Obscene Racist Event: Burning Man's 'Go Native'
Yesterday I was informed about an obscene racist event that will be hosted by a Burning Man crew. On Saturday, March 28th, an organization calling itself "Visionary Village" will put on a dance party called "Go Native" where participants are being asked to come in "native costume." They advertise that the event will raise funds for "neurofeedback research" in Native American Church members. THIS IS A LIE. Real NAC members would never consent to being "studied" during our most sacred ceremonies! Furthermore, their "theme rooms," as scheduled, will make a mockery of Native cultures, including the Anasazi and "Pueblo" cultures (as if there was a single, generic "Pueblo" culture).
In addition, they proudly advertise that their dance party will be held "in a bordello complex" built on top of an ancient Ohlone site! Adding desecration to this insult is outrageous!
The event organizers have been contacted by *many* people in the community, and in addition to being completely insensitive to the Native people who have contacted them, they have also been unable to establish any connection between their "fundraising event" and *any* Native American Church group or individual.
The reading of the event as a Native American theme party is further implied because of the graphics chosen for the flyers which are present all over the internet on social networking sites Facebook, MySpace, and through the Visionary Villages website, as well as the email media that is being sent out. The graphics chosen include a buffalo skull, a prominent Native American tool of ceremony, and the notation that the location of the event is “built in front of the ancient Ohlone Indian gathering ground in Oakland.” This has most egregious implications, then, for the advertisement’s request that people dress in "Native costume,” as it perpetuates damaging, misleading, and deeply offensive stereotypes. It also perpetuates the idea that anyone (mostly non-Native as burning man is predominantly attended by non-Native people) can espouse a certain cultural aesthetic with disregard to the peoples whom identify and live by that culture. It is disrespectful of Native American ceremonial rituals and regalia to ask the general public to don their own aberrations of what they think Native attire might be.
The elemental naming of the rooms is not in contention, it is your weak justification for showcasing A.I.N.A.N.H.P.I. (American Indian, Native Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander) tribes as examples of environmental adaptability which strengthen the association of the word "Native" to A.I.N.A.N.H.P.I. peoples. In addition, you claim the event is about "exobiogenesis movement," "Aliens and starseeds, not Apache and Sioux," but the interpretation of your advertisements is completely different. Why, then, does the theme lack any references to your "belief that as life evolves to travel between planets, each planet should be revered as a native home"? Instead of your claimed planetary theme, why are your rooms themed with different tribes and why is there a "Giant Dream Catcher" that hangs between balconies at your event.
Tonight, March 27th at the IFH Women's Day event, Visionary Village organizer Caapi and "Go Native" flyer designer Byron Pope stood before the gathered elders and community members. They respectfully listened while person after person publicly spoke to them about the injury inflicted on our community and the anger their "Go Native" event and promotion aroused. Speakers ranged in age from 8 to 80. When asked what could be done to rectify the situation, the gathered community unanimously demanded that the event be canceled.
In front of the assembled community members and recorded on video, Visionary Village organizer Caapi and artist Bryan Pope both signed an agreement that read as follows (spelling corrected):
"Visionary Village members Caapi and Byron have agreed to cancel the event at the Bordello on Sat, 3.28.09."
The paper was signed and dated by both men.
They also verbally agreed to and acknowledged the following:
1. They will be at the venue to turn away event attendees and explain the agreement reached.
2. There will be no DJs/music played at the venue, and no impromptu gathering of any kind.
3. Members of the Native American community will be present at the venue with them to ensure that their word is kept.
4. Members of the Native American community will still gather as planned for the protest to further ensure that they keep to their word. Should the agreement be perceived to be broken, the Native American community will move to stop the event.
Incidentally, this kind of event doesn't necessarily outrage me. As a non-Native, I don't take it personally or get upset by it. I simply note it for what it is.
But I don't tell Natives how they should feel about it. If they're outraged enough to take action and demand change, I'm glad. But if they responded with cool intellectualism like me, that would be okay too.
About the only response I don't consider okay is denying that incidents like this are a problem. That's because the research shows that stereotyping minorities is a problem. So the people who deny the harm of stereotypes are denying facts and evidence. That's pretty much always wrong.
For more on the subject, see the Stereotype of the Month contest.