By Special Correspondent Jessica Yee, originally published at Bitch Magazine
Lately I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with the hipsters and hippies, as well as the hippie/hipster “culture” at large, and have become increasingly annoyed at their depiction/co-option of my ethnicity as a First Nations person.
Kelsey pointed me to this post on Sociological Images last week which rounds up some of the latest and greatest of this ever continuing trend.
I know my parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles have had to deal with this in their time and it’s certainly not a new thing –but it’s 2010 and not only does it still continue strongly to this day – it’s taken some interesting turns down the erasure of true origins road. This isn’t a hate letter, or reverse racism (as if there were such a thing!). It’s also not an attempt to discourage you from finding out more about Native people – and in fact I strongly ENCOURAGE you to do some actual research and knowledge seeking so you might get our culture right and think twice about things like permission and respect before you act on your appropriation.
So to the hipsters/hippies who appropriate Native culture but aren’t First Nations/Aboriginal/Indigenous, I’m asking you nicely now, to PLEASE stop annoying (the fuck out of) me with the following:
The clothing. Whether it’s headbands, feathers, bone necklaces, mukluks, or moccasins – at least put some damn thought into WHAT you are wearing and WHERE it’s from. I know our people sell these things en masse in gift shops and trading posts, and it seems like it’s an open invitation to buy it and flaunt it, but you could at least check the label to see A. If it’s made by actual Indigenous people/communities B. What does this really mean if YOU wear it?
Organic living and environmentalism as “new” concepts. One of my friends jokes that all Native people should get green energy for free because that’s how we’ve been living for centuries and also taught the colonizers how to live (which may or may not have screwed us in the end). I really do love the resurgence of the green movement and how things are becoming more environmentally friendly – but I don’t need certain members of the movement pretending like they started this or ignoring extreme realities we’re facing like environmental racism and justice. I also think we need actual Native people being in charge of and leading the responses to environmental degradation that are happening in our own territories. It’s not to say we don’t need allyship and support – but it’s also rather irritating when I read an event posting for a cause of some sort for a First Nation where there’s like two Native people in the whole place (who either barely say anything or are supposed to go along with the way the hippies organize without complaint because they’re “doing something for us”).
The appropriation of and silence about our medicines and teachings. I see direct examples of this in some of the alternative feminine and menstrual cycle products that are on the market now. I’m not hating on the DIVA cup or suggesting that the “divine goddess” isn’t a great story to hear, but I am wondering where your assertion of Indigenous midwifery knowledge is – and that in fact the absence of acknowledgment of where periods not being a bad thing or the blood from our menstrual cycles being sacred originates, is a direct erasure of Indigenous truth. It’s not enough to romanticize our medicines and teachings about women’s bodies and power and say, “Look at how thousands of years ago they used to do that!” and then capitalize your product or book off of some ancient-seeming fluff you are trying to present as en vogue. No! We are STILL doing this, we STILL believe in this, and damn it, you need to HONOR where this comes from!
We’re all one race. I’m not here to burst your bubble of unity and friendship, those things are great – but I am here to remind you that while some of you want to be our friends and ignore so-called “cultural differences” – you can’t ignore the history and current day presence of colonialism and racism. I don’t need to list off the statistics of health disparities and poverty in Native communities today to prove this fact to you – just consult the facts. I don’t want to be the angry Indian you won’t be friends with, so do me a favor and when you talk about “earth-based” things and your “right” to participate in whatever culture you want because we’re all human, know that there is such a thing as cultural protocol and that many of us are in crisis now of how to protect Indigenous knowledge.
Your grandfather’s, sister’s, cousin’s great-grandma was a Cherokee princess. This is an old one that we’ve been hearing for decades now – but it’s especially bothersome when I’m on the plane and you want me to educate you about blood quantum systems and status for the next 2 hours of the flight. I won’t do this, and I’m tired of you getting upset at me if I don’t initially present myself as Native (because no, we don’t all have braids and brown skin) but then you look at my laptop stickers and are like, “Mohawk. Hey my third cousin’s sister’s best friend is Native!” and then I just turn the volume on my IPod louder because I don’t always have the answers to your incessant questions – which are really just one question to me – why are we so invisible to you?