November 07, 2012

Lakota girl imitates stereotypical images

Cultural Appropriation: A Different Perspective

By She the Bear (Britt Reed)I have reached out as a young child and throughout the course of my life to learn about my cultures. However, when you are removed, the media reduces your perception of the 500+ individual tribes and cultures to five tribes: Cherokee, Sioux, Navajo, Apache, and Mohawk. These five complex cultures get even further reduced down to the appearance of what I would now call the dominate-society’s-tacky-rendition-of-plains-culture.

Removed, I had little access to legitimate representations of Lakota culture and Choctaw culture. Being ignorant, while fiercely proud of being native, I took every representation of Native Americans in the media and let them become me. After all, in my mind, costumes, like the ones sold in Halloween stores and portrayed in the old western films, told me that this is how my ancestors dressed. If I wanted to be Native, then I need to dress that way, talk that way, act that way, and (dear god) I better also be sure my hair was straight, just like those Natives on TV and the rest of the media. When you are removed, and there is no one there to tell you what is legitimate and what is a stereotype. How are you to know? I can tell you that the American public schools definitely will not tell you. Popular media, as we know it right now, will not tell you. Dr. Phil cannot tell you.

I am now nearly 24 years old and have been able to reconnect with native communities. I have been told by a native social worker, that it is impressive that I have been able to do so at all—given that many children adopted out never are able to reconnect to Native communities. I know the toll that Native American costumes and the cultural appropriation of native cultures being sold in stores do. I know how the stereotypes that those costumes perpetuate can screw up someone that has been removed physiologically and stunt their growth. Too many times have I had to attempt to weed through what was real and what was a stereotype in my quest to reconnect as a Lakota and as a Choctaw Woman. These images make it harder.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Boutique Lookbook's Stereotypical Fashions and Aubrey O'Day as Indian Princess.

Below:  Tiger Lily from Peter Pan.

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