I’m pretty fond of the indie music scene, and am known amongst my friends as a hipster-in-denial (only when it comes to music, I swear). Coachella was something I became aware of last year, a music festival taking place in California. It usually is one of the biggest parties of the year and sets the stage for many indie artists. It’s also a hotbed of cultural appropriation, namely, appropriation of Native culture. It doesn’t stop there. Indian culture is also appropriated, with bindis being worn by young hipsters who think they exist just to decorate their foreheads at festivals.
As a mixed Native woman, I spend a lot of time wondering if I really have the right to protest against cultural appropriation. After all, according to many people who want to discredit me, I look white. I was raised off-reserve. I barely knew anything about our culture until I was in my late 20s, because my own grandfather didn’t want to talk about it due to microaggressions in his own life. And then I think, fuck all that. I have and always will be Anishinaabe. If you don’t like that, you can go to hell. I have every right to fight for my culture and my people. And I shouldn’t have to fight for my own identity in this conversation to be heard.
I’m tired of seeing “Pocahontas” hyper-sexualized women wearing Native headdresses and dreamcatcher earrings, bought from places like H&M, Forever 21, and Urban Outfitters. I’m tired of little girls on Twitter getting angry because their “festival fashion” is called out by others as being hurtful, appropriative, and frankly just plain wrong. I’m sick and I’m tired of it – because this started when we were in kindergarten and continues to drag on. My culture, my people, are things to “educate” folks about and to “experience”. We’re othered constantly, people who are struggling to preserve our culture when colonialist attitudes tell us that we’re not allowed to have it, or worse, gives it over to fashion, making it into something that isn’t even close to what it was ever intended to be.
Here are the facts.
1 in 3 Native women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Over 1000 Native women in Canada have gone missing and have been found murdered. Natives are traditionally disenfranchised, their reserves poor and sometimes without running water and health care. Mixed Native women like me are told to shut up, that we have no right to our own culture, that even speaking about it means that we’re somehow taking something that isn’t ours. You think that our culture belongs to that film-picture Native, oh, excuse me, Indian – the one with a headdress on and tears running down his face. You think there’s only one type of Native culture, that modern Natives don’t exist, that you need to take your children to “visit” a Native historical spot or reserve in order to “expose” them to a culture.
Then you turn around and you take our headdresses, our dreamcatchers, our art, our music, our stories – and you tattoo them onto your skin without knowing the history behind them or what they mean to us. You parade across runways and over green festival lawns, laughing and tossing your hair, not knowing that when you sexualize our clothing and our art, you’re making it harder for Native women to be seen as anything but sexual objects. You buy our art, mass-produced by stores that have taken it from us, and take the idea, the culture, the financial gain, right out of our hands and hand them to big businesses who couldn’t care less about what cultural appropriation does to us. Then you ignore our Native artisans as they starve and try to scratch a living from an original idea that was stolen, that you bought at a store for $29.99.
Listen. No one is perfect. We’ve all appropriated culture in our lifetimes. I was called out for dressing up like a “ghetto” Wizard of Oz character last Halloween, and yes, it hurt. I regret doing it and I have learned from it. A lot of it is born of ignorance. I get that. But when you continually ignore what we are saying, you continually get angry because you are called out for something that has been a problem since the very fucking DAY white settlers landed on our lands and then murdered us for them, you continually tell us that we have no right to “harsh your buzz, man, because we’re just trying to have fun here”, then you are not learning. You are not learning, you are not listening, you are continuing to slice away at our culture, bit by bit.
And I’m fucking angry about it. Stop wearing appropriated Native art at Coachella or anywhere else. Stop placing white models in fashion shows, dressed in hyper-sexualized Native-appropriated fashion. Stop ignoring the plight of our people, our girls, who are dying. Who are abused. Who are constantly stomped on by your constant need to take and take and take, and yet you place us as low as possible on your priority list of folks who need their worlds changed in order to survive.
Also? Stop telling Native women that they have no right to speak out about their culture. It was ours long before it was ever yours. It will be ours long after you have faded away. And we are working to preserve it.
I am proudly Anishinaabe and I will never stop speaking out about this.