If you are anything like me, you were taught a thoroughly sanitized version of the colonization of Native people in American history class. The atrocities committed, the lives lost and the shame and brutality Natives endured have been whitewashed
, to put it mildly.
It’s mind boggling to think that as recently as 1978
, Native people were actually barred from practicing their own religion. Yet I was free to dress as Pocahontas for Halloween at age 8. This, in a country that prizes religious and personal freedoms above almost all else
Add that bit of knowledge to the fact that history has long painted Natives as either bloodthirsty savages or frightening wild creatures that need to be tamed, and you begin to see why they are so pissed at being reduced to whimsical caricatures by retailers
looking to make a buck.
It’s a sticky wicket, because the art and imagery of Native culture is mesmerizing and beautiful to many, myself included. All the recent discussion
about “misappropriation of culture” has made lots of people unsure how to shop for and wear beautiful Native fashions and jewelry ethically, which is sad, as jewelry making and crafts are a large source of income for Indigenous people. It’s really actually quite easy, if you know where to go and what to look for!
I want to pause right here and say that I absolutely could not have written this without the help and resources of many, many, dedicated Native bloggers and specifically without having read and absorbed the brilliant words of xoJane commenter 10100111001. I have linked source material anywhere I have used it as a reference, and every link in this post is worth further exploration. I honestly really owe ten million and one smooches to 10100111001.
I started going to New Mexico for vacations regularly with my parents as a child. (It was an easy drive from Texas!) Shopping for Native crafts, art and jewelry while we were there was a big shared experience in my family, and there was always all this hilarious subterfuge whenever I would find something I loved from a particular artist that was more than my meager allowance I had saved up for the trip.
One of my parents would then (SO obviously) sneak back to buy it for me and hold onto it until Christmas, and I would act très surprised when I opened it. My mom taught me that Native treasures and adornments were special, collectible, and meant to be cherished for a lifetime.
Vintage "squash blossom" necklace, unsigned old pawn circa late 1960's.
For the amount of money I saved up and paid for this vintage "squash blossom
" necklace, you can be guaranteed
that I will be holding on to it for a lifetime.
The funny thing about being mindful of cutural appropriation as it applies to Native persons is that there are really only 3 things that are off limits for non-Natives to wear and buy: traditional clothes, war bonnets, and religious regalia. Only 3 things!!! Not that hard to do.
Religious regalia is a pretty broad category, but a good rule of thumb is that if it feels like something someone in a PBS documentary would be wearing, avoid buying it. And yes, moccasins are totally fine. They are just shoes, for god's sake!
The war bonnet in particular is a loaded symbol. Feathered war bonnets are not even the most commonly used Indian headdress! Not only does the war bonnet hold great personal significance, they are only worn on very special, highly symbolic occasions.
The fact that they have become a catch-all shorthand for “Indians” is pretty horrifying. It’s the blatant homogenization of 566 unique and wildly different cultures into nothing more than a silly prop. Thanks, Hollywood
Left, Iron Eyes Cody. (Who wasn't even actually Native American!)
I've gone to great lengths to vet all the items here as being made by actual Native artists. A good source of Native fashion news is Beyond Buckskin
, an unbelievably smart blog with an equally brilliant online boutique
There aren't words to express my love for this beaded baseball cap
. It is one of a kind. This paticular one is sold, but check out the artist's Etsy page
linked here and below to see about ordering your own.
is a point of contention
in some Native circles. Pendleton has historically used Native designs and sold the finished blankets and robes to Native people, who then sold and traded them amongst themselves. As a result, Pendleton's goods are now heavily incorporated into "traditional" Native cultural activities.
Pendletons are very special gifts in my family. A Pendleton Eagle Rock saddle blanket
was the last gift I gave to my grandmother before she passed away. My grandfather has it now, and I gave the same blanket to my mother last mother's day. The one my mom then in turn gave me resides at the foot of my bed.
One could argue that Pendleton has, in their own way, appropriated Native American culture the most. However, Pendleton maintains close ties with Native communities, donates money to Native causes, and is, for the most part
, very mindful of Native designs that are "sacred" and therefore off-limits for commercial sale.
Take the time to research where the goods you are considering purchasing came from. Ask questions. Use common sense. If the price seems too good to be true, it's most likely not an authentic piece of Native art.
Respect and support the artists keeping Native art and culture alive for you to wear and enjoy. If a Pow Wow gathering
is coming to your neck of the woods, don't miss the chance to attend and snap up some primo quality stuff. I'll be at the Thunder and Lightning
Pow Wow in California September 28-30. Come visit, ya hear?