By Guest Contributor Adrienne K., cross-posted from Native Appropriations
Last night I was cold. So cold, in fact, that I had to pull out not one, but two, of my Pendleton blankets to add some extra warmth to my bed. As I shook them out and laid them on my bed, I thought about how special these blankets are to me–one was a graduation gift, the other a thank you gift for serving on a panel about the “Future of Indian Education.” In many Native communities, Pendleton blankets are associated with important events, and have been for hundreds of years. They are given as gifts at graduations, at powwow give-aways, as thank you gifts, in commemoration of births and deaths, you name it. In addition, I’ve always associated the patterns with Native pride–a way for Natives to showcase their heritage in their home decor, coats, purses, etc. There’s something just distinctly Native about Pendleton to me.
But recently, Pendleton prints and fabrics have started popping up everywhere. It started with Opening Ceremony’s Pendleton line in 2010, and now Urban Outfitters has started carrying a Pendelton line, celebrities are wearing Pendleton coats, and Native-themed home decor is apparently all the rage. Now Pendleton has announced their newest collaboration, The Portland Collection, which fashion blogs are proclaiming will be the big thing for 2011.
Some examples from the line are under the cut.
So what’s the problem? I openly admit that a lot of these designs are adorable, and I would fully sport them (that bag! I love!), if I had a spare $1000 or so. I can’t cry straight up cultural appropriation, because … well, it’s complicated.
A study of the color and design preferences of local and Southwest Native Americans resulted in vivid colors and intricate patterns. Trade expanded from the Nez Perce nation near Pendleton to the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni nations. These Pendleton blankets were used as basic wearing apparel and as a standard of value for trading and credit among Native Americans. The blankets also became prized for ceremonial use.
I do appreciate Pendleton’s relationship with Native communities. I love my blankets, and love even more what they represent.
However, seeing hipsters march down the street in Pendleton clothes, seeing these bloggers ooh and ahh over how “cute” these designs are, and seeing non-Native models all wrapped up in Pendleton blankets makes me upset. It’s a complicated feeling, because I feel ownership over these designs as a Native person, but on a rational level I realize that they aren’t necessarily ours to claim. To me, it just feels like one more thing non-Natives can take from us–like our land, our moccasins, our headdresses, our beading, our religions, our names, our cultures weren’t enough? you gotta go and take Pendleton designs too?
So I don’t know. Are all of these designs cultural appropriation? Should I ignore the twinge in my stomach every time I see a Pendleton pattern in the Urban Outfitters window? Should I embrace it as the mainstream fashion scene finally catching up with what we Natives have known since the 1800’s?