April 03, 2010

Coyote headdress and other tribal fashions

The Native Appropriations blog notes a series of fashion faux pas, including this one:

Coyote HeaddressGreat piece for burningman or other festivals. Looks great as a decoration piece hanging on the wall as well.Blogger Adrienne K. adds:Also, one of the tags on the headdress is "shaman." Ok, appropriations aside, are there actually people out there who see this, swoon, and say "I must have this! my life is not complete until I have a dead coyote to wear on my head!"

In another posting she notes a general problem with tribal fashions:I always find it hard to articulate why it is that these things are so offensive. Jezebel commenter roxanneismyalterego puts part of it into perspective:

Calling mass produced clothing "Native" or "tribal" devalues the culture of whichever group the clothing is inspired by. In a sense, you're saying, "it doesn't matter WHICH native or tribal group this was inspired by, it's just not WHITE."
Which is definitely a piece of the issue. A major problem with depictions of "Native" in reference to American Indians is the reduction of 500+ tribes, each with their unique history, culture, language, and traditions into one stereotyped image, one that we as Native people know well: the buckskin-clad, feather-headdress-wearing, face-painted, Plains-inspired Indian. They also only ever seem to appropriate three tribes in terms of names and "inspiration"—Navajo (or Navaho if you’re Urban Outfitters), Sioux (which is another antiquated name and represents a group of tribes, not just one), and Cherokee (believe me, I KNOW about that one). You never seem to see a Nisqually V-neck or a Wampanoag jewelry holder.
Comment:  The coyote headdress is an example of this too. Other than the labels "Indian" and "shaman," it presents no actual information, which makes it worthless as a piece of cultural lore. About all it conveys is the usual raw stereotype: Indians => animal skins => primitive and savage.

More fashion analyses from Native Appropriations:

"Tribal Fashion":  the newest trend?
Nicole Richie's baby mocs
The Strange Case of the Hipster Headdress
Really?  Amy Poehler?  A headdress, really?

These fashion-related stereotypes are a subset of the more general problem of the Indian wannabe. From Halloween to the Mardi Gras, no one ever wants to be a specific kind of Indian: a Modoc, Salish, Caddo, Miami, or Tuscarora, to pick five tribes at random. Everyone wants to match the romantic image of the Plains Indian chief, warrior, or princess from countless stereotypes.

For more on the subject, see Heidi and Spencer Adopt "Indian Names," Kesha in Headdress and Warpaint and Indian Wannabes.


Nora said...

Ok, but you know 'shaman' isn't in any way a Native word or a concept exclusive to Native American culture, right?

Rob said...

Yes, I know. I recently posted something on the subject in Indian Religion Isn't Shamanism.