February 04, 2013

Natives protest Tomahawk Tassels

In Tomahawk Hangs Up Her Tassels, the strip-tease artist seemed chagrined that Natives didn't like her stereotypical act. Now her contrition is in doubt.

Tomahawk Tassels protested over Native-themed burlesque performance

By Rebecca McDonaldCity Pages spoke with Edberg before the protest, and she recounted how deeply offended she was when she first saw Tassel's "mockery of Indian women." After Tomahawk's appearances at the Idle No More flash mob dance at the Mall of America, and the Minneapolis American Indian Center's New Year powwow, she called for the retirement of Tomahawk Tassels.

"We want [Tomahawk Tassels] and her audience to see that, we, as Native people, will define our own image, our own culture," stated Edberg. "The media may lack an understanding of white privilege and oppression of Indian people, but people in the [Indian] community have had conversations with her for years about why her act is offensive. Now, we are calling for her to retire Tomahawk Tassels, and the name."

Many of the protesters in attendance this weekend did not see Tassels' Facebook statement as an understanding why her performance may be seen as offensive.

This past Friday, in front of Mineapolis's Ground Zero nightclub, nearly 20 protestors voices echoed through the heavy, sub-zero air. Tassels was an invited guest to the Dr. Farrago's Burlesque Theater, and had been booked months in advance. Co-owner Charles Jennings made it clear that Tassels would not be performing her usual Native number, stating that "she is a top-shelf performer. When she performs here, she gets raving applause." He told City Pages that they were not worried about the protesters, and would not be taking any special precautions.

Before the protest, Tassels mocked her critics. Posting on Facebook, she said:I'm pretty sure the Haters will not be going inside because that would mean paying a cover. I think their plan is to picket outside. So I'd love to get photos of videos of them freezing their asses off in the name of "justice!" And yeah, I complied only for my safety. Vita.MN threw me under the bus and published my legal name which endangers me more.No wonder people doubted the sincerity of her apologetic "reflection."

P.S. I'd guess the protesters stayed outside because the nightclub wouldn't let them protest inside. Duhhh.

Burlesque Dancer Tomahawk Tassels Suspends Indian-Themed ActTassels, who says her father, whom she did not know growing up, was an unenrolled Cherokee Indian, has weathered criticism over her costume and act for years. Tassels' situation of late is a strange one: She's been attending Idle No More events wearing what many natives would consider a parody of traditional dress, and finding a chilly reception. According to Vita.mn, Tassels fears for her safety. However, she also says that the Violence Against Women Act is a factor: “I’ve heard the statistics [about the higher rates of rape and assault for Native women] quoted to me constantly. My response is that rape is awful anytime--I don’t support that… it’s one of the reasons why I’m suspending at the moment. Maybe VAWA will get passed, maybe it won’t be as much of an issue.”

Although cognizant of the statistics, Tassels doesn't feel there's a connection to what she does: “Getting onstage, you are empowered. It’s not saying I’m sexually available to everyone in this room, it’s not an open invitation.” She also sees attacks on her as a form of blaming the victim. “Why blame the woman when the issue at hand is the male dominated culture that is negative and hateful toward women?” she told Vita.mn.

She gave an explanation for her decision on her Facebook page which read, in part:

I have raised the white flag. Said my piece. Suspended the art that is supposedly offensive. Questioned, debated, gotten angry, felt misunderstood, cried until I can't cry anymore. Blocked all the haters. Tried to remain humble, honest, and true to myself. Now, I must move on. ... I am willing to step back. Listen. Research. Educate. Strengthen myself. Find clarity of vision.

Although Tassels is speaking in terms of surrender and education, she is apparently going to keep using her stage name even if she leaves the costumes and props behind. Some Natives see that as evidence she isn't really serious about change, and they've organized a Retirement Protest for Tomahawk Tassels tonight.
I'm not buying the argument that stripping for money empowers women. If she thinks her performance is some sort of philosophical or artistic statement, she should do it in an art gallery, or on a sidewalk, for free.

Apparently Tassels has started a new venture called the Tribe of Tease. In it she performs with a troupe of strippers. She wears a bustier and a headband with a plume in it. It's reminiscent of her faux Indian identity but also of a French showgirl.

With the "Tribe" name and the headdress, she's obviously trying to maintain a connection with her previous gimmick. But this gimmick is different enough that it may not upset Natives.

For more on Indian women as sexual objects, see Native Beauty = White and Thin? and "Pocahontas" in Gossip Girl.

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