“Native American designers fight cultural caricatures” – An actually good article from CNN

I was pleasantly surprised to see CNN post a well thought-out and executed article on responses to recent appropriation of American Indian cultures. 
(The comments are a different story, but at least there are some people calling out the bs among them.)

The article even does what its interviewees suggest: most of the article is just quotes from Native designers, artists, and bloggers.


“The conversation is important, because acts of cultural appropriation are not simply isolated incidents of “hipsters in Navajo panties and pop stars in headdresses,” said Sasha Houston Brown, a member of the Santee Sioux Nation of Nebraska. They are byproducts of “systemic racism” that perpetuate the idea that there’s no such thing as contemporary Native culture.  “Despite what dominant society and mainstream media say, Native culture is a vibrant and living culture. We are not a relic of the past, a theme or a trend, we are not a style or costume, we are not mascots, noble savages or romantic fictional entities.”


“What an ally does is support and help communicate the message of Native artists and entrepreneurs instead of speaking for them,” Brown said.


It would have been even better if the article had also discussed the connection between the amount of sexual violence American Indian women face (statistically) and the sexualization of them via things like the Victoria Secret runway show, ‘sexy Indian’ costumes, and other things.  Brown discusses that in her article here at Racialiscious.  

7 thoughts on ““Native American designers fight cultural caricatures” – An actually good article from CNN

  1. I can certainly see how such depictions would be offensive (some more than others). I’m a bit leery, though, of the idea that certain groups of people have dominion over what count as legitimate uses of imagery – especially when there is a racial component to being a member of that group.

    Seems like there should be some space, too, between being an ally and being an enemy.

  2. Lol at the pingback where someone thinks they know better about whether the habit of depicting American Indian women as hypersexualized is problematic given the statistics on the sexual violence they face, especially given the amount of violence perpetrated by non-native men and the target audiences of such hypersexualized depictions.

    I’m sure their claim that ‘there isn’t any plausible connection to be had’ doesn’t just boil down to, ‘Because I’ve certainly never thought of one. And because it’s never crossed my mind, therefore it is an absurd idea. Because obviously I, person who identifies with Christianity, cycling, and conservatism, would recognize any pattern (if there were one) between the experiences of American Indian women and their sexual autonomy via representations of their identity in the media.’ No, I’m sure they have a more well-thought out reason why they’re claiming that Sasha Houston Brown, member of the Santee Sioux tribe of Nebraska and degree-holder in Sociology and Anthropology, doesn’t know what she’s talking about when it comes to sociology and American Indian women.

    Lol. Glad they could clear up that potential conundrum for us.

  3. SG,

    At the risk of sounding like I’m defending the pingbacker, there is an issue there. There are definitely some things that call out for explanation – why sexual assault rates are so high for Native American women, why a very high percentage of these are perpetrated by non-Native Americans, and why so few of these are prosecuted.

    However, the claim that any of these is a consequence of things like the Victoria Secret show or “sexy Pocahontas” Halloween costumes is not obvious. For one, these sorts of things don’t seem to be part of an intentional dehumanization associated with colonialism, as Brown appears to suggest. I doubt Stephani or the Victoria Secret folks have anything like this in mind. Additionally, the link would be more plausible if these depictions were either of Native Americans or reflected the way Native American women normally dress. At least regarding the Native Americans with which I am familiar, the wearing of headdresses, buckskin outfits, or feather bikini briefs is somewhat rare. So it does strike me that connecting very very white women wearing things that Native American women almost never wear with sexual violence against them requires some work.

    And while we should appreciate Brown’s perspective on these matters, I’m not sure that having a bachelors degree and being a member of the Sioux tribe is sufficient to make her claims fully authoritative (though certainly, more authoritative than mine).

  4. @ ajkreider – my only point with that comment was that having a BA in a relevant field and being a member of a Sioux tribe is much more of a claim to epistemic authority when speaking on this issue than someone who has presented *no* reason alongside their ‘2 cents’. And so I will mock them when their pingback shows up on my original post and insinuates that people like Brown are making shit up.

    Since there exists a large-scale pattern in our culture of discrediting and silencing people from American Indian nations and tribes when they speak about their own lives, their history, and the issues facing their communities, I think it is imperative for those of us on the sidelines to call bs when see others slipping into this default stance of not believing something they say, or not even considering it as being possibly true–especially when someone provides no reason why we should be reject these claims.

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