“Americans Love to Play Indian”

Our discussion last week touched on how American popular culture incorporates various aspects of Native American culture to our use and significance.  This entire conversation reminded me of Adrienne K.’s blog called Native Appropriations, which claims to “counter stereotypes one cigar store Indian at a time” by “documenting images of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian people, language, and culture in everyday life.” [1]

A prominent theme throughout her blog is how Americans appropriate Native stereotypes into their clothing, and a multi-post discussion of the so-called hipster headdress particularly illustrates this adaptation.  She debates why this phenomenon is taking place, declaring it mostly fashion-conscious as a “reiteration of tribal trends” and “the desire to be counter culture.” [2]  But she also wonders “Are hipsters trying to be strong, raw, and unapologetic? I can see the raw and unapologetic, maybe. But are the skinny guys in skinny jeans really going for ‘strong’?”  [3]  What are they going for then?

Baby Gap Dress

Clothing appropriation is not, however, unique to hipsters.  Baby Gap recently produced a dress that Adrienne claims blatantly imitated a Native Plains-style star quilt. [4]  These quilts (and other designs!) hold great significance in that region and are “often given as symbols of honor, celebration, or thanks.”  [5]

Mitakuye Baby Feathers Star Quilt

Is this use of Native American culture in mainstream American culture appropriate?  What does it mean when a culturally relevant symbol is marketed and mass distributed?  Does it even mean anything?  Can anyone really claim ownership to these patterns or designs, like the star, which is clearly used in other American quilts?   Is it appropriate to wear Native-made jewelry, and, if so, when?  For example, my Pawnee stepmother gave me a necklace and earrings.  Is it the consumer’s responsibility to determine if a piece is solely decorative?

[1] Adrienne K.  “Native Appropriations.”  Accessed May 11, 2010.  http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/

[2] —. “The Strange Case of the Hipster Headdress” on “Native Appropriations.”  Accessed May 11, 2010.  http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/02/strange-case-of-hipster-headdress.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] —.  “Native Star Quilt Inspired by Baby Gap Dress.”  Accessed May 11, 2010.  http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/04/native-star-quilt-inspired-baby-gap.html

[5] Ibid.

Image credit:

Hipster Headdress.  http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/

Baby Gap Dress.  http://www.gap.com/browse/division.do?cid=6344&tid=gpvan001

Mitakuye Baby Feathers Star Quilt.  http:// liberalstreetfighter.com

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