By Guest Contributor Ruth Hopkins, cross-posted from Last Real Indians
Heidi Klum, I’m so disgusted with you. I can’t even look at you right now.
I’ve been a fan of Heidi Klum’s show Project Runway since episode one. I’ve seen every single season. As a Native woman who loves fashion, I was elated when Taos Pueblo fashion designer Patricia Michaels was selected for the show, especially considering how Native appropriation has run rampant in the fashion industry over the past several years. Patricia made it to the series finale and finished as the season’s runner-up. Heidi was supportive of Patricia too. She complimented Patricia’s designs and showed what appeared to be sincere appreciation for Native culture.
As a result, I never could have imagined that Heidi Klum would promote redface. Nay, I was sorely mistaken.
Heidi hosts a show overseas called Germany’s Next Top Model. Last Thursday Ms. Thang posted a gallery on Facebook under the title, “Here are my Beautiful GNTM Girls!” Lo and behold, the spread was plum full of some of the most stereotypical, patently offensive photographs of pouty, half-naked white women posing ever-so seductively in war paint and headdresses that I’ve seen in well, months (what can I say, we’re currently plodding through an epidemic of society fetishizing Native women).
It felt like I’d just been stabbed in the back by my taller, skinnier, blonder, German big sister.
Twelve photos, total, featured German Fräuleins using “peace pipes,” feathers, tipis, and Native blankets for props. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I thought that even the horse looked a little embarrassed.
One picture shows a model in war paint with a single tear streaming down her face. Could we get any more cliché? Now we’re appropriating pretendians? Iron Eyes Cody, the famous ‘crying Indian’ referenced by pop culture, wasn’t even Native. Apparently even appearing to be Native by association makes one fodder for exploitation.
Perhaps we should have expected this from a country full of hobbyists that like to dress up like Natives and ‘play Indian.’ No matter, both scenarios are offensive and objectionable.
This isn’t the first time I’ve delved head first into confronting Native appropriation and why it’s wrong. I don’t know how I can explain it in any simpler terms. Natives are not costumes one can take on and off. When people dress up in stereotypical ‘Indian’ garb, they’re not only denying the existence of 566 distinct Tribal Nations, they’re mocking an entire group of human beings based solely on their race and heritage. Natives haven’t lost touch with what’s sacred either, and we do not take kindly to ceremonial objects like the pipe being used to hawk your wares, nor garner publicity for your second rate reality TV show. All who attempt to exploit and abuse what we hold sacred are hereby held to account for it. We stand for our ancestors and future generations of Natives in demanding that you respect us and our beliefs.
Appropriators, I don’t care how cute you look in a headdress. You aren’t Native. You have no right to wear a warbonnet because you have not earned it. You haven’t performed deeds of valor nor fought and given of yourself for a plains Tribal people. Every feather in a headdress signifies a specific act of bravery and self-sacrifice. If you are not a chief or a warrior, take it off before a Native woman finds you and snatches it off, along with some of your weave.
What’s particularly disconcerting about this act of appropriation is Heidi Klum should know better. For that reason I can only deduce that this act is not due to ignorance. It’s a blatant attempt to profit from white privilege. Like the GAP, Victoria’s Secret, Chanel and Ralph Lauren, Heidi is taking the low road and using Native appropriation to get attention, and she doesn’t care who she hurts in the process.
As a Native woman, I’m tired of being bombarded with negative, false imagery of who society thinks I am. For once I’d like to enjoy a fashion show, a music video, a football game or a photo spread without being singled out because of my race. It’s not just offensive, it’s discriminatory and just plain rude.
Normally this is where I ask Ms. Klum for an apology, but because this act of appropriation is so willful, any apology would ring hollow. Like many Natives, I’m tired of lip service.
Auf wiedersehen, Heidi. This is where I get off. Shame on you.