Humboldt County T-Shirt Controversy that's all up in my Facebook OR Native American Mr. Potato-Head--now with Aztec Parts!
By Cutcha Risling Baldy
Ms. Risling Baldy addresses the "Chief Life" slogan and Plains chief image:
Also, truth be told I had no idea what “Chief Life” was. According to my younger, cooler friends (and Urban Dictionary) to “chief” is to smoke marijuana. Me, as an old person, I want to over analyze it. I’m assuming it has something to do with the old stereotype of “smoking the peace pipe” and how Chiefs were supposed to have been big smokers who smoked the peace pipe and did all that smoking (all, completely distorted by the way and in many ways totally wrong, but that’s an entirely DIFFERENT letter). Blah blah blah, it’s “chief” dude. I’m probably using it wrong.
I haven’t seen you at all address that side of this issue. So far it seems like you’ve been focusing on the image. To paraphrase (quickly): Oh you don’t like the feather earrings? I’ll replace them with Aztec earrings? Oh you don’t like the weird generic designs, I’ll replace them with Aztec writings. The image is too “Plains Indian” and not “Humboldt,” why don’t you look at some Humboldt stuff? Etc. etc. It looks like a mascot, mascots are honorable, no they’re not, yes they are, why aren’t Buccaneers offended? Pretty soon Vikings will start complaining. Something about how anybody can be offended by any image but Chief is an honorable image, etc. etc.
Except, we’re talking about “Chief Life.” Which, for your company, I’m assuming has something to do with marijuana, and drug culture, and drugs. I ain’t mad atcha dude. I know that this whole “weed” thing sort of lives where we live. I get it. I’m not trying to play super narc-y innocent girl who “oh my word” “I declare” I can’t believe you’re talking about drug stuff. But, Chief Life--it’s just sad.
She addresses the artist's notions about war, genocide, and the past being the past:
Now, you weren’t there. I know that. This doesn’t mean it isn’t written on the landscape where you live. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t feel it every single day. It doesn’t mean that it never resonates in our waking lives. Because it does. In policies, in ignorance, in forgetfulness, in the way we talk about ourselves, and each other. Maybe your “genetics” weren’t here, but you are here – now. It’s time to know. It’s time to know where you are. And to “know” this place, is to listen. And to “listen” is to realize that we aren’t talking about an ancient history, we are talking about a recent history. And maybe, just maybe, what you consider “simply a byproduct of war” is, surprisingly, not. Genocide is not a byproduct of war--genocide is tool of an aggressor. Genocide is a choice. It doesn't just happen because war is hell. Genocide is systematic. Genocide is deliberate. It is not a "byproduct" of aggression, there is intent--an intent to annihilate a group of people. We should not tie genocide to just another "byproduct of war" and erase this intent. Systematic murdering of a people, enslavement of children, raping of women, massacres, these are not byproducts of war, these are tools of genocide. The "byproduct of war", is the trauma. The byproduct war, is the destruction. The byproduct of war is the loss of life, land, resources, brothers, sisters, mothers, daughters. And for many, many Indigenous peoples the byproduct of war has been survivance. It’s been strength, it’s been coming together, it’s been healing. The byproduct of war has been a culture that refused to die.
What if Chief Life" is just a way of saying "be cool"? Risling Baldy addresses that too:
Sambo Life. (If you don’t know much about Sambo, you should check out here, or here, or watch this.) If you want Sambo can wear sunglasses. Of course he should have big red lips. Super dark black skin. Maybe a backwards cap, some gold/ diamond teeth. How about some watermelon earrings? How about some chicken and waffle earrings? How about he just looks like Kanye West. Although Kanye’s gone all Kardashian so he may not be stereotypical enough for your more discerning audiences who expect to recognize right away what image they are trying to appropriate.
Ooo, Jew Life. Let’s put a dude in a Holocaust outfit, complete with tattooed number on his forehead. Some star of David earrings. If you want you put menorah’s as your background. Genocide is a byproduct of war after all. A lot of other cultures go through it. You’re just trying to have fun with your art, so Jewish people should understand. You’re not trying to “bring up bad memories of genocide that did not happen when [you] were alive.” And we all know that the “Jewish Life” is the good life too--like a Chief Life--because Jewish people have money and own Hollywood.
Asian Life. They’re all the same anyway right? We wouldn’t want to get too specific with the whole Japanese life or Chinese Life or any other number of “Asian” cultures. So let’s go generic. Slanted eyes. Big straw hat. Maybe some buck teeth. If you want they can be kung-fu-ing something. The background can just be “ching, chong, chang” written over and over again. If somebody doesn’t like it you can just change the earrings and make it “Bangkok” life, cause that’s different right?
Mexican Life--sombrero, something to do with gardening, maybe a taco.
No matter how many compromises you make--these images won’t work. These images--don’t work.
"We're just like '60s counterculture hippies. Except we don't want to drop out, grow our hair, take drugs, or protest anything. We want to be different by putting on a shirt we can take off so we can return to our safe white homes without sacrificing anything. We want the illusion of being different while we conform to mainstream fashion like everyone else with cool tribal emblems."
For more objectionable shirts, see Ecko's "Weekend Warrior" Line and Zazzle's "Indian Name" T-Shirts.