Monday, September 6, 2010

Token Fashion

Guess what everyone! I am in style! Yes! According to Seventeen Magazine:Navajo's are finally in style!

Trend Alert: Navajo Inspired Fashion

We're willing to bet that at some point in your life you either a) dressed up as Pocahontas for Halloween or a middle school history project, b) played cowboys and Indians, although we can't quite remember what that entails, or c) made a homemade teepee fort in your backyard and swore you'd never move back into your bedroom again. Well, looks like all those childhood Native American fantasies seem to translate quite well into our fall closets and we personally couldn't be happier – Navajo-inspired friendship bracelets anyone?

Whether you're channeling your inner Sacajawea in bold tribal prints, fringed booties, a shearling collared jacket, or beaded accessories, we're all for it – just stay away from the pigtail braids for now. There's plenty of time for more literal Navajo translations come October 31.

According Style, Navajo’s are now in style! At least “Navajo Inspired Fashion” is anyway. The article points out the newest trend on the fashion scene and that is “tribal” “Indian” prints, clothing, and accessories. Yet, the articles of clothing produced by prestigious fashion designs are nothing but the styling’s of the stereotypical Indian.  Furthermore, the blogger, Michelle Halpern, obviously has very little knowledge of Native American apparel or design, because anything with fringe and a geometric pattern is labeled “Navajo”. Her article degrades Native American culture by poking fun at the “cowboy and Indian” and “Pocahontas” cliché’s:

“We're willing to bet that at some point in your life you either a) dressed up as Pocahontas for Halloween or a middle school history project, b) played cowboys and Indians, although we can't quite remember what that entails, or c) made a homemade teepee fort in your backyard and swore you'd never move back into your bedroom again. Well, looks like all those childhood Native American fantasies seem to translate quite well into our fall closets and we personally couldn't be happier – Navajo-inspired friendship bracelets anyone?”

According to Michelle, Native American fashion and clothing has little to do with cultural heritage and pride, but more about playing dress up and reliving childhood fantasies of the historic American Indian.
While, I am an advocate of Native American fashion, clothing, and design, I find this article to be nothing more than a slap to face to more than 500 distinctive Native American tribes. While I can appreciate the designs she show, I fail to see how a Balmain black leather beaded sandal ($956) or leather Ralph Lauren fridge scandal ($342) has anything to do with Native America. There is no distinctive quality about the clothing presented in this article, only the confused designs of an ignorant American fashion trend. However, I adore some of the accessories and clothing presented in this article, such as Pendelton buckle bag ($258) and a Navajo rug design Cardigan from Free People ($168). However, these designs are few and far between and market for hundreds of dollars. Even IF I had the money to invest in such cute works of art, I still would refrain from doing so, because I am sure there are many Native American designers who produce authentic works of art to showcase their creative talents and cultural heritage. Fortunately, for many, “Navajo-inspired” clothing is not a trend. We wear our heritage with pride 365 days a year, and don’t have to buy cheap Pocahontas rip offs to prove it!


Anonymous said...

(Part 1 of 3)

I've read blogs and forums on this topic for about an hour now. My question is only for Angry Navajo, not a challenge, an earnest question:

My 6-yr-old has a Halloween party at school. The kids can come as a character from a book. He debated between 1) Harry Potter 2) Hiawatha 3) Henry from the "Henry and Mudge" book series. Maybe he has an "H" thing, I don't know. Anyhow, these are all characters from books we have read to him; we've read Hiawatha and Henry and Mudge many, many times. Harry Potter only the one time because that one is a bitch to read out loud, you know?

He chose Hiawatha and had to send in a paper on which he wrote the character's name, the book it was from, and a sentence describing his favorite part of the book. He said it was ‘when the father and son sat in the canoe together at night and looked up in the sky to see the people from the past.’ Poetic. And in our family, we talk about the people from our past, including my great-uncle, who was a spiritual leader, and for whom our son was named. Maybe you have to see the illustrations in this version, but it's not so much about their costumes, it's about their spirit. Or at least that's how I feel about it. We all have ancestors in the sky

Our son is so so very interested in what that boy's life was like. Meaning, historically it is fascinating to a boy when you think about finding your own food, having your own knife for hunting, sleeping outdoors, and so on.

So his dad and I thought we would surprise him by ALSO showing up in costume, as Hiawatha's parents, who are also in the story. And when my husband was growing up, he and his dad used to pretend they were Indians outdoors together and go on a hunt, and they made special necklaces for each other. And he still has that necklace today. And our son now wears the one that my husband wore as a child, with his father.

Anonymous said...

(Part 2 of 3)
In the same way that we are FASCINATED by the Little House on the Prairie books, we are fascinated by Indians. What I mean by this is, it's not about race—and maybe that’s the insulting part, that it marginalizes the fact that Indians are actually a different RACE from our family?--but it's about the sociological aspects of how people used to live – whether they be prairie settlers or Indians or knights in medieval times or roman gladiators and so forth. Things like churning your own butter, making your own clothing, making your own home, hunting your food, and so on.

It seemed like one of your points you were trying to emphasize—not putting words in your mouth here, just restating as I understood it because I really do want to-- is that people of group A (let’s use Medieval Knights as an example) and people of group B (let’s use North American Indians as the example) are different because people of group A don’t actually exist anymore and people of group B do.

But the way I see it, they do. Taking a more recent example: descendants of both “Prairie Settlers” and “Indians” (to use the lifestyle genre used by my six-year-old) are alive today. And for both groups, their lifestyles are VASTLY different from how they were 200 years ago. It’s the historic lifestyle we are honoring, because there is no “today” lifestyle equivalent. At least not how I see it.

Here’s something that is KEY, in terms of food for thought, as it really helped me clarify my confusion—if that makes any sense: There is a large Mennonite community where I live. There is a whole section of town with Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants, and quilt shops, and big crowds of people walking or riding their bikes in traditional Amish garb. I love going to that section of town and purchasing their pies, and I’m so damn jealous of how quiet and well-behaved their children are. I love their quaint culture. But I would no more think of dressing up as “an Amish woman” for Halloween than I would think of dressing up like an Orthodox Jew. It’s totally, totally demeaning their culture.

So why don’t I feel that way about Indians? I’m so sorry if you’re just thinking “because you’re an effing idiot” because in my heart, I don’t feel it’s the same. I’m trying to understand with my brain, but even there, when I see the “traditional” Indian dress (i.e., the feathers and beads and suede) what my brain thinks of is the “scrape the animal hide with the knife you made yourself, so that you can make your own clothes and blankets and feed your people” lifestyle of a person who lived hundreds of years ago. But an Indian who performs a ceremony wearing similar dress today isn’t living the same lifestyle, so it’s not who I’m thinking of.

Anonymous said...

(Part 3 of 3)
Now maybe all you need to say is “It doesn’t matter who you’re thinking of, you just need to accept what I’m telling you—it’s racist. It’s offensive to me.” And whether I feel it in my heart is immaterial, I need to just act accordingly.

And there are always going to be dumbass college students, I was one once too, who make poor choices about their costumes. But is it the same for us, too? Would your answer be the same for my six-year-old, who didn’t ask to go as “an Indian” but as a specific person?

I am ABSOLUTELY a staunch supporter of throwing ‘Traditional Thanksgiving’ out the door with all its lies, and of teaching children the truth. My son's school no longer has children dressing up as pilgrims and indians who sit together at a feast, for example. We've got a long way to go no doubt, but there is obvious progress from what we were taught in our own childhoods. He came home from first grade and knew about the gifted pox blankets, for example. But on Halloween you get to pretend to be someone else. But it's not about pretending to be that race--and what I mean by this is that he didn't say "but mom my skin isn't the right color" like he would say to me if I let him be the blue avatar. It's the lifestyle that he wants to pretend to be. He could choose Davy Crockett as a character, but the nomadic Hiawatha was more compelling. For us--for him--there is no mockery.

Should my husband and I not dress up as Hiawatha's parents? Should we let our son go to school as this character? (He has to carry the book with him in the parade.) In my heart, I'm not feeling that it’s wrong. I’m only feeling it in my head because I suspect it might offend someone, and since I don’t really understand the basis for offense, I’m really only considering changing his costume so he/we won’t be judged. I would rather, however, feel it in my heart, truly "get it" - get the inherent racism that you are talking about.

rflyte said...

Native Appropriations has broken this down nicely.

A part of me could *maybe* sort of see this in terms of cosplay, or like what historical reenactors do. But Anonymous, your tone bothers me, and your post is sounding more like a desire to do cultural tourism, so it's because of that that my vote on your son's costume is "no." I'm sorry.

It also sounds like wheedling for a pass from Angry Navajo, and other AI/NA's -- like me. The fact that Angry Navajo and I and Native Appropriations have to continually address these questions says you have the privilege of wanting to do what you want to do. We get to defend, and explain. Endlessly.

If your son were older, and you didn't sound so patronizing -- and I'm sure you're a nice person, but there it is -- I'd say you could sit down with your kid and have a talk about the difference between admiring a specific person, and prancing about in Indian drag, and I hope that your son will continue to admire Hiawatha and learn to value life and other cultures. But the bit about how you see Indians differently from the Amish -- there's something about that. The Amish were "quaint," and Indians seem to be "Noble Savages" -- another stereotype. We're as mixed up and as human as anybody. Those Amish folks are living their lives just like you and me.

Hiawatha was Iroquois. If your kid winds up in a feathered headdress and war paint, then everyone gets to miss the point.