Aaron Huuey get that job. Recently, Josue Rivas participated as a Magnum Fellow and realized the inadequate representation of indigenous photographers in these elite photo spaces, and launched Natives Photograph, the New York Times wrote an article about it. Books about Curtis, some of which have been NYT bestsellers, aren’t concerned about the ways in which the Curtis legacy impacts Native people. The lack of representation and consumption can raise a question if work that I offer is seen as good or worthy or if the continuing preference for his vision is just the manifestation of the racist construct we live under. Without having the answer to that question, I do know that the Indigenous image, the profit and aggrandizement of from the Indigenous image and the consumption of the Indigenous narrative have remained in the control and bank account of non-Indigenous people. Until we start seeking and appreciating different images of Indigenous people is wonderful, creative, transformative, contemporary human beings. The narrative will stay the same. The dehumanization of Indian people will continue. We saw this in mass media's depiction of the people at Standing Rock . We see it in our intolerable achievement gaps with our students. We see it in the brutal life expectancy of native populations. And earlier today, as I wrote this post, a curator called me and asked, “have you ever heard of Edward S. Curtis…?” [Laughter] End post. You know, a lot of times people say to me, "well, I didn't mean it. I don't mean it that way. I, I, you know, like I love everybody. I don't even see color, you know, uh, you know, like, I don't mean any disrespect, you know, that about me. I'm not racist, I grew up on Indian land, you know, like I grew up on the Rez, you know, I love Indians." Um, I, which point, you know, how do you respond? How do you respond to that? Adrienne?

Adrienne :

I mean, so when people, there's a couple of things, like people often say like, well don't you find these artists who were trying to represent natives or this whatever representation isn't it honoring to you? And of course it's not. I would much rather I would much more be honored by folks respecting our sovereignty. Uh, letting a Native artists do that, letting a Native designer represent themselves, um, by showing true and real portrayals of who we are. Like that to me is honoring. That to me is respect. Um, uh, fake misrepresentation is not honoring. And so then when people are like, "oh, well, but I, but it's not me. Like I'm not the one." Even if you think that you are not participating in settler colonialism, by the nature of living in the society, you are benefiting from colonization and you can't escape that. And it's a process of needing to own that and understand that. And then work actively to dismantle it. So you can't just say I'm a good person. You need to recognize that there's a power structure at play, which goes back to these definitions of cultural preparation, that it's about power. And by their position in society as, uh, as white folks as settlers, t hey are benefiting from settler colonialism and need to understand that it's not this equal exchange. Like it's not just everybody happy sharing that they are in that position of power. And that's really hard for a lot of, of white folks to understand.

Matika:

and for anybody to understand. I mean, it's hard in any circumstance to say out loud, this is my part. I mean it's, for me personally, being a person that attempts to live, u m, with p rincipals, it's never easy for me to say, um, yeah, this was my part. What... Where was I self-seeking? Where was I dishonest? Where could I have done better? Uh, you know, all of us are in this human experience together aiming to do better than those that came before us and make a better world for our children. And so you know, my thought about that is, all right. Um, if it's hard for me and it's hard for you, we both have a role to play and I can be 50% wrong. You know, like I c ould take ownership for my part, but I can't take ownership for yours, you know? And so nobody can do for you w hat you c an do for yourself. And so please stop expecting the Brown folks in the room to do for you what you can do for yourself. And if you benefited from an education system where you were not required to take Indigenous studies or African American studies or Asian American studies or Latin American studies because you had the privilege of reading in English and reading great European literature and you were not actively in pursuit of an Indigenous education, then you have a responsibility later on in your life. If you want to call yourself "woke" and call yourself an ally or an advocate or if you would like to in fact be an accomplice, then you have a responsibility to go learn some of these things about the Indigenous land that you are occupying and actually become an a dvocate or an ally or a coconspirator coconspirator.

Speaker 4:

Adrienne I know you have your blog pulled up there and, and I'm wondering what is it?

Adrienne :

It reminded me of a blog post that I wrote I think in 2012 or 2011, like early days of the blog. It was in this growth learning process for me, I was writing a ton about Tonto . I wrote like seven different posts about the Disney >one Ranger movie that was coming out. So the I guess it was 2014 and it was, we're in this moment now, four years later where people kind of understand that representations matter a little bit more, but at the time Native folks and non-Native folks coming after me being like, "why does this matter? This is so silly that you're talking about this." And I finally had to write this blog post and I called it very simply " Why Tonto Matters," but there's a part at the end of it that I still return to like as just a kind of succinct way to think about why this matters. And it starts with a quote from Ryan McMahon who is a podcaster writer in Canada. He's Anishinabe and he quotes his grandma and he says, "everything you do, grandson is going to be political because you're Ananishinaabe." The way that we represent ourselves is therefore inherently political. These trivial issues are representative of deeper, darker, larger issues within Indian country. For those who live in predominantly Native communities, fighting against cultural appropriation and misrepresentation may seem like the cause of a privileged few who can sit in their ivory towers and point fingers all day ignoring the "real" issues in Indian country I've said it many times before and I'll say it as many times as I can until it sticks: Yes, unequivocally, we have big things to tackle in Indian country. We have pressing and dire issues that are taking the lives of our men and women every day and I am in absolutely no way minimizing this reality. But we also live in a state of active colonialism. In order to justify the genocide against Native peoples in this country, we must be painted as inferior --That's the colonial game. These images continue that process. The dominant culture therefore continues to marginalize our peoples to ignore and erase our existence. We're taught everyday, explicitly in classrooms and implicitly through messages from the media that our cultures are something of the past, something that exists in negative contrast to "western values" and something that can be commodified and enjoyed by anyone with $20 to buy a cheap plastic headdress. These stereotypical images like Johnny Depp's Tonto feed into this ongoing cycle and until we demand more our contemporary existence and therefore the "real problems" in Indian country, it's simply don't exist in the minds of the dominant culture. How can we expect mainstream support for sovereignty, self determination, Nation Building, tribally controlled education, healthcare and jobs when 90% of Americans only view native peoples as one dimensional stereotypes situated in the historic past or even worse situated in their own imaginations? I argue that we can't -- and that to me is why Tonto matters.

Matika:

Mike drop. I love that piece Adrienne and I remember when it came out and we weren't friends yet. And t hen I read it and I was like, we weren't friends, b ut I was like, we gonna be friends. S he's smart. I like that lady.

Adrienne :

But I think it was very powerful for me to finally like put it together and be like, yeah, this is why it matters. And it's not a trivial thing to care about how we're represented and it's not something that's disconnected from our everyday realities of these real issues that we have in our communities. They're all connected and it's important to think about all of them together, right? Because all my relations, because everything is interconnected because we are all related and because there is no compartmentalize part of our life that isn't related to another part of our life. And that to me is why representations matter. Because the way that we see ourselves and the way that others see us affects the ways that we treat one another. And what is more important than our relationships, you know, and our, our opportunity to feel a sense of belonging, to feel seen and heard. You know, we want to see ourselves. We're of that generation and everybody deserves that opportunity. Halloween what what?

Matika:

Oh God can keep it. Just please stop dressing up like an Indian. That's just all I really want to say about this subject. But I know there's more to be said. It's not okay. You know, not to be inappropriate, you have to be more woke than this. You have a responsibility to know better and do better. But there's reasons why we're going to explain it. Dr.Keene, we'll tell you why.

Adrienne :

So historically, um, but seriously though, the formation of what is currently known as the United States of America, um, these ideas of Plain Indian have been like imbued into the new American culture and identity. And uh, there's an amazing scholar named Phil Deloria who literally wrote the book on Plain Indian, it's called Plain Indian. Uh, he is a professor at Harvard now and he talks about how the early colonists, the early settlers desperately needed to formulate an identity that was not British, that was something new. And so the way that they did that was by taking on this kind of Indigenous identity to be like, "we are of this land, we are something new, we are not British." And I mean it goes back earliest days and thinking of like the Boston tea party, the colonists dressed up like Indians to like throw the tea in the harbor. This appropriation of Native identity through actually playing Indian is something that is deeply part of American quote unquote identity. And so Halloween is just one space where that gets played out and the conversations every year pop up of why it's not okay to dress like an Indian. Uh, and I say Indian very specifically there because it's always an Indian. It's not people saying I'm dressing like a Iative American or an indigenous person is,

Matika:

they don't even say it. Like if it was even slightly woke, they were like, I'm going to dress up like a Navajo. Meaning they meaning they're wearing velvet, [Laughter]

Adrienne :

it's hard to even for me to keep talking about it because I feel like I talk about it all the time and it's so obvious to me that you don't want to dress like a Native person for Halloween. But recently the company Yandy , have you been following that.

Matika:

[] stuff? No, that's a whole other thing.

Adrienne :

Yandy is a costume company and they got in trouble this Halloween season because they made a sexy Handmaid's Tale outfit. Um, so it was like the Red Cape cloak thing and like the white bonnet and lingerie underneath. And to anyone who has read the Handmaid's tale or watch the TV show, obviously it is a show that is not about those ideas. It's a, it's about sexual assault. It's about women not having autonomy over their bodies. Of course, people got mad. YNndy immediately took it down and apologized. And so then all these native folks were like, Hey, so you're going to listen to people saying things are offensive. What about those 18 pages ofative costumes that you have on your website? And Yandy said, uh, "well, we'll only change it if there's like a big outcry. If there is a big protest." And it folks were like, well, here's all the receipts. Here's how we've been protesting you for like a bazillion years. Here's the petition we did last year. Here's the petition from this year that has 22,000 signatures. And Native activists have actually been going to the headquarters to protest and the police get called. And so there's this striking difference between when predominantly white women, uh, protested the Handmaid's Tale. And when Native women are protesting Native Halloween costumes, the response is one side gets a costume taken down and an apology. The other gets the cops called on them and they told, um, Amanda Blackhorse who we're going to, uh, talk to on this podcast. They told her that they make $150,000 a year on Native costumes alone. Um, and so this is a huge moneymaker for them.

Matika:

Because it falls right in line with the historical belief systems about this country, which is that goes all the way back to Manifest destiny that you're entitled to that land and the wild savage creatures that live there. If money is to be made off of Indian things, Indian land, Indian imagery, u m, then seemingly the general sentiment is y eah, make that money.

Adrienne :

Um, so I do want to read a couple of the descriptions of Native Halloween costumes from the Spirit Halloween store and these are from a couple of years ago and they have changed them, which is some progress. T here's still some problematic things on there, but I just want to say like, I just want to show that this is how these companies are marketing these costumes to the folks who say it's not a problem. So, um, this one is called "tribal, Tribal Trouble Indian." It says, "Put the wow back in pow-wow when you go native in this very sexy Tribal Trouble Indian adult women’s costume. They may need to break out the peace pipe because the other [word I dont even like to say] will want to torch your teepee when their menfolk see you in this foxy costume! And then on a m ale costume, it a says go Native American in this classic adult men's Indian Brave costume. Your job – to hunt. Hunt for prey like food and beer or pretty women in this comfortable costume. Get what you want then lay back and enjoy – pass the peace pipe!" Uh, this last one just ends with, "is that an ear of corn in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?" So we know that the sexualization of native women is a huge problem. That missing and murdered Indigenous women is a enormous, enormous conversation that is not being had in the US. Um, and that these costumes continue that process of overly sexualizing Native women, of treating them as sexual objects as something that can be exploited, something that can be obtained, something that can be bought. I think the bottom line with these Halloween costumes is that it's about an issue of respect and about these issues of invisibility . And if the only images that we have our Halloween costumes and mascots, then it doesn't translate to respect of our actual identities and our actual communities. And when you put a Native costume next to completely make believe wizard or fairy or whatever it is that is not respecting the living, breathing, diverse, beautiful, contemporary Indigenous communities that surround all of us.

Matika:

I actually wrote a little poem about this and I read it for you. It's short, it's a, it's um, a response and it's, it's not very polished so I apologize, but it's a response to this, um, this idea that says we are dressing up like Indians because we want to honor Indians. We are dressing up like Indians because we want to honor Indians. If you wanted to honor Indians, you would actually honor them and there are real ways to do that. You would change the legislation so that every time our public spaces honor our country, they all acknowledge also that they are on indigenous land. If you wanted to honor Indians, you would show up to protect the Indigenous land that your presence is destroying by protesting, contributing, donating, signing petitions, canvassing and becoming an accomplice to the thousands of atives that have dedicated their lives to protecting Indigenous land. If you want it to honor Indians, you would change the name. If you wanted to honor Indians, you would participate in closing the Indigenous achievement gap in education and ensure that more than 50% of Indians didn't drop out of your school district. If you wanted to honor Indians, you would buy Indigenous from Indigenous people, from inspired Natives, not Native inspired. If you wanted to honor Indians, you would consider doing something major and give the land back, to an Indian. Deed your property. You'd contribute to the missing and murdered indigenous women movement and volunteer search, contribute and protect the thousands of Indigenous women that are going missing. You would teach your children the Indigenous history of the land you are occupying because everywhere in North America has an Indigenous history and the woke mine knows that that history is brutal and that many Indigenous lives were taken. So you could settle that place. You would stop assimilating us. You would stopped asking us to believe in your God. You would stop destroying the ecosystem. You'd help restore the habitats and animals that lived here. The Salmon, the Buffalo, the sea turtles, the whales, the wolves. They also deserve to live. If you wanted to honor Indians, you'd stop dressing up like us on Halloween. That's how you can honor Indians.

Adrienne :

Boom. We now turn to the portion of the podcast where we throw it to our audience and get some questions. And you and I have, uh, put these questions out on our Facebook and Twitter. And Instagram and are going to answer some questions on the topic of cultural appropriation.

Matika:

Exactly. We love you. Thanks for sending in your questions. Go ahead Adrienne, who's your first participant?

Adrienne :

The first question I want to talk about, I think is a really good one and it kind of crosses a lot of folks brought up similar topics but basically can other tribes from each other. And that comes from Brad Jones. Shout out to Brad. Uh, he's a a teacher in Oklahoma. I know him. Um, so can tribes appropriate from one another?

Matika:

Well, yeah, I, you know, I actually, I've been talking about this recently with my niece because she's a student at Northwest Indian College and one of her professors told her that she should only learn from her own grandparents, from her own tribe, and that if she was to learn from other elders from other tribes, that would be cultural misappropriation. And she was super upset and she said, "but you know, like I did my woman's coming of age ceremony at another tribe. I, I love to learn from your mom." And she had all of these, um, emotional responses. And then she asked me did I think that was appropriate.And of course, I'm a person who's traveled all over Indian country learning from all kinds of grandmas. And, uh, there is a difference, a very distinct difference though, am and learning and appreciating and participating and following other people's cultural protocol and then taking that cultural protocol and calling it my own without crediting. And so that is what we discussed in that way. And so I don't know that there's, if I get invited to a Sundance or a Ghost dance or a powwow, uh, another person's tribal doing, I'll go and I'll go respectfully and I'll do my best to be as respectful and well behaved in that scenario. Uh, that doesn't mean that I get to then, you know, like go to a Pueblo dance and then come home and be like, yeah, "Yo, Yo, I learned this Pueblo dance. Let's dance." You know? So, um, yeah, there, that's my thought on it. That's what comes to mind for me. How about you?

Adrienne :

Yeah, I mean I think if we're talking about cultural appropriation and these, these power dynamics, of course it's a little bit different if it's like Native to Native, the power differential is slightly different than if it's like a non-Native person, um, to a Native person. But I definitely think that there are boundaries that are crossed when folks take from other tribes and then profit from it, um, or commodify in a way that then they are taking it out of its context. Um, I think it gets very complicated in terms of when folks want to do it right as well. If they do it through collaboration with another community, does it mean that no Navajo person ever is allowed to make any art that is not Navajo? Does it mean that if they do it in collaboration and coordination with someone from another community, then it's okay. Um, so I think there's a lot of questions that we need to ask when we're drawing upon source material from communities that are not our own. And it goes back to those ideas that you were talking about, about respect and protocol and all of those pieces. And I would never think that learning in a good way from other Native folks is any sort of appropriation. To me that is not what we're talking about here. Like I'm more thinking about people who are non-Lakota that decide to sell sweat ceremonies or like, uh, people who are Coast Salish but are creating art from other communities that they're then selling.

Matika:

Um, or like commodities at the same time. Like people go out and pick a [inaudible], you know, like Lakota sage and make medicine bundles and then sell them on Etsy.

Adrienne :

Yes. Part of it is because l ike, I'm thinking also of like dream catchers are an Anishinabe thing and you can find them in every tribal casino made by that tribe, you know? And so there are ways that culture gets disseminated and moves and is appreciated among communities. But then there are also things that I think it blurs the line a little bit. And so t here's, with many of these cultural appropriation conversations, there's no easy answer. And I think it just goes back to knowing those protocols, knowing how you interact with other communities, knowing the good way to go about it and the positive way to do it that isn't harmful to that community that you want to learn from and share with.

Matika:

And if you don't know what she means by the good way, go ask your grandma, talk to your grandma to or talk to your grandpa or talk to an elder in your community. Because all of this knowledge is not new knowledge. This is knowledge that is passed down to us and we can't take responsibility for any of the teachings that we have because they come from everybody that came before us. So if you haven't had the opportunity to have good elders in your life, then you need to find yourself an Auntie. [ Laughter]

Adrienne :

There are a few questions on Twitter that I think we can kind of combine of folks asking. Uh, what are the ways to broach these conversations around cultural appropriation with friends and family who may not agree with you, especially if they're are other Native folks.

Matika:

Uh, this makes me think of last year when we were getting ready to go to Thanksgiving dinner and there was, there was some television show on that morning that was saying how to talk about Donald Trump at your thanksgiving dinner. And this kind of reminds me of that. Like, ooh , we're going to bring that up at dinner. How do we breach this subject? I think, uh, for me the best way to breach any subject is to come in a good way with a good mind and a good heart and, and to feel, and to humble myself and to acknowledge that I'm still learning and these are the ways that I'm thinking about this. How do you think about this? And, and I think it's a good conversation to have. These are my opinions. What are your opinions? And respecting each other's answers and understanding that the answers that we had today might be different than the answers we're going to have 10 years from now. And so it's okay for us to under, to be very gentle and loving with one another as we're having these conversations and to remember that each person is in their own stage of the healing journey that they're on. And, um, when I'm in judgment of another person, I'm not in a spiritual place. And so in a good, if I'm in a good place, if I'm doing things in a good way, I'm, I come without judgment and, and be very loving in the process. And, and when I am that way, then it's easier for me to have these kinds of conversations.

Adrienne :

I'm someone who grew up in completely white suburbia. Um, I have a lot of, my family doesn't really strongly identify as Native. I'm definitely, most of my classmates in high school were white and did not understand these issues. So I'm definitely, I've been in a lot of spaces where this has been the case where I have to try and explain to folks who have never encountered these issues or have very strong strange opinions about the Washington, R-words or whatever it is that these are actually things that matter. And these conversations are hard and I want to acknowledge that to all the people who are reading my, our writing online and thinking that we are very well versed and can have these conversations easily. They're hard and I've been writing about this for a long time and they haven't gotten easier for me. That in person confrontation is really, really hard and so the way that I think about it is that I know that when you have these conversations, people are never going to stop, I mean they might, they might stop and thank you and say, "wow, I never thought about it that way. I'm going to go take off my Halloween costume now" or whatever, but most times they're not. They're going to get really defensive. They're going to dig into their own opinion. They're going to hold on tight to what they think they know, but what I think about is trying to create what I call "moments of pause" after our conversation. Maybe the next time they turn on the TV and they see that logo of the Washington football team, they're going to have that just even if it's just a split second where they remember our conversation and are like, "Hey, Adrienne doesn't like that. Native people don't like that." They might go on and continue to watch the game. But over time those moments of pause are going to add up. And I have personal experiences with like a camp director. I used to work at um, uh, camp during the summer and he and I, over the entire time of camp would have these intense conversations about Indian mascots and he never would change his opinion. And years later he sent me an email and was like, "hey, remember all those conversations we had at camp? I totally get it now." 10 years after we had been at camp together. It's hard because you want people to immediately embrace your point of view and to know these conversations are still important even if they don't have the immediate outcome that you want.

Matika:

Yeah. And, um, on that note, we just want to thank you so much for having a listen to this conversation. We realize that some of it could have been very uncomfortable for you to listen to. And so thank you for sticking with us.

Adrienne :

And if you need to have some more resources of how to have these conversations in real life. Uh, may I recommend my blog, my Vlog, Native Appropriations, nativeappropriations.com. I uh, it has like over 300 close to 400 different blog posts on their detailing, all sorts of examples of appropriation language to talk about it and also stories of the responses from companies and celebrities and all sorts of folks about what they did when confronted with cultural appropriation. It's a great resource. I've, I love reading your blog Adrienne. Especially the ones where you talk about wild things. She gets wild on there. So I you, you have to go look,

Matika:

we just want to take a moment to thank Miss Laura Ortman for the beautiful music on this episode. She's incredible and is the first Native person playing at the Whitney biennial in NYC. So if you are in the area, totally check her out but you can also find her work on Bandcamp.

Adrienne :

and onboard. For the next episode we're talking with two of our favorite native fashionistas. Designer J ania Kumon and fashion entrepreneur and scholar J essica Metcalf w ho is the creator of the Beyond Buckskin botique t here. Seriously the coolest and we t alked to them about their journeys through the fashion world and the incredible work they're doing, pushing boundaries and creating spaces for other Mative folks in fashion. We Love them so much and J essica i s the funniest. You're going to love her. I Love Jessica.

Matika:

She just like giggles and giggles and giggles and makes me giggle and Google and Google and so I hope you're in for the giggle ride.

Adrienne :

Even more than usual.

Matika:

Before we close this episode, we just would like to ask all of you if you would please take a moment in your very busy lives to record a voicemail on the contact page of our website, allmyrelationspodcast.com for our upcoming episode. We are discussing Native languages and we would love to hear how you say all my relations or the associated concept in your language.

Adrienne :

So hop on over there to our website and record a message for us if you're able, we would totally love it.

:

We'd like to get at least a hundred different nations involved.

Adrienne :

A hundred?

Matika:

A hundred.

Adrienne :

Damn cause I thinking like four.

Matika:

A hundred.

:

all my relations.