September 27, 2007

Shoes step on the sacred?

Nikes Sacred Sneaker, “Air Native N7”...There is enough dialogue, sites and other material from both the corporate and the indigenous side to this story, adnauseum I might add. The name of the shoe N7 “honors the traditional Native American Seventh Generation philosophy, an approach that respects the impact of decisions made today on seven generations. The shoe’s design draws inspiration directly from Native American culture.” quoted a Nike official. But it all boils down to this;

“It’s all about the money Paisan, it’s all about the frigging money,” simple as that.

Again some mindless nymph thought it would be “cute” to use sacred traditional teachings or “Something Native” to hawk their wears. It’s as if they watched Dances with Wolves and Pow Wow Highway marathon before they went to the boardroom with this new and wonderful idea. A sneaker that will cure diabetes, paleeeeeeeeeeze! Schtick is schtick…. Racial profiling? If this were another ethnic minority there would be protests on the streets as spokesmen and women would line up to have their voices heard. Targeting Native American’s for sneakers is liken to the manufacturers of Colt 45 Malt Liquor who targeted the African American community years back. Both acts showed a careless disregard for the ethnic community, cultures, concerns as well as a taste of racism. “We know what’s best for you.”

But the single most insulting thing is the fact sacred teachings and prophecies from within the Aboriginal communities are simply open game for Madison Avenue. I’m still pissed over Bob Redford’s use of “Sundance” to hawk films. Again I hear this lame excuse, “Well it’s for the greater good”. What greater good is there when we compromise the very essence of our spirituality to sell movies and now, sell sneakers?
Comment:  I appreciate Carlos Guevara's point, but I've never heard anyone claim the "seven generations" concept was sacred. Important or central, yes, but sacred?

If you're going to protest cultural appropriation, there are probably a thousand cases more important than this one. Sports teams with chiefs in "sacred" warbonnets on their logos. Cars and cities named after "sacred" Indian tribes and persons (e.g., Pontiac). Companies selling products based on the "sacred" buffalo or dreamcatcher or blue corn (oops).

I presume Robert Redford named his film festival after his role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, not the Lakota Sun Dance. Since he implies no connection with the ceremony, is this really a battle worth fighting? DC published a sci-fi comic a few decades ago titled SUNDANCERS (about scientists who try to manipulate the sun). Was that also a Lakota ripoff?

Targeting one ethnic group for profit is a separate issue. But suppose a money-grubbing drug company developed a treatment for sickle-cell anemia, which primarily affects blacks. Should it withhold the product because it targets one race, just as Nike's shoes do (even though others can buy them)?

What about educational companies that develop language and cultural materials for tribes? Charities that address social problems on reservations? Are we literally going to say that any institution that focuses on one ethnic group is bad?

Sorry, I don't quite see the harm in Nike's shoes. Maybe someone can explain it to me. Other companies produce magazines, music, clothes, and cosmetics that explicitly or implicitly target ethnic groups. How is this any different?

Until someone persuades me otherwise, I'll stick with the top five or 10 or 20 cases of cultural appropriation and exploitation. You know...Chief Wahoo, Redskin magazine, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, the Kaweah immigration scheme, etc. Producing Native-style shoes and giving half (or whatever) of the proceeds to tribal health programs doesn't seem half-bad to me. It's not exploitative enough to make my radar screen.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
In actual point of fact, it is the FIFTH generation that is the most important, and it now is ongoing. writerfella as a constituent of Plains philosophy knows this to be true, as soon will the rest of Native existence very shortly..
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

Different tribes talk about different numbers of worlds (this being the fourth or fifth world) and different numbers of generations (looking ahead seven or eleven generations). The most common formulation of the latter refers to seven. This generation is the first, its children are the second, and so forth.

Unknown said...

check this out:

Rob said...

A "Caucasians" t-shirt...cute. But it's pricy at $26.99 plus shipping and handling.

Anonymous said...

well if you look into where "sundance kid" came from, it's roots trace as follows.

Sundance kid got his name from stealing a horse and ending up in jail in Sundance, Wyoming. Sundance is a town in Crook County, Wyoming, named for the Sun Dance ceremony......"

Rob said...

Yes, well, the town's name is part of the common parlance now. It's not associated with the Sun Dance ceremony. Unless the actual Sun Dancers have demanded the town change its name, Redford has no reason not to use the name for his film festival.