Culture

Ditch The Headdress, Read Up On Native Authors: Here’s How You Can Celebrate Native American Heritage Month Respectfully

November is Native American Heritage month. And like most commemorative months dedicated to honoring the culture and history of an oppressed people in the U.S., Native American Heritage Month is an insufficient gesture. Added onto that, November is often a a time when stereotypes of Native people get reinforced. A month of supposed ‘appreciation’ and ‘honoring’ of oppressed communities, can easily turn into one replete with cultural appropriation and prejudice.

So we decided we’d round up a few things that you can do —and not do— to celebrate in a positive and healthy spirit. 

1. Don’t desecrate traditional, sacred Native objects by buying or wearing them as props.

More often than not, we find ‘Native’, ‘Tribal’, or ‘Navajo’ inspired goods in stores, what you might not know is that they could be sacred Native artifacts and spiritual items. Objects like the canupa pipe or a warbonnet —commonly known as ‘headdress’— are part of Native spiritual culture and they should never be worn as a costume.

For Native people, practicing their spirituality was illegal in this country, up until the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978. Before then, Native people were beaten, jailed, and even killed for practicing their ancestral beliefs. What remains of tribal cultures customs, and ceremonies has been paid for in blood.

Among Native people, the warbonnet was only given to those who earned each and every eagle feather for their bravery, self-sacrifice, and great deeds of valor —doesn’t seem very appropriate to wear one as a costume or prop now, does it? Disrespecting the warbonnet is a terrible wrong and dishonors the likes of all who earned them with pride.

2. Don’t make children wear redface and reenact the re-telling of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving reenactments are a whitewashed version of early U.S. history. The retelling of this story only glorifies colonization when we all know that the truth isn’t so pretty. In actuality, an official “day of Thanksgiving kept in all the churches for our victories against the Pequots” was said to have been proclaimed by Massachusetts Bay governor William Bradford in 1637, celebrating the slaughter of up to 700 Pequot men, women, and children.

3. Don’t promote the fetishization of Native women.

We should all know this by now, but since not everyone acts like it, we’ll say it louder for the people in the back —Do not dehumanize women of color. We’re not your fetish and will not be devalued any longer. Reducing Native women to a fetish is oppressive and objectifying. It subjugates Native women while denying their agency.

Native women face higher rates of violence than the general population. A report last year by the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center found that more than half of Native women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime and 96% of those who commit sexual violence against Native women are non-Native.

4. Don’t support racist mascots.

It’s 2019 and the sports team, Washington R*dskins, literally has a racial slur in its name. It mocks Native identity, it reinforces ignorant and racist caricatures of a whole culture.

5. Don’t pretend to know better than Native people on Native subjects.

I’d like to believe that Native people know more about being Native because well…they are Native, they’ve lived the experience daily. Native people know more about their heritage than non-Natives do and silencing their voices is equal to erasing them.

What’s more, don’t bother Natives on social media by sending them the worst instances of cultural appropriation and racial violence that you may stumble upon while scrolling. Natives who are present in online spaces see it often. Even if you mean well, for Native people, constant exposure to this sort of toxic environment is damaging and exhausting.

6. For the love of God, don’t buy culturally appropriative products from Non-Native vendors.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, do not buy Native imitations at places like Urban Outfitters or other stores who have actually been on trial for stealing names, references and designs from Native people.

Under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, “it is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States.” Violators may face civil or criminal penalties of a fine up to $250,000 or five years behind bars. Before buying goods from a purported Native vendor, ask them if they are following this law, and what tribe they belong to. It is not offensive to ask a person who claims to be Native what tribe they hail from. Tribal identification is commonplace and accepted among Natives.

7. Do teach real Native history to children and read up on works by Native scholars and authors.

Introduce real and accurate Native history —including harvest feasts—into school events. Invite Native speakers, authors and scholars to speak to students about Indigenous peoples. It’s important that children see Natives as contemporary living people who are still here.

8. Do respect Natives’ beliefs.

It’s pretty easy; respect other people’s religion and belief systems as you would your own. There are many differences among tribes, but in general, they all share a reverence for the land, for animals and plants, for the bonds of community, for the wisdom of the elderly and for the contributions of their ancestors. Their beliefs and traditions might differ from what you grew up learning, but Native perspectives are just as compelling and valuable as everyone’s, and they should be respected as such.

9. Do respect and honor Native-Veterans.

Natives have served in the U.S. military at a higher per capita rate than any other ethnic group in the 20th century, and in the military actions following September 11, 2001, Native men and women veterans served at a higher rate than veterans of all other ethnic groups, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. As we remember those who have given their lives in service to our country while protecting the freedoms and ideals we hold dear, many of our fellow Americans remain unaware of the major contributions Native Americans have made to our nation’s armed forces.

10. Do buy authentic Native goods sold by Native artisans and businesses.

Stores like Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie, are taking valuable business away from actual Native American artists and small businesses. Support Native American creativity, history, and legacy, and help create a much-needed economic boost in Indian Country by shopping from small, authentic Native businesses. This site has enlisted Native-owned businesses you can shop from online —now you have no excuse.

Doctors Without Borders Has Deployed To The U.S. For The First Time Ever Because The Government Is Failing Native Tribes

Things That Matter

Doctors Without Borders Has Deployed To The U.S. For The First Time Ever Because The Government Is Failing Native Tribes

Kristin Murphy / Getty

Doctors Without Borders is probably best known for sending its team of medical professionals into harms way. The organization has teams stationed in international conflict zones across Afghanistan, Iran, Sierra Leone, Venezuela, and more than 66 other countries. However, the organization has now sent a team of doctors to the U.S. for the first time in its history to help the Navajo Nation.

Native American tribes have long been neglected by the federal government – and it’s not been any different during the Coronavirus pandemic. The Navajo Nation, lacking proper funding and resources, has become a major hotspot for the virus in the U.S.

For the first time in its history, Doctors Without Borders is operating in the U.S.

Jean Stowell, head of the organization’s U.S. COVID-19 Response Team, told CBS News that a team of nine had been sent to the hard-hit Navajo Nation to help combat the growing crisis there. The team consists of two physicians, three nurses, a water sanitation specialist, two logisticians and a health promoter who specializes in community health education.

“There are many situations in which we do not intervene in the United States, but this has a particular risk profile,” Stowell said.

One in three people in the Navajo Nation are estimated to not have access to running water, and because not much grows in the area, communities are heavily dependent on outside help for food.

Stowell also pointed out that Native American communities are already at a much higher risk for complications from Covid-19 because they don’t have access to the variety of things that make it possible to self-isolate. She added: “You can’t expect people to isolate if they have to drive 100 miles to get food and water.” 

The Navajo Nation now has the highest per capita rate of Coronavirus infection in the U.S.

Credit: Kristin Murphy / Getty

The Navajo Nation, which spreads across large swaths of Arizona and New Mexico, is home to about 170,000 people. And the tribe now has more coronavirus cases per capita than any state in the U.S. with about 1,786 cases per 100,000 people. It also has a shortage of medical professionals, and its people have high rates of diabetes and hypertension, which can make them more vulnerable to the virus.

The Washington Post reported that as of Sunday, the largest tribe in the U.S. now has upwards of 3,122 cases of Covid-19 in the area, and more than 100 people have died.

Many in the tribe are particularly worried about the elders of Navajo Nation because they are at high risk for COVID-19 and in charge of preserving the tribe’s language and culture. And due to a shortage in nursing and specialized medical staff, the most critical patients have to be airlifted to hospitals outside of the reservation. 

Doctors Without Borders is stepping in to help, where the U.S. federal government has failed.

Credit: Kristin Murphy / Getty

Although the CARES Act, which President Trump signed into law on March 27, allocated $8 billion in relief funding to tribes across the country, it’s seen as too little too late by many.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure in place is so weak that volunteers have had to step in to distribute much-needed supplies.

The Doctors Without Borders team is planning on staying in the area until at least the end of June, but the teams says that they are able to stay longer if the situation continues to badly affect the communities.

“When we’re looking at the epidemiologic curves from the rest of the world, we know that this is a long haul,” Stowell told CBS News.

Another Fashion Week Brings Another Case Of Cultural Appropriation: This Designer Had White Models Wearing Cornrow Wigs

Fierce

Another Fashion Week Brings Another Case Of Cultural Appropriation: This Designer Had White Models Wearing Cornrow Wigs

@madisonothomas / Twitter

Fashion has a long history of pulling from and appropriating other cultures. Whether it’s in campaigns or on runways, brands and designers have made many missteps over the years —so although disappointing that this still happens in 2020, it’s not big news when each Fashion Week we hear of yet another instance of it. And this Paris Fashion Week was no exception. Japanese brand Comme Des Garcons has come under fire for sending white models wearing cornrow wigs down the runway.

Comme des Garçons has been called out for appropriating a typically black hairstyle.

People were quick to point out the cultural appropriation after the looks —which bore a close resemblance to hairstyles typically worn by black people— hit the runway, and worn by white models. Rather than every model wearing the wigs, a number of the black models who walked in the show sported their own hair.

Julien d’Ys, the hair stylist who has collaborated with designer Rei Kawakubo for many years, explained his influences on Instagram.

Citing Tutankhamen and Ancient Egypt, the hair stylist’s posts drew positive comments from fashion names including Marc Jacobs —another designer who’s also been accused of cultural appropriation after he sent models down the runway wearing dreads.

d’Ys initially chose to dismiss the criticism as “stupide.”

In a comment, in response to the mounting backlash, he posted an image of the boys featured in the show along with an apology. “My inspiration for the Comme des Garçons show was Egyptian prince a look I found truly beautiful and inspirational. A look that was an hommage (sic). Never was it my intention to hurt or offend anyone, ever. If I did, I deeply apologise.”

However, despite more than 2,000 likes for his post, many of the comments underneath were negative.

Devinpink67 said: “Looks appropriate on the handsome dark skin model, a joke on the others next to and behind it never looks right but stupidity ridiculous braids, cornrows, twist, bantu knots, afro puffs, afros, slicked baby hairs REPEAT ARE B-L-A-C-K CULTURAL RELATED.”

The wigs were part of the company’s men’s autumn and winter collection on show as part of Paris Fashion Week.

View this post on Instagram

Back in 2018, @commedesgarcons cast their first black models in over 20 years for their FW18 show, following critical comments from netizens who noticed they hadn’t featured a black model since 1994. Last night, the avant-garde Japanese label seemed to have taken a step back with their men’s show, this time putting white models in cornrow wigs. Some black models also sported the wigs, while some wore their own hair. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Vogue Runway called them “odd”, which is a curious statement in itself, considering the stigma and discrimination of natural hair and hairstyles that embrace cultural identity (braids, Bantu knots, twists and locs). It was only in 2015 that Fashion Police host Giuliana Rancic said that Zendaya’s dreadlocks at the Oscars made her look like she “smells like patchouli oil or weed”. Suffice it to say, CDG’s decision to appropriate the braided hairstyles for white models is indeed problematic. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ On the positive side, more states are legislating to ban race-based hair discrimination, following New York and California’s decision in 2019. Dieters, what do you think about the wigs at Comme des Garçons? The look on the model’s faces say it all, don’t you think? • #commedesgarcons #culturalappropriation #pfw #pfwm #pfw20 #cornrows #wig #wigs #caucasity #commepocracy #reikawakubo #adrianjoffe #discrimination #hair #naturalhairstyles #locs #locstyles #blackhair #blackhairstyles #naturallycurly #protectivestyles #goodhair #model #malemodel #avantgarde #cdgconverse #cdgplay #cdg #vogue #dietprada

A post shared by Diet Prada ™ (@diet_prada) on

Critics on social media called the styling for Friday’s show “offensive”. The infamous Instagram account diet_prada —who has become the unofficial fashion police, shared a post saying that “the avant-garde Japanese label seemed to have taken a step back with their men’s show, this time putting white models in cornrow wigs”.

Another comment under d’Ys’s post suggested: “In future, to avoid facing this heat again when taking inspiration from a culture that is not yours, PLEASE work closely with one from said culture to guide you in doing it properly.

instagram @juliendys

“Your intention might not have been to culturally appropriate Egyptian culture, however your lack of care or awareness in executing it is extremely reckless and hence why it is deemed as cultural appropriation. Education alone avoids these situations, so learn from this and keep it pushing.”

The brand sent an apology to Dazed magazine

“The inspiration for the headpieces for Comme des Garçons menswear FW’20 show was the look of an Egyptian prince. It was never ever our intention to disrespect or hurt anyone – we deeply and sincerely apologise for any offence it has caused.”

Designers often apologize in these situations after the backlash, but in the year 2020 these situations shouldn’t even happen in the first place. 

Despite the countless times brands have been called out for doing so —and the plethora of information available about how using these traditional black hairstyles on white models is appropriation, and why it matters so much— the issue still happens. 

This isn’t the first time Comme des Garcons has been called out for lack of diverse representation. 

View this post on Instagram

Back in 2018, @commedesgarcons cast their first black models in over 20 years for their FW18 show, following critical comments from netizens who noticed they hadn’t featured a black model since 1994. Last night, the avant-garde Japanese label seemed to have taken a step back with their men’s show, this time putting white models in cornrow wigs. Some black models also sported the wigs, while some wore their own hair. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Vogue Runway called them “odd”, which is a curious statement in itself, considering the stigma and discrimination of natural hair and hairstyles that embrace cultural identity (braids, Bantu knots, twists and locs). It was only in 2015 that Fashion Police host Giuliana Rancic said that Zendaya’s dreadlocks at the Oscars made her look like she “smells like patchouli oil or weed”. Suffice it to say, CDG’s decision to appropriate the braided hairstyles for white models is indeed problematic. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ On the positive side, more states are legislating to ban race-based hair discrimination, following New York and California’s decision in 2019. Dieters, what do you think about the wigs at Comme des Garçons? The look on the model’s faces say it all, don’t you think? • #commedesgarcons #culturalappropriation #pfw #pfwm #pfw20 #cornrows #wig #wigs #caucasity #commepocracy #reikawakubo #adrianjoffe #discrimination #hair #naturalhairstyles #locs #locstyles #blackhair #blackhairstyles #naturallycurly #protectivestyles #goodhair #model #malemodel #avantgarde #cdgconverse #cdgplay #cdg #vogue #dietprada

A post shared by Diet Prada ™ (@diet_prada) on

In 2018, the Japanese fashion house cast its first Black model in over 20 years. Yup, in 2018.

The last few years have seen many fashion giants accused of cultural appropriation and even racism after a series of high profile scandals. 

Gucci was embroiled in a blackface controversy last year, while Prada faced outrage over a set of racially insensitive figurines in 2018. As a result, many in the industry are taking steps to make their brands more inclusive and representative, with both Gucci and Prada hiring diversity panels in the hopes of avoiding past mistakes.

Comme des Garcons’s appropriation of traditional West African hairstyles contributes to a common trend in the fashion industry, where Black culture is used by non-Black creatives to add an “edge” to design.