There I was making 120 bucks a week at the Whisky as a musician. … I’ve always liked fringe jackets. I went out and bought one right away with some pants and a turtleneck shirt. Oh yeah, I thought I was heavy. I wore them on some TV shows and whenever we worked. Then I went to this place on Santa Monica Boulevard near La Cienega. I saw this great Comanche war shirt, the best jacket I’ve ever seen. I had two more made. The group was Western, the name Buffalo Springfield came off a tractor, so it all fit. I was the Indian. That’s when it was cool to be an Indian.
Authors John Einarson and Richie Furay add that the music press really dug the idea: “Many people believed Neil was, in fact, an Indian because magazines like Teen Screen and TeenSet constantly referred to him as ‘Neil the Indian.’”
With so much talk of cultural appropriation and misappropriation—see Paul Frank Industries’ “Dream Catchin’” party (and surprise happy ending)—we’re curious to know whether any Natives feel Young, who was born in Canada and has no known Native heritage, ever crosses the line with his enthusiasm for American Indian culture. This one is a little trickier than a pair of “Navajo” panties from Urban Outfitters because, speaking very broadly, a lot of Indians really like Neil Young’s music. Musician Bill Miller, Mohican from the Stockbridge-Munsee Community in Wisconsin, for instance, included two Neil Young tunes in his list of 10 Essential Songs for Native Musicians.
Sorting out what uses of American Indian culture are respectful and what ones aren’t is a personal decision—perhaps Neil Young’s Native fetish is uncontroversial because everyone feels it’s done in a completely respectful way. Or does he get a pass because, well, he’s Neil Young?
I don't know much about Neil Young or his music, so I can't answer the question. But I can suggest some questions that would help determine the answer.
If the answers to these questions favor Indians, we can surmise Young is the genuine article: an honest Native enthusiast. If the answers don't favor Indians, we can surmise he's a wannabe. That's how you determine these things, in general.
For more on celebrity identity issues, see Justin Bieber Thinks He's Native and Gary Busey the Adopted Sioux and
Below: "An undated publicity photo of Buffalo Springfield with 'Neil the Indian' at upper right."