Family presides over successful tourist empire
"This is our Navajo style," he says, pointing to his plain cloth headband. "The tourists don't want to see that. They look at Indians, they want to see some feathers."
Yellowhorse's colorful-old-Indian shtick seems hopelessly dated, yet if you hang around the trading post long enough, there is no denying that it works.
"Native Americans are so awesome," coos a young Anglo woman outside the post, showing off her bag of freshly purchased items.
Most of it, Yellowhorse admits privately, is made in Hong Kong. But his customers can safely boast they bought it from a real three-quarter-blood Native American.
"If they want authentic stuff, I send them next door to my daughter Tasbah's," Yellowhorse says. "If her customers say, 'This stuff is too expensive!' she sends them back to me. It's a good arrangement."
Dressing as a Plains chief "works" because it uses and reinforces a common stereotype. Visitors learn that Plains chiefs are "awesome." What they apparently don't learn is anything about the Navajo.
What happens when legislation arises that affects the Navajo in Arizona or New Mexico? Legislation about water rights, uranium mining, or energy-plant pollution, for instance? Does the Anglo say, "I support this legislation because the Navajo are awesome"? Or does she say, "I don't care about this legislation because there are no Indians worth mentioning in Arizona or New Mexico. The awesome Indians are the ones in South Dakota with their teepees and headdresses"?
As for the knockoff items, why does Yellowhorse have to admit they're fakes "privately"? Isn't there a sign saying they're "imitation Native" or "Native-style" items? If he's letting people buy goods under the false impression that they're genuine, that's sounds like a moral crime and possibly a legal one.
For more on the subject of pretending to be a chief, see "Chief" Defended Phony "Chiefing." For more on stereotypes in general, see The Basic Indian Stereotypes.
Below: "I'll give you an Indian name for $10 or do a rain dance for $20!"