Tomahawk Tassels protested over Native-themed burlesque performance
By Rebecca McDonald
"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:
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 Act
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.
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.