A video featuring a poem by a Dartmouth student about Urban Outfitters’ lack of respect for Native culture has has become a YouTube hit. In the clip, various students recite lines from “A Letter to Urban Outfitters,” a poem written by Autumn White Eyes, Dartmouth class of 2014. The poem begins with some nostalgic yearnings for eagle feathers, buckskin, pow wows and drum music — for a Native student at an Ivy League school, signifiers of a faraway former life, perhaps. But the reverie is interrupted by contemporary issues, forming the poem’s devastating middle section:
Instead I write this letter to Urban Outfitters.
A costume shop that sells thousands of clothes.
Filled with the appropriations of my heritage.
Of the people.
Of the people.
Of the people that died for this home.
This country, are watching you dance on their ancestors’ graves.
Wearing the clothes and colored feathers that they find at your costume shop.
Half naked women wearing warbonnets becomes
Hundreds of small pox blankets handed out to native children.
Who will never know the importance of an eagle feather.
Little girls won’t wear feathers with pride like their grandmothers.
Little boys won’t be the leaders we need them to be.
Instead they will swoon over the women who have the audacity to mock us as their mascots.
I don’t feel human. I just feel used.
White Eyes and two other students founded the production group Savage Media to make films that speak to Native issues on campus. Although Dartmouth’s sports teams are known as “Big Green,” the former mascot, the Dartmouth Indian, lives on. That was the subject of Savage Media’s first video:
“To be a Native person at a school that depicts you as something you don’t even recognize and does so in a mocking way, that’s something that nobody should have to put up with,” Vera Palmer, a professor of Native American studies at Dartmouth, told TheDartmouth.com.