February 03, 2011

Pendleton spreads Native designs

Adrienne Keene talks about the cultural appropriation of Pendleton blankets in her Native Appropriations blog:

Let's Talk About Pendleton[R]ecently, Pendleton prints and fabrics have started popping up everywhere. It started with Opening Ceremony's Pendleton line in 2010, and now Urban Outfitters has started carrying a Pendelton line, celebrities are wearing Pendleton coats, and Native-themed home decor is apparently all the rage. Now Pendleton has announced their newest collaboration, The Portland Collection, which fashion blogs are proclaiming will be the big thing for 2011.She has mixed feelings about this trend, noting Pendleton's long association with Natives:It's almost a symbiotic relationship--they saw a market in Native communities, and Native communities stepped up and bought, traded, and sold the blankets, incorporating them into "traditional" cultural activities. Pendleton has also maintained close ties with Native communities and causes, making commemorative blankets for organizations like the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Indian Education Association. They work with Native artists to design the special edition blankets, and even donate some of the proceeds to the causes.

But then, on the other hand, they go off and do things like design a $5000 blanket with White Buffalo hair, which many tribes consider extremely sacred and definitely off-limits to commercial sale.

I do appreciate Pendleton's relationship with Native communities. I love my blankets, and love even more what they represent.

However, seeing hipsters march down the street in Pendleton clothes, seeing these bloggers ooh and ahh over how "cute" these designs are, and seeing non-Native models all wrapped up in Pendleton blankets makes me upset. It's a complicated feeling, because I feel ownership over these designs as a Native person, but on a rational level I realize that they aren't necessarily ours to claim.
Comment:  Given the key facts:

1) Pendleton's designs are based on Native colors and patterns. I don't think they've appropriated any special symbols or designs. (Only the white-buffalo blankets seem questionable.)

2) Pendleton has been making blankets for a century with the wholehearted support of Indians. I don't think anyone has seriously argued that these blankets are cultural theft.

I'd say the Pendleton blankets and the hipster fashions are okay. They fall into an acceptable category of cultural appropriation--same as my "Fighting Terrorism Since 1492" t-shirt.

For more on Pendleton, see Premo Designs Commemorative Blanket and A Century of Pendleton Blankets.

Below:  A Pendleton Santa Fe Jacket from Urban Outfitters.

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