In September, the Native community sprang into action voicing our collective outrage after we were assailed by Paul Frank’s “neon pow-wow” fashion night, complete with war-painted employees and C-list celebrities donning feather headbands, armed with plastic tomahawks. In response, Paul Frank not apologized, and the company pulled all Native imagery from their stores as well as online. They also announced that they will be hiring a Native designer to create a new line, with earnings going toward a Native charity.
Yet the barrage of attacks against Native American culture and identity continues to escalate. The usual parade of offensive Native American ‘costumes’ we’re typically forced to endure every Halloween was even more pronounced this year, as were the insults and racial epithets aimed at Natives who dared to demand respect for their Native identity, spiritual beliefs, and culture.
Just last week, No Doubt released a video for it’s latest single,”Looking Hot.” To our dismay, the video turned out to be little more than a Native appropriation extravaganza, paying homage to cheap, inaccurate, stereotypical Dime Store turkey feather accoutrements and the hypersexualization of Native women. Natives once again stepped up to the plate to defend their cultural dignity, and No Doubt apologized, pulling the video from circulation.
Now, Victoria’s Secret has upped the ante. Wednesday night, their fashion show featured model Karlie Kloss in a leopard print bikini accessorized with turquoise jewelry and fringe covered heels, strutting down the catwalk in a floor-length, feathered war bonnet.
As a Victoria’s Secret customer, I am livid. After years of patronage and loyalty to the Victoria’s Secret brand, I am repaid with the mean-spirited, disrespectful trivialization of my blood ancestry and the proud Native identity I work hard to instill in my children. Well, I’ve got news for you, Victoria’s Secret. Consider yourself boycotted. Perhaps it’s time for us to resume the feminist practice of bra-burning. Regardless, this Native girl is ready to go commando.
What is it going to take before the fashion industry, and mainstream society in general, realizes that making a mockery of Native identity is unacceptable?
Why is this practice offensive to Natives? Let’s peel away the layers of this tacky, racist onion. For one, Ms. Kloss has no business wearing a war bonnet at all. Not only is she not Native, she hasn’t earned the honor. Among my people, the Oceti Sakowin (Sioux), war bonnets are exclusively worn by men, and each feather within a war bonnet is symbolic of a brave act of valor accomplished by that man. Not just any Tom, Dick or Harry had the privilege of wearing a war bonnet. Who wears a war bonnet? Tatanka Iyotanka, Sitting Bull. Not a no-account waif paid to prance around on stage in her underwear. This brings me to my next point: the hypersexualization of Native women. Unfortunately, these days, if you search “war bonnet” or even “Native” on the Internet, you’re likely to come across dozens of pictures of naked, or nearly naked, white women wearing headdresses. Given the epidemic levels of sexual violence Native women and girls are faced with in the United States, why can they not see how incredibly insensitive and inappropriate it is to equate Native womanhood as little more than a sexual fetish?
Also, we’re a people, not a trend. We don’t wear costumes. We dress in regalia, and every single piece means something special. Our beadwork, leatherwork, and quillwork—every piece is a work of art, unique onto itself and created by skilled, dedicated Native craftsman. War paint is also evocative, with colors and patterns that are meaningful. They tell a story. It’s not finger paint.
Time and time again I’ve heard the defenders of Native appropriation racism say we should “get over it.” We will not be bullied. Our identity, our culture, and our ways don’t belong to you; you can’t have them. They were passed down to us from our ancestors who dreamed them milennia ago. We will never stop fighting to protect it, nor demanding that you respect it, and in turn, us.
Another retort commonly expounded upon is that there are Natives who either voice approval for acts of Native appropriation, or claim not to care. I don’t know their hearts. Nonetheless, what happened to common courtesy, i.e. if someone doesn’t want to be made fun of, you cease the offensive behavior? Red face is just as offensive as black face.
Even if there are some Natives who don’t mind being mocked, there are plenty who do, and who will continue to protest the assault taking place against Native identity and culture. There are also a whole lot of non-Natives who are open-minded enough to understand why Native appropriation is wrong, and are standing with us in solidarity to defeat this racist, disrespectful, archaic practice. Whether deliberate or not, we hereby put those who commit ignorant, offensive acts of Native appropriation on warning. We’ve protested loudly, and long enough, where your using ignorance as an excuse is wearing thin. We will not relent. See it our way, or face the consequences—and the boycotts.
Make your voice known. Contact Victoria’s Secret on Facebook and Twitter and let them know just how wrong putting Karlie Kloss in a headdress was. You can also contact them here.
Sign the petition here.
Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton/Mdewakanton/Hunkpapa) is a writer, speaker,former science professor and tribal attorney. She is a columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network and LastRealIndians.com.