Minneapolis-based burlesque dancer Tomahawk Tassels is hanging up the sexy Native American shtick — for now, at least.
Local culture guide Vita.mn reports that Tassels, who was born Amanda Riley and grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, won't be wearing a feathered headdress or buckskin bikini when she performs tonight at local venue Ground Zero with Dr. Farrago's Burlesque Theatre, nor will she on Saturday at Amsterdam Bar & Hall as part of Le Cirque Rouge.
Tassels, who says her father, whom she did not know growing up, was an unenrolled Cherokee Indian, has weathered criticism over her costume and act for years. Tassels' situation of late is a strange one: She's been attending Idle No More events wearing what many natives would consider a parody of traditional dress, and finding a chilly reception. According to Vita.mn, Tassels fears for her safety. However, she also says that the Violence Against Women Act is a factor: “I’ve heard the statistics [about the higher rates of rape and assault for Native women] quoted to me constantly. My response is that rape is awful anytime — I don’t support that… it’s one of the reasons why I’m suspending at the moment. Maybe VAWA will get passed, maybe it won’t be as much of an issue.”
Although cognizant of the statistics, Tassels doesn't feel there's a connection to what she does: “Getting onstage, you are empowered. It’s not saying I’m sexually available to everyone in this room, it’s not an open invitation.” She also sees attacks on her as a form of blaming the victim. “Why blame the woman when the issue at hand is the male dominated culture that is negative and hateful toward women?” she told Vita.mn.
She gave an explanation for her decision on her Facebook page which read, in part:
I have raised the white flag. Said my piece. Suspended the art that is supposedly offensive. Questioned, debated, gotten angry, felt misunderstood, cried until I can't cry anymore. Blocked all the haters. Tried to remain humble, honest, and true to myself. Now, I must move on. … I am willing to step back. Listen. Research. Educate. Strengthen myself. Find clarity of vision.
Although Tassels is speaking in terms of surrender and education, she is apparently going to keep using her stage name even if she leaves the costumes and props behind. Some Natives see that as evidence she isn't really serious about change, and they've organized a Retirement Protest for Tomahawk Tassels tonight.
At Last Real Indians, Chase Iron Eyes offers his support to the protest, making a direct connection between Tassels and "the un-nerving Violence Against Women, especially Indigenous women, the rapes, the molestation, the beatings, the recent gang rape of a Native woman -that’s what Tomahawk Tassels promotes."
Below is a video of Tassels doing her act: