March 28, 2009

"Go Native" at the Visionary Village

A message sent by Mark Anquoe, AIM West, to various media outlets:

Obscene Racist Event:  Burning Man's 'Go Native'Brothers and Sisters,

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.
Go Native Ads, Offend Native PeoplesWe feel that any person looking at the various flyers and advertisements for this event would reasonably assume that the tag line, "GO NATIVE," is in reference to dressing as Native American people. These assumptions would rightfully be conceived due to the alleged collaboration with the Native American Church, and especially through the theming of rooms of the four elements, and representing those elements with Native/Indigenous peoples. The four people(s) (Maori, Anasazi, Shipibo, and Pueblo) that are called out do not in fact have any direct relationship with Peyoteism or the NAC per se, nor should their respective practices be conflated with the practices of the church. It has also been made clear that the organizers of this event did not intend that people dress as the Maori, Anasazi, Shipibo, and Pueblo, but this does not negate their responsibility in making the event advertisements more clear with respect to their use of the terms, "go native." For us and many others, "Go Native" implies reverting to a primal nature commonly and wrongly associated with Indigenous people. Even if, as the organizers of this event have claimed, "go native" is meant to imply "a heavy hunter-gatherer mindset" theme so as to rightfully adapt to an ecosystem, such statements associating Native Americans and other indigenous people as inherently "hunter-gathering" people plays upon a long and thriving discursive legacy in which our communities are cast as lesser beings in social evolutionist terms.

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.
The outcome, according to another e-mail from Mark Anquoe:Brothers and Sisters,

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.
Comment:  Another victory for Native activism. I trust the online efforts (e-mail blasts, Facebook postings, etc.) were part of the reason the organizers backed down.

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.

9 comments:

dmarks said...

Looks like they got this one before the Cleveland Indians had a chance to use it as their slogan.

gaZelbe said...

The issue that really put this one over the top was the claim that the party was a fundraiser for the Native American Church(NAC). As NAC practices only became legal in 1994, there is strong community awareness of how the church has had to be held essentially in secret for most of its history. Most are still held very quietly; word of mouth only. Subsequently, a claim of open fundraising for the NAC by Burning Man people, who have a reputation for cultural appropriation, quickly raised suspicions.

Had the NAC fundraising claim not been a part of the party's promotion, its unlikely that it would have sparked such an intense reaction from the Bay Area Native community.

Love Shopper said...

The party was canceled voluntarily by the organizers and instead, was turned into a private gathering without music, to which the Native American community was invited. In an open forum, the event organizer (who to be fair, is only 24 years old) apologized publicly. The event organizers are working to heal any damage or pain caused inadvertently by the "Go Native" gathering. Keep in mind that it's currently trendy to wear "tribal"-influenced clothing (whether it's influenced by the art and sacred symbols of indigenous tribes in Africa, Tibet, Nepal, China, Thailand, Australian Aborigines or Native Americans.) This mixing and matching and blending of music, art, and cultures is done with the intent of honoring and admiring these cultures, and learning more about them, not with an intent of demeaning them. By the way, the invitation was designed by a person of color (he's Chinese/African American) and the visionary village includes people of all races and genders, as well as groups representing religions such as Hare Krishna and Bahai faith.

gaZelbe said...

The party was indeed canceled by the organizers at significant expense to themselves. This gesture went along way in quelling the collective anger of the Bay Area Native community. They did take responsibility and did the right thing, including providing an open forum to listen to the feelings of the Native community. For this, they have my respect.

In response to LoveShopper's statement that the practice of cultural appropriation is done with the intent of honoring, I would suggest that LoveShopper spend some time reading the numerous examinations of this phenomena on this very blog.

In short, if a person really does intend to honor a given people, then what would we expect this person's response to be when they find that the people that they intend to honor do not see the gesture in the same way? If the "honored" people object to the gesture, then shouldn't the feeling of honor immediately translate to honoring the wishes and feelings of the "honored" people? It seems elementary. But if the feeling of honor does not translate to honoring the honoree's feelings, then its probably safe to question whether "honoring" was really the original intent.

In the case of Visionary Village, this is exactly what happened. The original intent to honor, however misguided it was, quickly translated to respecting the wishes of the "honored" community. As such, its probably safe to assume that their intentions probably were honorable. But how often do these type of situations play out in this way? Almost never. This is why Burning Man has the reputation for unabashed and unapologetic cultural appropriation.

Melissa said...

Wearing something you think is cool is not what honour means. That's an extraordinarily shallow understanding of honour.

Anonymous said...

What? You're crazy! Of course it's honorable to put on a leather headdress! Hang on a sec, lemme get my ass back to LA and to that Porn Studio that was doing Big Wampum Chief Little Cock, Part #5 and let them know our homage to Native American sexuality is off the table.

Admittedly, we couldn't get any real Native peoples to act - they seem to be much more interested in organizing casinos for their tribes off in the desert or on reservation land to bilk stupid white people out of their money. So we had to use Mexicans in deerskin thongs.

Really, I think the issue wasn't so much of the Burners being twits about cultural issues (seriously, the last time Burners held a Geisha party, I don't remember the Japanese-American foundation shitting a kitten) but rather the touchiness of the locals in a politcally-correct arena.

The Cleveland Indians are still the Cleveland Indians because people in Cleveland don't give a shit. However, this was held in the Great White Guilt center of America - San Francisco. This was low-hanging fruit for the "activists", and easy to play whack-a-mole with these guys.

Rob said...

The majority of tribes don't have casinos, Anonymous. Many of those that do aren't getting rich from them. Try not to indulge in unnecessary stereotypes, okay? ;-)

Rob said...

Good intentions don't necessarily produce good results, Love Shopper. For my full response to your comments, see "Go Native" Party Was an Honor?

Saturday Night said...

@loveshopper

I actually attended the community meeting that replaced the original party on that Saturday night.

The fact that this party was intended as an 'honor' does not mean that it was not incredibly insulting.

Quite frankly, what a lot of non-native people seem to think of as 'honoring' comes across to indigenous people as something different entirely. People who really do want to 'honor' native people should think about why.

The fact that the person who designed the flyer is a mixed race (Asian, Black and Native) Canadian (not American, as he stated repeatedly ) does not confer a pass on the offensiveness of the flyer to bay area native people.

I also agree with gazelbe, the fact that it was billed as an NAC 'fundraiser' really set people off.