This week, fashion designer Rebecca Taylor released a pre-spring “Navajo” collection and, almost immediately, pulled the name “Navajo” from their line. The fashion website, Racked, reported Rebecca Taylor’s PR representative emailed the website introducing a new “Navajo” collection. The fashion website asked the represntative if they had worked with or consulted with Navajo artisans, but the representative did not reply, and the term “Navajo” was pulled immediately from the collection’s Web presence.
The website reports traces of the term “Navajo” can be found in URLs and cached Google results, but as of January 22, there is not a single mention of “Navajo.” The immediate change could be to avoid a potential lawsuit with the Navajo Nation.
In 2011, Urban Outfitters released various items with the same term “Navajo.” They released a “Navajo hipster panty,” a “Navajo-drinking flask” and other items labeled as Navajo items. The problem is that the term Navajo is not a free-for-all. The term is federally protected, as it is registered and owned by the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the United States.
Soon after Urban Outfitters released this “Navajo” collection, the Navajo Nation filed suit citing violations of their intellectual property and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, which prohibits the sale of items that suggest they are were authentically produced by Native people. Currently, litigation continues and the Navajo Nation appears to be making ground in their case.
It appears that the Navajo Nation has set precedent for others. Other designers such as Ralph Lauren and Kokon To Zai have also been called out for misappropriation and outright stealing of Native ceremonial designs. Although other Native people may not have the legal leverage that the Navajo Nation has with federally-protected intellectual property, it appears that today more than ever, the misappropriation of Native culture and identity is being challenged. From sports teams to fashion, music festivals, Hollywood and even Halloween costumes, there is a growing awareness that cultural misappropriation is a fine line between overwhelming public outcry or a lawsuit.
Amanda Blackhorse, Diné, is a mother and activist. She and four other plaintiffs won a case against the Washington football team that stripped it of six of its seven trademarks. Follow her on Twitter @blackhorse_a. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.