“The time when Pendleton came into existence, the 1900s, was the all-time low for native communities,” Metcalfe says. “This is at the height of the reservation era, when we were confined, we were essentially prisoners on these small plots of land. But in that same breath, while our cultures were under threat from this outside force, that’s when we turned internally to protect what we had, and we also get some of the most beautiful beadwork and most beautiful jewelry coming out of that period of great stress.
“Connected with that great assimilation movement was the height of collecting. The late 1800s was when a lot of our stuff left our communities. On the one hand, you have this push for trying to absorb or get rid of ‘The Indian Problem.’ Then, they were taking all of the items that embody that culture, to collect them and put them in museums and claim ownership on them.”
In the 1970s and ’80s, top American designer Ralph Lauren became enamored with Navajo rugs, Plains beadwork, and Apache pottery. He launched his Santa Fe line of clothing featuring concha belts, petticoat skirts, “Indian patterned” sweaters, and blanket jackets in 1981 as another defining aspect of American culture. In the 1990s, the Pendleton and other Native American-inspired designs swelled in popularity again with the return of “Southwest” style and rise of “new country” music.
In recent years, Pendleton has been going to town with collaborations using the iconic Indian trade blanket patterns. It had sold these patterns to Vans, famous for making skateboarder shoes; produced high-fashion lines with Manhattan couture company Opening Ceremony; and it is even offering products through Urban Outfitters. With Levi’s, Pendleton launched a line of jean jackets and cowboy shirts called Navajo Cowboys, hiring Navajo rodeo champions like Monica Yazzie as models.
– From “Why the ‘Native’ Fashion Trend Is Pissing Off Real Native Americans,” by Lisa Hix
by Guest Contributor Sasha Houston Brown
Dear Glen T. Senk, CEO Urban Outfitters Inc.
This past weekend, I had the unfortunate experience of visiting a local Urban Outfitters store in Minneapolis. It appeared as though the recording “artist” Ke$ha had violently exploded in the store, leaving behind a cheap, vulgar and culturally offensive retail collection. Plastic dreamcatchers wrapped in pleather hung next to an indistinguishable mass of artificial feather jewelry and hyper sexualized clothing featuring an abundance of suede, fringe and inauthentic tribal patterns.
In all seriousness, as a Native American woman, I am deeply distressed by your company’s mass marketed collection of distasteful and racially demeaning apparel and décor. I take personal offense to the blatant racism and perverted cultural appropriation your store features this season as “fashion.”
All too often industries, sports teams and ignorant individuals legitimize racism under the guise of cultural “appreciation”. There is nothing honorable or historically appreciative in selling items such as the Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask, Peace Treaty Feather Necklace, Staring at Stars Skull Native Headdress T-shirt or the Navajo Hipster Panty. These and the dozens of other tacky products you are currently selling referencing Native America make a mockery of our identity and unique cultures.
Your corporate website claims to “offer a lifestyle-specific shopping experience for the educated, urban-minded individual”. If this is the case, then clearly you have missed the mark on your target demographic. There is simply nothing educated about your collection, which on the contrary professes extreme ignorance and bigotry. Continue reading
by Guest Contributor Adrienne Keene, originally published at Native Appropriations
A search for “Cherokee” on the Urban Outfitters website reveals 1 result. A search for “Tribal”: 15. A search for “Native”: 10. “Indian”: 2. But Navajo? 24 products have Navajo in the name alone.
This post started as a massive Urban Outfitters take-down, I spent an hour or so last week scrolling through the pages of the website, and adding anything to my cart that was “Native inspired” or had a tribal name in the description. I got through JUST the women’s clothes and accessories (no mens or apartment), and had 58 items in my cart. So, then, like any good researcher, I began to code my cart for emergent themes, and the one that jumped out far above the rest? Urban Outfitters is obsessed with Navajos.
I want to show you some examples, and then talk a little about the issues with using tribal names in products that are decidedly not-
Without further ado, some of the “Navajo” products to grace the pages of Urban.
From the basic:
To the totally random:
The Root: The experience of having your Miss Navajo Nation reign challenged calls to mind the debate over the Cherokee Freedmen. Is this a common issue across the Native community, of African-Native Americans having trouble finding acceptance?
Radmilla Cody: I grew up having to deal with racism and prejudices on both the Navajo and the black sides, and when I ran for Miss Navajo Nation, that especially brought out a lot of curiosity in people. It’s something that we’re still having to address as black Natives, still having to prove ourselves in some way or another, because at the end of the day, it all falls back to what people think a Native American should look like.
But there’s been many times when people have said to me, “Oh, my great-great-grandmother was an Indian.” I’ll ask them if they know what tribe, and they don’t. It’s very important because in order to be acknowledged as a tribal member, you have to be enrolled. So I can see where Native people are protective about defining who’s a tribal member, and are questioning of people claiming Native ancestry.
TR: Were you surprised by the backlash that you received?
RC: I wasn’t surprised. I knew it was going to happen. Right before I left to go to compete in the pageant, my grandmother sat down with me. She said to me, “My child, I just want you to know that there are going to be some people who are not going to be accepting of this.”
Growing up, I was taunted at school with racial slurs and would come home in tears. My grandmother would be there, waiting to console me. She always said, “Let ’em talk. You are a Navajo woman. This is your land. This is how I raised you. You be proud of who you are.” Every time, that’s what she would say.
So this day before the pageant, when she cautioned me about people who wouldn’t be accepting of me participating, I turned around and told her, “Let ’em talk, Grandma. I’m a proud Navajo woman, remember?” She had a big smile on her face. I think she felt content that I was ready for what I was going to be challenged with.
TR: Do you have any connection to African-American culture and community?
RC: I spent more time in the Navajo community growing up because my grandmother raised me. When I would come into town in Flagstaff, Ariz., to see my mom, who had black friends, and my dad’s relatives, I was in the black community more. I went to high school in Flagstaff, and one day a friend was wearing a T-shirt with a big “X” on it. I said, “That’s cool! I should get one that says ‘R’ for Radmilla!” I didn’t know anything about Malcolm X. He told me to join the black student organization. I had a lot to educate myself about and embrace, because I come from two beautiful cultures.
In the black community I also had my challenges. I was always told, “You think you’re cute because you got that long, fine hair,” and I would have to stand up for my Navajo side because of stereotypes placed upon the Navajo. When I’d go back to the Navajo community, I would have to stand up for my black side because of stereotypes.
Read the rest of the interview here.
Image credit: unieketrouwringen.nl