Gwen Stefani in No Doubt’s “Looking Hot” video. Via theinsider.com
There is something insidiously ironic about being American Indian during the fall of the 21st century. It all starts with Columbus Day to mark our “discovery,” then moves right into the “it’s totally not racist to dress up as a hypersexualized Indian” awkward Halloween party, and goes out with a bang on Thanksgiving when we celebrate the survival of the Pilgrims and that harmonious, mutually beneficial relationship forged between colonizers and Indigenous peoples everywhere! However romanticized or factually inaccurate, these holidays happen to be the three days when Native peoples actually enter the mass psyche of American culture.
“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.
In the midst of her excellent takedown of Urban Outfitters’ “Navajo” appparel line, Sasha Houston Brown focused on one suspiciously-named piece of underwear:
I doubt that you consulted the Navajo Nation about using their tribal name on sophisticated items such as the “Navajo Hipster Panty”. In fact, I recently became aware that the Navajo Nation Attorney General sent your company a cease and desist letter regarding this very issue. I stand in solidarity with the Navajo Nation and ask that you not only cease and desist selling products falsely using the Navajo name, but that you also stop selling faux Indian apparel that objectifies all tribes.
Wednesday, Sasha passed along an update to the story from the Indian Country Today Media Network: a few days after UO spokesman Ed Looram said the company had “no plans to modify or discontinue any of these products,” the word Navajo has been completely scrubbed from its’ website.
The video’s only 1:37 long, so I don’t want to spoil it, but here’s the set-up: designer DW Díaz (Pineda) walks us thru her new line, inspired by a recent viewing of Legends Of The Fall, and her realization that “Native Americans are so cute!” And from there things turn toward the fashionably horrifying. Enjoy!
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 →
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-. Finally, I want to share what the Navajo Nation in particular is doing about it, and the action they’ve taken is pretty cool.
Without further ado, some of the “Navajo” products to grace the pages of Urban.