November 12, 2013

"Dreamcatcher and skull" clothing line

Indigenous Appropriation and ‘Dead Indians’: An Open Letter to Raised by WolvesTansi,

I just came across your line through Hypebeast this morning and wanted to let you know that your 'skull and dreamcatcher' t-shirts and hoodies—whatever allusions you think you might be making to Romulus, Remus and Mowgli—are yet another instance of an insidious form of cultural appropriation that continues to be offensive to our people. It’s played out aesthetically, politically and, in case you need a reminder, it contributes to the false mythology that our people are dead and dying.

Unfortunately for your brand you now join a long list of other contemporary appropriators, from Paul Frank to Yeezy, that puts you in poor company. Our people are not dead skulls for you to drape your appropriated Indigenous iconography on—or a set of Pendleton-inflected patterns to be lifted to lend a ‘folkloric’ element to your aesthetic.

I’m saying: don’t be that guy. It’s tired, it’s disrespectful, and it’s not helping anyone but you. I ask that you remove the t-shirts from your line and discontinue their use.

And if you need some further reference, check the hard work that good people like my brother DJ NDN from A Tribe Called Red and sister Adrienne K. from the NativeAppropriations blog have been doing to fight the ongoing theft and misuse of our peoples’ cultures.



Jarrett Martineau
Frog Lake First Nation
Indigenous Nationhood Movement

Comment:  I'd love to hear the people who made or wear this shirt explain its appeal. What exactly is the message they're trying to send?

I assume the dreamcatcher serves the same purpose as a feather bonnet. It signifies a non-Western tribal culture with strange, exotic beliefs. In other words, it contradicts the mainstream view of things. It's counter-culture.

And the skull? It could suggest that tribal ways are savage and scary--so adults and other "squares" should beware. Or it could suggest that tribal ways are dead--but they have the ability to haunt us, to turn our dreams into nightmares.

Either way--Indians are savage or Indians are dead--the message is negative and stereotypical. I don't see how you could spin this shirt as pro-Native. That's probably why no one has done it--because it's not possible.

More dead Indians

Here's another example of Indian bones used as a cool accessory:

Tribal Beat Drummer T-shirt

Someone sent this link to me. She said she was so frustrated with these "Indian skull" shirts that she was giving up.

I said I wouldn't try to battle these shirts one by one. There may be dozens if not hundreds of them.

Better to criticize one or two of them, as Native Appropriations, Beyond Buckskin, and others have done. And let the message that this practice is wrong spread virally via social media.

For more on the subject, see Kanye's T-Shirts Feature Indian Skulls and Indian Skulls in Headdresses.

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